On Friday 4th April 2014 the Archbishop of Canterbury took questions from callers to LBC’s James O’Brien radio show. Topics covered included same-sex marriage, the nature of God, climate change, economics and investments, female bishops, welfare reform and relations within the Anglican Communion. A transcript is below. The full recording can also be heard here.
Update: On 6th April the Archbishop gave a joint interview to BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Programme, with Cardinal Vincent Nichols. In it he was asked to expand on the final answer he gave during the LBC interview. The Sunday Programme recording can be heard here (27 mins 55 secs in)
James O’Brien: Its 33 minutes after 10 you are listening to LBC where I’m joined now by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby who will be taking your calls. I have quite a lot I’d like to ask him myself but I’m very conscious of the fact that the point of the exercise is to allow you to speak to him. I will begin if I may though by just establishing a couple of parameters. The first Archbishop is: forgive me for such an amateurish question but how do I address you?
Justin Welby: I’ve always been called Justin by most people. Archbishop Justin, Justin, whatever you feel like. I answer to most things, including “hey you!”.
JO: And how would you define your job description?
JW: It’s being the senior bishop in the Anglican Communion, which is about 80 million worldwide, senior bishop in the Church of England. Sort of a role in public life and Parliament, lots of prayer, trying not to bore people! It could go on forever; it’s got about seven bits to it.
JO: I see. And what since you assumed office last year, what has surprised you the most about the role.? Perhaps things you didn’t foresee?
JW: I didn’t think that there would be so much interest in it. That surprised me. I thought initially there would be the first couple of weeks and then it would die down and that hasn’t really happened. I didn’t anticipate that I’d have such an interesting time and meet such fascinating people. I thought that would die down a bit and I thought that would happen from time to time. But there’s never a day that goes by that isn’t just hugely stimulating, often very demanding and sometimes very traumatic, but always huge, just passionate fascination.
JO: What haven’t you enjoyed?
JW: I don’t enjoy disagreements within the Church, dealing with really difficult issues sometimes, where you’re torn about what you want to say. I can’t I think of a lot I don’t enjoy to be absolutely honest.
JO: Well we might start the list in the course of the next hour?
JW: Yeah, I think there’ll be a couple of questions I suspect.
JO: Let’s begin..with Grace in Ealing. Grace. Good morning.
JO: What would you like to ask the Archbishop?
G: Can I just start by saying I really don’t want to sound in anyway homophobic, Jesus died for all of us, we’re all terrible sinners and I know that the Church has done some horrible things to offend the gay community so I don’t want to sound homophobic or to start a big debate about the homosexuality issue. But I think the bible makes it clear that homosexual practice is wrong. And yet the Prime Minister has allowed gay marriage and the Archbishop has said that the Church will go along with the government on this. And of course the bible teaches that to some extent we should respect what the government says and agree with them on that but at the same time God is our utmost authority. And I’m wondering where the Archbishop would draw the line and decide that we need to oppose what the government have brought in to law if they were to do something else that would oppose Christianity. If for example, the government said, we’re going to shut every church tomorrow, or if they said we’re going to take a huge amount of public money and use it so that David Cameron can build a mansion for himself on the moon where … at what point would the Archbishop need to oppose the government?
JO: Okay. Where would be the Church’s role be in direct opposition to the government?
JW: Well Grace, thank you very much indeed. I think first of all, I mean I suspect for some reason that there may be one or two other questions on the issue of human sexuality. But in terms of where we draw the line on what we oppose, I mean there’s so many examples through history. It’s where very often things are clearly deeply immoral, deeply wrong. I’m not talking about the sexuality issue here. And in particular where people are doing things that are against fundamentally the constitution. So you go back to the 1930s and the German persecution of the Jews, including members of my family at the time who were living in Germany. That would be a classic case, people like Bonhoeffer whose death happened on 7 April 1945. Now there was a Christian who felt that he could not support – in fact he had to oppose profoundly and deeply – the work of the Nazi regime and that cost him his life. And that has happened with Christians all over the world at all times in history. Where would I draw the line? You can’t predict. It’s a sort of hypothetical question: what would they have to do where we said we would really oppose that? On the Same Sex Marriage Act what we said – what I said – was that Parliament has passed the Act, that we accept that the Act has been properly passed and is in force and we live with a new situation. It doesn’t mean that one necessarily thinks that the Act was a good thing or a bad thing. I’m not commenting on that, but simply we have to recognise the facts on the ground.
