THE Archbishop of Canterbury was pressed about the views of other Christians on legal questions, including abortion, sharia, and the gender policies of primary schools, in a phone-in on LBC radio, on Thursday of last week.
With an imam, Qari Asim, of the Makkah Mosque, in Leeds, he also expressed views on tackling extremism, and argued that it was now endemic on an unprecedented scale in the world’s history.
One caller asked whether the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg had been right to say that he was “just following his religion” when he told GMTV this month that he was opposed to abortion even after rape or incest.
The Archbishop said that it was “certainly not held within the Anglican Communion: that there are no circumstances in which abortion is right at all, under any circumstances whatsoever. . .
“But we have to hold to the dignity of human life, and, certainly, in common with the rest of the Christian Church, we believe that human life begins at conception, and, therefore, the baby in the womb requires legal protection in the same way as any other human. It doesn’t mean there won’t be dreadful times when horrible decisions have to be taken, in very extreme circumstances.”
Another caller asked about the parents who had withdrawn their six-year-old son from a C of E primary school, pending a legal review of its gender-fluid policy on pupils’ clothing (News, 15 September).
The Archbishop said: “I never see the point of going to law. I think that we should try and sort these things without legal involvement, and with mediation.”
Pressed on how he would respond if a parishioner came to him concerned about a child who was sitting next to a six-year-old boy who wore a dress, and that this was not “consistent with my faith”, he replied: “I would say to them: ‘I don’t think that’s a problem. The other family are making up their own minds. The other child is making up to their own mind. Talk to your child, help them to understand. Help them to see what is going on, and to be faithful to their own convictions.’”
PACatholic convictions: Jacob Rees-Mogg receives communion during the funeral mass for Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, at Westminster Cathedral, earlier this month
He was also asked whether he shared the view of his predecessor, Lord Williams, that the adoption of elements of sharia in the UK “seems unavoidable” (News, 8 February 2008). Archbishop Welby said that he did not share this view.
“I don’t think that we should have elements of sharia law in the English jurisprudence system,” he said. “We have a philosophy of law in this country, and you can only really cope with one philosophy of law within a jurisprudential system. The English courts always have to prevail, under all circumstances, always.”
Calls about extremism were taken during the phone-in. Internet companies should do more to police online radicalisation and abuse, and face fines if they did not, the Archbishop said.
He condemned “the genocide in Myanmar” as “utterly appalling”, and called for “significant pressure on all those involved”. He was unwilling to condemn Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s State Counsellor, however.
“Remember: this country has just moved from a military leadership in the last couple of years. She does need to give a lead, but we also need to recognise that, if she loses her position, if things go badly wrong in Myanmar, it is not going to stop the genocide: it will make it worse. I am always careful about expressing judgement on people whose situations I do not fully understand.”
Asked about the Grenfell Tower tragedy, he spoke of “considerable anger and unrest; and, when you look at what happened, it is fully understandable and reasonable. If we are not angry over roughly 80 people being killed in that way, then we are not really human.” Institutions, including the Church, had to “find ways of listening better”.
He later said: “We need a country where foodbanks are unnecessary.”
Responding to a report by the Electoral Reform Society, which said that peers who had spoken five or fewer times in the past year had claimed more than £4 million in expenses, he agreed that the House of Lords was “too big” and “totally unwieldy”.
He remained hopeful, despite “significant divisions”, about this country: “I don’t think that we should be intimidated or fearful as a result. This country is a place of immense solidity and stability, compared to many that I work in, and has the resources to flourish enormously in the future.”