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Ceasefire, release of hostages, and more aid all needed for Gaza peace, Welby tells Kirk

23 May 2024

Church of Scotland

Archbishop Welby addresses the General Assembly on Thursday. The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh look on

Archbishop Welby addresses the General Assembly on Thursday. The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh look on

THE “appalling war” in the Middle East will give neither security for Israel nor a free and secure Palestinian state, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

In a wide-ranging address to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on Thursday — at the end of its five-day meeting this week — Archbishop Welby reiterated his call for a ceasefire in Gaza (News, 17 May).

Describing the Church of England and the Church of Scotland as brothers and sisters in Christ, he praised the outgoing Moderator, the Very Revd Sally Foster-Fulton, for speaking out “powerfully and prayerfully” against the conflict (News, 9 February).

He said: “It is clear that this appalling war will not lead to security for Israel, for which we long and pray, nor to a free and secure Palestinian state, for which we long and pray. As I said recently, I repeat again today, we can only speak to the parties involved in this horror and implore that they choose life and not death.

“So, we continue to call for a ceasefire, for unfettered humanitarian aid, and for the release of all hostages, and for the long term a resolution that provides for the for safety, equality, justice, and freedom of all peoples, Israeli and Palestinian.”

Archbishop Welby warned “We must also remember that in this 21st century wars are easily imported.” He has expressed concern on several occasions about a rise in anti-Semitism in the UK since the war broke out. On social media this week, he said: “The growth in anti-Semitism in our society is a danger we cannot be indifferent to. We must not be silent in the face of the extremist ideologies of either anti-Semitism or anti-Muslim hatred.”

The Church, he wrote, had “a vocation to build bridges between communities . . . calling out hatred and loving our neighbours in these immensely difficult times”.

The Archbishop repeated this call in his address to the Kirk: “Foreign hatreds in nations far away, of which we know little, easily become the conflict of our own country and our own time and place. The actions of a government abroad in Israel do not ever in any way justify hatred for our fellow citizens of Jewish background.

“For the Church of England and the Church of Scotland, our vocations as national Churches lead us to abhor anti-Semitism, that ancient evil. It is on the rise, and we must challenge it. And for the same reason we must stand alongside those of Muslim faith who are abused and insulted day by day by day on public transport and in many other places.”

Churches, he said, “must be the mortar that holds together the diverse stones” that make up the UK.

Archbishop Welby and the Principal Clerk to the General Assembly, the Revd Fiona Smith, are co-presidents of the Council for Christians and Jews.

Church leaders who spoke about political matters were doing so out of “duty, not choice”, he said. “Where there is injustice, we must say so. Where there is hunger, we must meet the need and speak against the cause.”

Reflecting on the impending General Election, he said: “My prayer . . . is that people vote in vast numbers first, treasuring the privilege of citizenship in this democracy. Who they vote for is their choice, not for Churches to say. The Churches of this land, I am sure, will contribute thoughtfully, respectfully and as servants seeking the common good. May the new parliament be also of that mind.”

This is the second time that the Archbishop has addressed the General Assembly; the first was in 2016, when the Kirk signed the Columba Declaration with the Church of England (News, 8 January 2016).

This act of ecumenism, Archbishop Welby said, had led to the joint pilgrimage of peace to South Sudan in February 2023 with Pope Francis and the then Moderator of the General Assembly, the Revd Dr Iain Greenshields (News, 10 February).

Such a trip would have been “unthinkable in the very recent past in our lifetimes”, he said. “We went to South Sudan not as leaders, but as servants. More importantly, we went as brothers — as a visible sign of the unity and reconciliation that is possible through the grace of God.”

Ecumenism had also been present in the Coronation, Archbishop Welby said, and described the death in 2022 of Queen Elizabeth II as a “watershed moment” in our national life. “The Coronation was the first in history to include the participation of ecumenical leaders beyond the two Churches. . .

“As established Churches, albeit in different ways, the Churches of Scotland and England have a duty to protect the diversity of our nation and the free practice and flourishing of all faiths and beliefs in England and in Scotland. That was a duty articulated by her late Majesty, and one that the King has since reaffirmed most powerfully, whilst also reaffirming his most profound Christian faith.”

The Duke of Edinburgh, representing the King as the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly, was present, accompanied by his wife, the Duchess of Edinburgh. Archbishop Welby commended her work with women caught up in violent conflict and are sexually abused in conflict.

He ended his speech by referring to the work of Scottish congregations in tackling poverty, school chaplaincy, and community development. “It is the sovereign work of God that makes that service possible and the raw heroism of so many people in our churches. . . A Church that chooses any other way is at best a charity with pointy roofs and at worst a deception that will be corrupted.”

Archbishop Welby concluded: “Loyalty to God comes before nation, culture, race, or any other claim.”

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