JO: Why won’t you comment on it?
JW: Because I’ve commented on it a great deal. And secondly we’re just starting a process in the Church of working out together how we deal with this new situation. What’s the right way of being and acting so that we demonstrate the love of Christ to every human being regardless of who they are and treat every human being with equal dignity? That’s one of the basic rules of being a Christian. The work of the Church is to worship God and to demonstrate and to tell people about the love of Jesus Christ. Therefore we have to treat every human being with equal importance and equal dignity. But the problem we face, James and Grace, is that everything we say here goes round the world for reasons of history and media and all that. And so we don’t make policy on the hoof. And I’m not a Pope and I can’t say what the Church is going to do. It’s something we decide collectively, the Church together and we’re beginning that process. So I don’t want to pre-empt that process by saying here’s the answer and that’s my answer.
JO: Because it’s not in your gif to provide it exclusively?
JW: That’s precisely right.
JO: Is Grace right when she speaks of a biblical forbidding of the homosexual act because it, I mean, it’s not really mentioned at all in the New Testament is it and a lot of people are convinced that the bible has explicitly condemned it?
JW: It is mentioned in the New Testament, three or four times. It’s clearly mentioned in the Old Testament. The understanding of the Church has always been historically that never mind whether it’s homosexual – I mean, the bible says a lot more about heterosexual sex and particularly about adultery and unfaithfulness. And it’s always been understood as saying that all sex outside marriage is wrong. And the understanding of society has been that marriage was between a man and a woman. But there are groups within the church who say that our understanding of the nature of a human being has changed dramatically in the last 100 years. And that what the bible was referring to was social circumstances in the 1st Century A.D. and before that, which don’t exist now and which are very different now. Now those are the two sides of the argument which will doubtless we will go on hearing about over the next few months.
JO: Just to clarify – Jesus never said anything about it though?
JW: Jesus didn’t mention it but he didn’t mention a lot of things. They were taken for granted and assumed at his time. He answered questions put to him. He answered very clearly on adultery, on unfaithfulness in marriage and on divorce. But he didn’t talk about homosexuality, no, absolutely not.
JO: What do you feel when you hear politicians often political figures waxing lyrical on the subject of equal marriage from a background of often adultery and divorce? Almost as if there’s a degree of picking and choosing on matters sexual. And homosexuals often come in for rather more grief than perhaps adulterous heterosexuals do?
JW: Yes and that does happen and that’s completely unacceptable. One of my favourite stories in the bible is in John, Chapter 8, where a woman’s brought to Jesus by some men who say: this one has been caught in adultery, are you going to confirm the law that she should be stoned to death? And Jesus says: whichever of you has not sinned, throw the first stone. And they all go away. Pope Francis picked this up a few months ago and he said: “who am I to judge?” And we just have to be very careful about throwing stones. There’s none of us who have a completely clean conscience.
JO: Indeed. Let’s go now to Ann who is in Westminster. Anne good morning.
Ann Widdecombe: Good morning to you.
JO: Oh I think we recognise that voice.
AW: You probably do.
JO: Yes, Ann what would you like to ask the Archbishop?
A: The Archbishop’s heart has just sunk I suspect!
JW: Oh, good morning. I don’t think we’ve met.
A: Good morning your grace.
JW: Oh good morning.
A: As you will be aware I left the Church of England in 1993. And one of the reasons I left was because of the sorts of answers that you’ve just given which is to say that the Church of England never seems to know what it thinks about anything. We couldn’t get a clear steer on abortion, it’s quiet on a whole range of issues. And what I want is a church that says what is right regardless of whether it’s popular or not, says what is wrong and gives us a very straightforward teaching. One can then choose to accept or reject that but at least there is a straightforward authoritative teaching. And of course the last straw for me was when the Church of England decided to ordain women and the nature of the debate in that synod which I followed carefully was not, is this theologically right. It was if we don’t do this we won’t appeal to the modern world. But your pews are not full.
