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Don't use religion to divide people, warns Welby

13 March 2015


Sharing: faith leaders at the reception at Lambeth Palace, on Tuesday 

Sharing: faith leaders at the reception at Lambeth Palace, on Tuesday 

RELIGIOUS leaders must counter the lure of extremism by demonstrating that different faiths can co-exist without becoming violent, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

It is too easy for violent radicals to persuade the impressionable that those from other others faiths were "bad" while they were "good", Archbishop Welby said. Much of the conflict he has seen around the Anglican Communion was justified on religious grounds, and this was spreading to the UK too.

"We've seen attacks on synagogues and mosques, in particular, and those are totally, utterly abhorrent and unacceptable," he said at an interfaith reception at Lambeth Palace on Wednesday. "Very often the most complex issues that are economic, sociological, geographical, historical, tribal and other things, are used by evil-minded people - they use religion because it's simple. If you say, 'You belong to X faith and you're good, and they belong to Y faith and they're therefore bad…'"

Faith leaders need to offer a counter-narrative by showing how difference can be "handled well" rather than becoming destructive, Archbishop Welby said. The audience of representatives from all of the main faiths in Britain included the chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

He also warned against being too quick to label others as religious extremists. According to The Daily Telegraph, he told the audience that conversations of "nice people talking to nice people about being nice" would achieve nothing. True reconciliation must include talking with those we find uncomfortably extreme, he suggested.

While Anglicans had their own history of violent persecution against purported heretics, today they are leading efforts to reconcile faith groups. Archbishop Welby particularly praised the work of the Archbishop of Sudan, Dr Daniel Deng, in bringing warring people together in South Sudan despite the opposition of many of his "own side".

He also admitted that Anglicans continued to struggle to overcome their differences today, even if they have largely abandoned killing each other over them.

"I think the challenge for us here, as UK religious leaders, is not to find some kind of strange syncretism in which we say there are no differences, but to find ways of demonstrating reconciliation - diversity held, but diversity as blessing, not danger, in the UK."

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