THE Archbishop of Canterbury has said that he is “immensely hopeful” about the future. “We have been through worse and come out better.”
Archbishop Welby delivered Thought for the Day on Radio 4 on Friday. He said: “Right relationships in our households and our neighbourhoods, across our cities and our regions, and around our nation and the world, require new hearts. . . Repentance and forgiveness convert us, and they offer a future of hope.
“This new future requires of us the ability to receive as gift, with wonder and gratitude, the gift of each other with our differences, the gift of creation, supremely the gift of God. Those are the gifts with which to rethink, to rebuild the future. We need to turn towards each other and accept that we are together.”
He was also interviewed as part of Radio 4’s rethink series, in which commentators have been invited to discuss what they hope might be different about society after the pandemic. He touched on his work as a volunteer chaplain with St Thomas’ Hospital in London, including going on to Covid-19 wards.
“The disease takes everything away from people: their strength, their vigour, their capacity to breathe. That sense of desperation is very moving,” he said. “Inevitably, all these things have brought home to me that sense of interdependence. You’re doing things with people rather than to people. It’s made me look at our fragility and our need for each other. None of us can think we’re self-sufficient. . .
“The way people have responded to everything over the last few months has given us glimpses of what we can be. If we can have a change of heart, we can come out of this really motoring forward in a way that reaches all the things we dream of in this country.”
Asked about racial inequalities highlighted by the murder of George Floyd, he said: “There is great injustice, and we need a collective turning away from that; but we need to learn to forgive.”
Questioned whether this would mean forgiving the slave-traders whose statues have caused huge controversy rather than tearing them down, he said: “You can only do that if you’ve got justice, which means the statue needs to be put in context. Some will have to come down, and some names will need to change. There can be forgiveness, but only if we say ‘that was then’, change the way we behave now, and change how we will be in the future. There has to be a change of heart, for this country and the world.”
He also said that the Church in the West needed to rethink how it portrayed Jesus. “When you go into churches around the world, you see Jesus portrayed in as many ways as there are cultures, languages, and understandings. It’s a reminder of the universality of the God who became fully human. We need to change the idea that God is white.”
The Archbishop’s Thought for the Day text:
On Monday, Pope Francis spoke powerfully of the bashfulness of poverty. A few weeks back I was in a nearby hospital as a Chaplain meeting some of the lowest paid, the most invisible. Invisible, yet indispensable. Their worth and necessity not measured in pounds — although it should be — but in love.
It was a meeting in which I found great blessing. As often during lockdown it was a glimpse of interdependence. We’ve seen it in the kindness of one neighbour to another, the service of our key workers, and the care of people for those they may not even know. We’ve been given inklings, reminders, of the God-given value and calling of every single person.
The first move for a hoped-for future must be a change of direction to make that glimpse a reality. Christians call it “repentance” meaning “to reverse direction”. Repentance can’t come without justice, because changing direction means actively righting wrong.
The second move accompanying repentance with justice is forgiveness. Facing the challenge of our interdependence asks us: what does it mean to be truly in relationship with each other? It requires us to recognise the dignity and value of every person, especially those that we too readily overlook, those hidden by the bashfulness of suffering — the old, the poor, those with disabilities, and minority communities of all kinds.
Relationships require the hard graft of saying sorry and changing, repenting where we have hurt others, of seeking strength to forgive where we ourselves have been hurt, and committing to work together across welcomed difference. Right relationships in our households and our neighbourhoods, across our cities and our regions, and around our nation and the world require new hearts, what the Pope called conversion. Repentance and forgiveness convert us and offer a future of hope.
This new future requires of us the ability to receive as gift, with wonder and gratitude, the gift of each other with our differences, the gift of creation, supremely the gift of God. Those are the gifts with which to rethink, to rebuild the future. Repentance, forgiving, conversion of heart and of morals, gifts given and received of love: these are the greatest tools to build the greatest hope for the greatest future.