JW: Thank you. How unsurprised I am by that question I can’t imagine. Well I just said the Church is quite clear that sex outside marriage is wrong and marriage is being understood as a man and a woman. That seems fairly clear statement. The House of Bishops has just issued a pretty clear statement which has got me a lot of stick about our behaviour on issues of sexuality. So I don’t think you’re right on that. I think we just try and say things with a certain amount of charity and respect of the complexity of issues that people in this world face.
A: Well there’s nothing wrong with the charity your Grace. But just answer straightforwardly is homosexuality wrong?
JW: I’m not going to answer that straightforwardly because it’s a complex …
A: No exactly and that sums it up.
JW: … it’s a complex question. Is homosexuality wrong?
A: Of course it is.
JW: People can’t help being gay. And every human being’s dignity has to be respected.
A: All that is true.
JW: And if you put the same question to the Pope you get the same answer. Secondly on the ordination of women, I’ve said very, very clearly that I believe it’s the right thing for theological reasons and I think the opponents of the ordination of women either as Priests or Bishops are wrong theologically. Now that seems to be a pretty clear answer. You and I disagree on that but I’m not going to pull my punches on that. I think you’re wrong, you think I’m wrong. We differ. Within the church …
A: We do indeed differ and you’ve chosen one of the few areas where the Church actually has come out strongly. But I asked…
JW: You just said we’d rather blandly….
A: No, no … Your Grace.
JO: You’ve chosen the area that you credited with explaining your quitting the church Miss Widdecombe.
A: No I said it was the last straw.
JO: Yes exactly.
A: Not that it was the sole reason. It was the last straw. There were plenty of other reasons. Let’s just go back to the question I have asked you. I’m not picking on homosexuality because I want to pick on gays. But the church needs to give clear guidance, the Pope actually has. He said quite unequivocally, it’s wrong but we must be charitable. Is that your position?
JW: My position is the historic position of the church, which is in our Canons, which says that sexual relations …
A: That it’s wrong?
JW: … should be within marriage and marriage is between a man and a woman.
JO: Why do you care so much Ann Widdecombe?
A: I care to have clear guidance from the Church. Now I’m only choosing that issue because it was the subject of the previous conversation and it seemed to me the Archbishop was going round in circles. And all I want from the Church is …
JW: No what I am saying is that I’m not the Pope and I can’t declare infallible doctrine and I’m very happy with that position. And that this is something that is done by the Church jointly and together. And therefore I can’t just stand here and say … I mean I’ve just quoted to you clearly what the Canons of the Church of England say, what the law of the Church of England says and I think that was reasonably clear.
JO: Again, I’ll ask you one more time if I may why do you care so much because the fact that the previous questioner was on similar territory would for many people be a reason to ask something different.
A: Well no what I thought, it was the way the Archbishop answered. If the Archbishop had answered clearly and said it’s wrong but you must be charitable, I would have passed on to something else. I would have probably gone on to abortion for example, or I might not have even done that. I might have said, in general the growing part of the Church of England is the Evangelical wing. They are utterly uncompromising about what they teach. And I would have asked the Archbishop is there a lesson there for the rest of the Church of England?
JW: Well that’s a very good question and …
JO: Which we may get on to after the travel news.
JW: Oh fine.
JO: Even with divine intervention, I’m afraid the traffic doesn’t stop moving on the streets of Great Britain…
JW: I think it stops the whole time though.
JO: Well not permanently we hope.
JO: Let’s go to John who is in East Horsley. John what would you like to ask the Archbishop?
John: Oh yes a very good morning to you. I’ve followed the sort of teachings of Jesus all my life and I’m well up in the 90s now. But I wonder if you could kindly define your views on God. What is God from a young lad, I’ve never really understood the word. What is the definition of God please?
JO: There’s a nice easy one for you Archbishop.
JW: John thank you very much and good morning to you. All of us, everyone throughout history has had trouble with that question and God answers by, through Jesus. When you look at Jesus you see God and that’s at the centre of the Christian faith, that Jesus is God, he’s fully human, he sort of translates being impossible to understand into human form so we can understand him. So you look at Jesus and you see God. So you read the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and you see who God is and the incredible amazing love that he shows and his self giving and his self emptying and all the things that mean that we worship and love him and try and follow him. So look at Jesus and you see God would be my answer.
