‘We have learned how to do racism’

27 May 2016

MARK GASCOIGNE/LAMBETH PALACE

United: the Archbishop of Canterbury with the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, at the interfaith reception at Lambeth Palace

United: the Archbishop of Canterbury with the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, at the interfaith reception at Lambeth Palace

ANTI-SEMITISM is the thousand-year-old original sin of British racism, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

Speaking to an audience that included the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, and British Jews involved in interfaith projects, Archbishop Welby said that hatred of Jews was at the root of most racism in the UK.

“It’s almost the paradigm; the way in which in Britain over the last thousand years we have learned how to do racism, and it is a deep shame that it is ever anywhere,” he said.

Making a reference to the recent row over anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, Archbishop Welby said that the problem was at the “root” of much of modern British racism.

“We have seen a very sharp rise over the last few years in anti-Semitic expression, which is absolutely intolerable. I’m not looking at any political party, it’s deeply embedded in so much of our culture in this country.”

The Archbishop made his remarks during a reception, held in the gardens of Lambeth Palace last week, for those involved in interfaith work. He hailed the efforts of those present as a visible rejection of claims that Britain was intractably divided along communal lines.

“[There is an] unthinking, ignorant, fearful nature of much phobia about different faith traditions. The false perception of people living parallel lives. [But] here we are together — scarcely parallel lives.”

Christians were not immune to believing in the stereotypes, Archbishop Welby said, describing how “grumpy” he becomes when he hears church people speak about one faith or another as “dangerous”.

While the gathering was a sign of the positive things that happen when those of different religions worked together, it was clear, he said, that we live in an age of rising tensions, and a “difficult context social”. He ended his remarks by holding a minute of silent prayer for the EgyptAir Flight MS804, which had exploded above the Mediterran­ean that day.

The reception was held to promote the work of Near Neighbours, a Church Urban Fund programme to encourage people from different faiths, who live close to each other, to build better relationships (12 February 2016).

The chairman of the Church Urban Fund, Canon Paul Hackwood, told the audience that as many as a million people had come through the 1000 projects funded by Near Neighbours since it was set up in 2011.

Archbishop Welby praised the work of Near Neighbours, and in particular a church-mosque twinning scheme in Lambeth. “This is not about joint worship, but joint effort to serve the community, and I praise God for that courageous step forward.

“When you look at social engagement from the faith communities, it represents literally billions of pounds of contribution if the Government had to pay for it every year. It’s done with people doing things because they love each other, and that is an extraordinarily moving fact, and one we need to celebrate.”

Participants from three projects then went onstage to explain how they had become involved. The projects were a multifaith women’s sewing programme in Blackheath, in the West Midlands; a young leadership scheme in London, which had inspired two Jewish teenagers to set up an interfaith society at their Jewish school; and a project that collected and performed lullabies from various different cultures and religions across the UK.

When asked how the Church could pray for the re-evangelisation of England while working with those of other faiths, Archbishop Welby said that the balance was found by respecting and listening to others before proselytising.

“Don’t speak about faith unless you are asked about faith. It is all based around loving the person you are dealing with, which means you seek their well-being, and respect their integrity.”

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