THE Archbishop of Canterbury has entered the debate on the European Union referendum, expressing concern that the UK is not addressing the “visionary” questions of migration, resettlement, and its place on the world stage.
Archbishop Welby told the weekly magazine The House, published last Friday, that the present refugee crisis is “such an enormous challenge that it can only be handled at a European level”, and that the UK must play its part in contributing to a Europe-wide solution, the absence of which is “deepening the crisis very, very significantly”.
Addressing the coming referendum, Archbishop Welby said: “My hope and prayer is that we have a really visionary debate about what our country looks like. What would Britain look like, having left [the EU]? What would be its attitude internationally? What would be its values? What are the points of excitement, of contributing to human flourishing? How does that liberate the best that is within us?
“And from those who want to stay, how would we change the European Union? How would we make it more effective if we remained in it? What’s our vision?”
He said that it was reasonable, not racist, for people to fear a “colossal crisis” of migration in Europe, and that the issue should not be dismissed. “There is a tendency to say: ‘Those people are racist’, which is just outrageous, absolutely outrageous,” he said.
“In fragile communities particularly — and I’ve worked in many areas with very fragile communities over my time as a clergyman — there is a genuine fear: what happens about housing? What happens about jobs? What happens about access to health services?”
Communities in the UK, including churches, charities, and councils, had “demonstrated an enormous capacity” to deal with the refugee crisis at a “micro” level, and deserved credit, he said. “It is simply a question of the scale on which we are prepared to act, in a way that spreads the load so it can be managed.”
The Archbishop also praised the response of the German Church to the crisis. “I was in Berlin [this month], and the churches there are doing the most extraordinary things, as are the German people. We’ve got to find ways of taking our share of the load.”
He said that Germany’s offer to house 1.1 million refugees made David Cameron’s pledge to take in 20,000 refugees over five years appear “very thin”. The UK should learn from the “very effective” partnership of the German Church and its government.
He went on to warn that if military action were the only tool used to end the war in Syria, the campaign was “bound to fail”. An intelligent response, he said, “must include theological and religious literacy, and an understanding of what drives people when they are caught up in religious ideas.”
Religion should not, therefore, be pushed to the margins in a multi-faith society, he said, or its sense of right or wrong will be lost. “We need to be confident about our Judaeo-Christian heritage, whether we’re believers or not,” he said. “But within that confidence there needs to be a hospitality, a clear sense of what we believe to be right or wrong.”
'Absolutely outrageous' press coverage - Andrew Brown, Press column