J: Thank you very much. That’s very helpful. Thank you.
JW: Thank you John, very much.
JO: Thank you John. Simon is in Brixton. Simon you’re live on LBC, what would you like to ask Archbishop Justin Welby?
S: Oh good morning. Well given that Jesus said love your neighbour and that climate change is killing people, people are exploited around the world to make clothing for our high street shops and wooden furniture in the UK is made, is literally you know, trashing God’s creation through deforestation. Why aren’t these issues taught about in every single church in the country? It’s just that I see too much of a focus on, lots of new churches especially, Jesus dying for your sins, therefore you shouldn’t really worry about any issues outside of your own family or church.
JW: Thank you Simon. Yes I’m not sure I’d agree with that characterisation of new churches. In fact many of them are now amongst the most active in social engagement in issues of poverty and environment and all the rest of it. I would say, yes I agree that the environment should be something we talk about and in fact we do. We’ve got a whole group of people working on issues and in the Church we work very hard on how to improve our own example. I ran a Cathedral for a while and one of the big things there was what can do not to use up quite so much energy in running the Cathedral. And we tried to do a lot of work on that. Christian faith is not just about: looking after myself; about saying Jesus died for my sins. It’s saying that we are stewards of creation and need to care for it lovingly and value it and so I agree with that point. But I don’t think so many new Churches say, oh don’t worry about it.
S: Well I sometimes meet sort of Street Preachers and some of these are from new Churches and they see it as … when I was at university, the Christian Union people, lots of them wouldn’t be involved in any of the charitable societies, any of the Amnesty International groups or the Green Action Society or anything like that. Their sole purpose was to persuade people that Jesus died for their sins and they wouldn’t do the loving your neighbour bit. And I know lots of Churches are physically active and are promoting good causes in the environment and anti-poverty campaigns but many still don’t. I do hope that will change and hopefully it will with time. But I mean the Christian Union at my old university was just hell bent on persuading people that Jesus died for their sins. And that was the only thing they really focused on. And didn’t focus on any anti-poverty campaigning or environment campaigns or anything …
JO: I’d just add to that Simon if I may with an email that’s come in from Will on the issue of poverty perhaps and money certainly. He says: how does the Archbishop feel about the Church’s record as landowner and in particular its hardnosed approach to tenants? – these are Will’s words – and by further increasing its portfolio it risks becoming just another buy-to-let landlord?
JW: Good question Will. I think the Church has not always had a brilliant record as a landlord. In fact it’s often had a bad one. And when you look back over the history of the Church, we’ve been around for 1400 years in this country, the modern form of the Church, you can see there are lots of things that we should be ashamed of and I know that. So I’m well aware of that and if we’re going to be a landlord we’ve got to be a good landlord. I think on the whole the people who run the portfolio now do their best to do that. It’s pension fund stuff really and it’s looking after people’s pensions so they have to try and make sure that they’re going to be able to pay the pensions and get the best return they can. But I have a lot of conversations with them about making sure that that’s done in a socially responsible way. And that often brings you into considerable tensions because you can’t turn around to your employees and say sorry we can’t pay and you don’t want to turn round to your tenants and oppress them. I know when I was a Parish Priest in Warwickshire, that there was a point during the foot and mouth stuff that at the beginning of, just after 2000 and 2001 I think it was, that we stopped collecting rents for a while deliberately to give people some space.
JO: But it’s still not quite sell everything you own and follow me is it?
JW: No it isn’t. You’re absolutely right. We’ve got a big institution we employ 30,000 people and we have to pay their salaries. Now we could of course say to them: we’re not going to do that, we’re going to lay you off; I’m not sure that helps a lot of people very much.
JO: And speaking of, you mentioned the 1400 years that the Anglican Church has been in existence, the Christian Church itself sort of 600 or so years older. Brian picks you up on some of these timings when he writes: does the Archbishop seriously believe that after around three and a half billion years of evolution, including over two million years of the evolution of the human species, God chose to reveal the truth of his existence in the afterlife to a small tribe of semi-literate shepherds around 4,000 years ago?
