Archbishop Welby speaks of hope, six months after the Grenfell Tower fire

21 December 2017

Twitter/Lambeth Palace

Home broadcast: the Archbishop of Canterbury being interviewed by the BBC’s Nick Robinson at Lambeth Palace, on Thursday morning of last week

Home broadcast: the Archbishop of Canterbury being interviewed by the BBC’s Nick Robinson at Lambeth Palace, on Thursday morning of last week

IN AN interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, on Thursday morning of last week, broadcast from Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “Whether you’re rich or poor, important or unimportant in the public eye, from this country or overseas, at the heart of Christian faith is the sense of the infinite value of the human being. . .

“Clearly there was less attention being paid to the people at the Grenfell Tower and similar buildings than to others in more prosperous areas. There is a failure of that sense of value of the human being.”

The Archbishop said that he had drawn hope from “the extraordinary community response” that he had witnessed after the disaster, and which he had also seen after the London Bridge, Westminster, and Manchester terror attacks. “Community somehow seemed to emerge in a way that I think many of us wondered if it still existed, particularly in the big urban areas,” he said.

He also took as a “sign of hope” the “fact that people were horrified . . . that it is not right that this should happen in a tower block in London: the sense that this is wrong.”

Later the same morning, Archbishop Welby attended a service of national remembrance for the victims in St Paul’s Cathedral.

The Archbishop was also asked whether he had hope that the economic system — which he earlier this year described as “broken” (News, 8 September) — was changing.

“Yes, I do see hope of that changing,” he said. “I think there is a very profound movement across every part of our society, across every part of our politics, that, yes, it’s very good that the economy is growing, yes, it’s very good that employment is low — but that must be accompanied by things that demonstrate the value of human beings. And that means practical things like the Living Wage, but it also means attention to everyone, whoever they are: the movement around people with mental health this year, who used to be marginalised and forgotten, are beginning to be treated very differently.”

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He also expressed unease about multinational companies that minimised their tax bills. “It is clear that a company that has a turnover of several billion and pays only several million in tax — something isn’t quite right there. For the common good, for economic justice. I think it [paying tax] is the right thing to do.”

Speaking about tensions over Brexit, the Archbishop, who supported Remain, called for “a ceasefire from insult and the use of pejorative terms about people at this time. . .

“As a country, we have a future ahead of us. We’ve made a decision about Brexit: that is clear. Both sides are saying that. How we do that is a question of robust political argument.

“There’s a difference between disagreeing and personalised attacks, and those have to be avoided, because, if we’re going to make a success of Brexit . . . then we need a political leadership that is united in their attitude to the future, even if divided on policy. And, therefore, we do need reconciliation and unity.”

On the subject of declining church attendance, Archbishop Welby said: “There is a huge amount of confidence on the ground: parishes and chaplaincies reaching out into their communities; night shelters are routine; foodbanks.”

He acknowledged, however, that the country had “moved from a sense of inherited faith to faith by choice, and that is a smaller group of people”. But he argued that the Church was “reforming and renewing itself: [it is] much more focused, much more deliberate, much more purposeful”.

He insisted that the C of E had not watered down the gospel to accommodate secular culture: “I think we still talk about heaven, hell, and sin a great deal. . . The Church is utterly confident about the person of Jesus Christ. How that is lived out in each society is in the context of that society. We’ve not lost confidence.”

The Archbishop was also asked about the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, which will take place in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, in May (News, 1 December). “I am very sure that this is no tick-box exercise,” he said. “There is a profound sense of commitment and seriousness, both about faith and their life.

“It is important, because people look at it and they will see a model of how two people commit their lives to one another before God and in the presence of millions of people.”

When asked whether he would be officiating at the royal wedding, Archbishop Welby said that it was “up to them”.

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