JO: It’s 10.59. You’re listening to James O’Brien on LBC. If only politicians answered questions as adroitly as that.
JO: Wendy is in West Drayton. Wendy, good morning, what would you like to ask the Archbishop?
W: Good morning Your Grace.
JW: Good morning.
W: What I’d like to ask you is when is the first woman bishop in England going to be appointed?
JW: Well, we’ve got to get through a vote in the General Synod, and then Parliament has to approve it. I think we’re hoping in the early stages of next year, but then of course there has to be a vacancy, you can’t just, sort of, sack someone in order to create a gap, as it were. That would seem a bit unfair. But, I hope at the very beginning of next year that would be good.
W: I really hope so.
JW: So do I.
W: I left my church, which was a so called Forward in Faith church, when they voted in resolutions A and B, I couldn’t believe it. I’d been the organist there for five years, I’ve worked as an organist for 30 years, well ever since women were ordained in 1995, and I’ve come across some excellent women who are excellent priests, and I think it’s the best thing for the Church of England to have our first woman bishop.
JW: Well Wendy, it’s good of you to say that. I think equally I’d want to say that we really value the traditionalists within the Church of England, and one of the difficult things we’re doing of course is, we’re not a political party, when we do something like this we don’t say to those who disagree, you’ve got to quit.
JO: But, they did didn’t they, over women priests, as Ann Widdecombe reminded us?
JW: Well, some did, but the vast majority stayed in the Church of England.
JO: Do you think there may be another exodus when that bishop is…?
JW: Yes, there will be a few.
JO: Where will they go?
JW: I’ve no idea, I think probably to the Catholic Church, there will be quite a few to the Ordinarate, they may go somewhere else but we’ll be sorry to see them go, because we value them. But, at the same time, you know, that’s assuming it goes through, and that’s by no means a done deal.
JO: What odds would you place on it? This is the Synod you’re referring to?
JW: Yes. Well, we’ll see, I’m not really good at predicting Synods, or Parliaments or anything else. We try and do the right thing.
W: We have a woman bishop in Wales, or we did didn’t we?
JW: Yes you do. Do you live in Wales? You do in Ireland.
W: Yes, as well, yes.
JW: And, lots of others around the world, there’s some in South Africa, I mean, there’s tons of places have women bishops now.
JO: Is anyone at the front of the queue, is there a woman who is most likely to be…?
JW: Well, if there was I wouldn’t tell you.
JO: That’s a yes then isn’t it?
JW: I wouldn’t tell you.
JO: Let me refer you to a couple of questions that were submitted via our website, Archbishop. This is from Stephen Griffith, he says ‘What can the Church of England do about the massive inequalities of wealth and opportunity in England?’
JW: Oh gosh. Well, what we can do is to do things with all other churches, which is how it works, and with people of goodwill, Stephen. It’s a really good question. I think there’s the obvious things that we’ve all talked about, and we know about, which are around food banks, and night shelters, and credit unions and all these things.
JO: Well, they’re not simple issues, the Conservative Party contends that your 27 bishops were quite wrong to write to the Prime Minister calling for action over hunger and blaming policies for food banks.
JW: Certainly certain Conservatives said that, but there’s an All Party Group at the moment, that was launched last Monday led by one of our bishops, which is making sure that what we say is based on very, very good evidence. But, to go back to the question that Stephen was asking, I think the key thing is, over time we need a change of heart in this country, so there is much more of a sense of generosity and graciousness, and that comes with a real sense of belonging to one another, what the church calls solidarity, and a real sense of generosity and of people not seeking simply to maximise their own wealth and their own position. But, wanting to do well, and that’s quite proper, but at the same time to ensure that others do well with them, a real sense of the common good. That’s what the church is talking about, as a consequence of what God does for us in Jesus Christ, which is to give himself for our benefit and that should lead us to give ourselves for the benefit of those around us.
JO: The phrase in the letter sent by 27 of your bishops, 43 Christian leaders in total, was effectively that ‘cutbacks and failures,’ to quote verbatim, in the benefit system were forcing thousands of people to use food banks. That is your position as well is it Archbishop or not?
JW: The figures we have from a big selection of food banks, about 36% of the people who come to food banks come because they’re entitled to benefits, that’s been agreed. And, they are, for one reason or another, their benefit has not been paid. So, that’s the actual hard number. Yes, the other thing is that we get a lot of is, about 35% of people who come to food banks, come because they may be in employment, they very often are in employment, but as one of them said to me when I was in Cornwall quite recently, ‘I don’t want to come here, I’m ashamed to be here. I was ashamed to walk in, but these people they didn’t only offer me a box of food, they offered me a box of hope, because the month is a little longer than the money’. And, I think whatever the causes, those are the things that we’re dealing with, it’s people who come and they need to be treated with human dignity, they need to be loved, treated generously, and the church is doing that, and the churches together. It isn’t only the Church of England, it’s not even often always led by the Church of England, we’re doing this all over the country in the most amazing way. It’s all voluntary, and none of it is centrally directed, and it’s amazing, it’s people just out of their own generous hearts.
JO: Would you rather see policies enacted that took away the necessity for people to act out of their generous hearts?
JW: Well, no, I wouldn’t like to see the sense of personal responsibility for generosity stopped. But, I do want to live in a country where the economy works in a way that means food banks are really not necessary.
JO: Ian Duncan Smith has cited his own Christianity as a bedrock of his political ambition, and his welfare reforms in particular. Is that a brand of Christianity that you recognise?
JW: Yes, it is, very much so. I’ve always been very careful when talking not to make this a personal thing. Ian Duncan Smith is someone who has spent more time studying this than most of us, and I’m very cautious about, from my ignorance, speaking to someone who has spent so long doing this. But, we have priests and bishops in every community in England, and when we raise things we don’t do it because we wake up one morning and think ‘how am I going to fill the empty hours of the day?’ We do it because we’re hearing from our priests living in every community, working on the ground, seeing people day to day about what is happening, and we raise these issues – I hope politely and courteously, but forcefully – to say these are things that we need to be concerned about. But, I’m not attacking Ian Duncan Smith, I’m not going to do that.
JO: The background of some other members of Cabinet, is often cited as a reason for being perhaps out of touch with the poverty issues you refer to. You went to the same school that is often cited as evidence of being out of touch, you went to Eton College. Does it make it harder to understand perhaps the plight of less privileged people to attend a school such as yours?
JW: I’m often asked that. The trouble is I haven’t got a decent answer to it. I mean, I’ve spent the last 20 years working in areas quite often, not always, but quite often in areas of deprivation, on a vicar’s stipend for most of the time, or less, and that certainly brings you down to earth with a bump and teaches you a lot you didn’t know. And I’ve always been enormously grateful to the parishes and the places I lived in, where I learnt so much, and some of it I needed to learn. Of course, if you’re only ever in one environment… but you look around at most of the Cabinet, there’s a big mix of people there, and in the Opposition.
JO: There’s a heck of a lot of Etonians there.
JW: Yes, and some of them have had pretty tough times as well.
JO: True. Is there such a thing as a typical Old Etonian?
JW: Never met one yet, but I don’t meet many I have to say.
JO: Certainly not in food banks. Anthea is in Waltham Abbey, Anthea what would you like to say?
Anthea: Good morning. I know you’ve got work experience and a heart for the continent of Africa, and I’m sure you know something that most people don’t realise. Which is that most people in the world who follow Jesus, aren’t from Northern Europe, they’re not pale of hue, but usually darker of hue. And, in London, next door to me, 60% of the people who are in churches are like that. But, I’m wondering what you can do to help people be more aware of the church around the world, because it does seem a bit like…most people think when they think if Anglicans, or Christians in general, they think of some upper middle class guy, you know.
JW: Thanks Anthea!
A: Well, you can’t change who you are, that’s not your fault, but I know your heart, I know a little bit about it.
JW: Well, Anthea, you’re really great, and I’m so pleased you asked the question. Yes, 98% of members of the Anglican community who are regular churchgoers are not in England. The average Anglian is an African woman in her thirties; a sub-Saharan African woman in her thirties. And we need to remember that, and I’ve spent my life being reminded of that. I came to faith in Christ myself partly as a result of the witness of the church in Africa, when I was living in Kenya in 1974. And so, I just have a huge gratitude to the African Church, and to many other churches. The most rapidly growing churches in this country are often the black majority churches, they are amazing places, and they do amazing work. And yes, I just want to echo what you said: the church, we are the most incredible multi-national organisation, Anglican churches are in 143 countries, 37 provinces, we’re all over the world. And often in the toughest, most difficult parts of the world doing the most amazing work, and I’m often overwhelmed to think that I have the privilege of being part of that. And, we don’t set up the questions on this but I’m so pleased to be able to talk about that, so thank you.
JO: That’s a remarkable statistic about the average member of the Anglican community being a sub-Saharan African woman in her thirties.
JW: Yes, it is isn’t it, it just puts us back in our box a bit, and it’s very good for us.
JO: …we’re not going to get through all the people who are waiting to ask you questions, Archbishop, but we shall crack on with a couple more imminently. Before that I just want to draw you to the issue of energy prices, something you have spoken out on as being a huge moral issue. What did you mean by that?
JW: Particularly in this country and in other colder climates, energy is something you don’t have any choice about buying, so it’s a moral issue as to how it’s priced and how it’s delivered because it’s an essential. It’s like water, you’ve got to have it.
JO: You spent 11 years as an oil company executive, which is often cited as evidence that you haven’t been confined to cloisters in y our pre-Archbishop existence. Does that give you an insight into the energy industry that is perhaps denied to some politicians?
JW: No, I don’t think so. And, being a vicar you’re certainly not in cloisters, you’re as uncloistered as they come. I was doing a completely different sort of thing, which is I was at the bit where you drill for oil and gas, at that end of the business, not at the end where you generate electricity and things like that, so I don’t have particularly strong insights. But, I’m very conscious that this is something that is of huge importance for many poor people especially, because meeting the energy bills isn’t a choice. Older people, poorer people, you’ve got to heat.
JO: The reason I asked it that way round was because I was wondering if it was naïve of you to suggest that energy companies had a moral obligation to set prices fairly, I wondered if you would say, well no I’ve worked in the industry and the notion of expecting morality from that industry is not naïve.
JW: The people I worked with had a very strong sense of morality, we used to have quite strong arguments about what the right actions were. And, I remember sitting round in the evening with colleagues quite often thrashing through particular issues. But, of course it’s a moral issue, how much you charge for essentials is always a moral issue, it doesn’t matter who it is, it’s an incredibly important moral issue and it’s something we need to take responsibility for as a society.
JO: The church, it emerged after you’d made those comments, owned more than £7m of shares in Centrica, and about £6m in SSE, so you are benefitting from the price hikes that you implicitly suggest are immoral as an institution.
JW: Yes, we have shares in a lot of things, some of them we regret, some of them we don’t. One of the things where we are very active with companies we feel we should have shares in is that we engage very strongly with the management on the moral issues using the power of our shareholding.
JO: Is there a moral dimension to the housing price bubble at the moment? Vince Cable this morning cites it as being worse than it was before the crash, we know that many, many families are nowhere near being able to afford homes. Or, is this just the inevitability of economics?
JW: There is no part of life that doesn’t have a moral dimension, absolutely none at all, and economics is absolutely central to the moral dimension of life. I haven’t seen Vince Cable’s answers, but yes of course there is the housing bubble because again somewhere to live is an essential of life. It’s not just something you buy and sell, it’s something you actually have to have in order to have shelter and security. I was out with town pastors, as they’re called there, in Ipswich last weekend, very late meeting people on the streets, doing what we could to help people. And, when you meet people who have been made homeless for one reason or another it tears your heart, what they’re going through. You know, you could always say, well they did this, or they did that to some degree. One of them said, well it was my fault I’m on the street. That maybe the case but it still tears your heart when you see the consequence of people without homes.
JO: Let’s go to the phone lines again, Kes is in Charlton. Kes good morning, what would you like to ask the Archbishop?
Kes: Good morning James, good morning Archbishop.
JW: Good morning.
K: You’ve done an enormous amount of great good since you’ve been in post. When the remarriage of divorcees came into legislation in churches it was left to clergys’ own conscience as to whether or not they carried out these services. Why is that not the case when it comes to same sex blessings, and why can’t clergy be left to their own conscience while we’re waiting for the synodical process to happen, if there’s going to be a change with regard to equal marriage in church which so many of us want?
JO: Are you a member of the clergy, Kes.
K: I am, yes.
JW: Kes, thank you very much. I think as I said at the beginning of the programme, on a similar question, one of the things I recognise very much from the work I do, is what we say here is heard around the world. And, people really worry about what we say here, because for historic reasons we’re linked, not just the Anglican community but particularly that, but we’re linked to churches all round the world. And so, before we make a major change in how we understand what we should do, we have to listen to people, and go through a process of consultation and talking to people, and listening very carefully and praying, and without predetermined outcomes. Well, why can’t we just do it now? Because, the impact of that on Christians in countries far from here, like South Sudan, like Nigeria and other places, would be absolutely catastrophic, and we have to love them as much as we love the people who are here. And, at the same time, we have to listen incredibly carefully to the LGBT communities here, and listen to what they’re saying, and we have to look at the tradition of the church, and the teaching of the church, and the teaching of scripture, which is definitive in the end, before we come to a conclusion. But, we’re not in a position just to suddenly say, okay our position in this country has changed, we are one of the great international groups that there is in this world, we are massively, majority, not in England.
JO: I mean, okay, a gay Christian listening to you there, may have heard the message that he or she can’t marry their partner in their church because of the conniptions it would give to some African, dare we say, less enlightened people in Africa.
JW: Well, I don’t think we dare say less enlightened actually, I think that’s a neo colonial approach and it’s one I really object to. I think it’s not about them having conniptions and getting irate, that’s nothing to do with it. It’s about the fact that I’ve stood by a grave side in Africa of a group of Christians who’d been attacked because of something that had happened far far away in America, and they were attacked by other people because of that and a lot of them had been killed. And, I was in the South Sudan a few weeks ago, and the church leaders there were saying, please don’t change what you’re doing because then we couldn’t accept your help, and we need your help desperately. And, we have to listen carefully to that, and we also have to listen incredibly carefully to gay people here, who want to get married, and also to recognise that any homophobic behaviour here causes enormous suffering, particularly to gay teenagers, something I’m particularly conscious of at the moment, and we have to listen to that very carefully and work out what we do. All I’m saying is it’s really not a simple issue, there’s a huge danger in trotting out simple solutions to really complicated issues which have huge effects on people’s lives.
JO: And yet, at one point the same would have been said about women bishops. You were fairly unequivocal on that that you hope to see one ordained at the beginning of next year. Can you imagine a day when two people of the same sex will be married in an Anglian church?
JW: Well, there’s already parts of the world where that does happen so I don’t have to imagine that. I don’t know, personally I look at the scriptures, I look at the teaching of the church, I listen to Christians around the world, and I have real hesitations about that. And, I’m incredibly uncomfortable saying that because I really don’t want to say no to people who love each other, but you have to have a sense of following what the teaching of the church is, we can’t just make sudden changes.
JO: You’ve been portrayed previously as wrestling with that, and perhaps moving away from the hesitance that you’ve described, does this signal that you’ve returned perhaps to your…?
JW: No, it’s something I wrestle with every day, and often in the middle of the night. I’m incredibly conscious of the position of gay people in this country, how badly they’ve been treated over the years, how badly the church has behaved. And, at the same time I’m incredibly conscious of what I saw in January in the South Sudan in the DRC and other places, you know, it’s not a simple issue.
JO: So, a Christian on the ground in Africa could end up being on the receiving end of violence and abuse because of a decision taken at Lambeth Palace about sexual equality, about gay marriage?
JW: Yes, precisely.
JO: That’s not something I’ve heard before.
JW: I’m afraid it’s only too sadly true.
JO: So, the Christian becomes typified as often what is perceived to be the problem.
JW: What was said is ‘if we leave a Christian community in this area’…I’m quoting them, this is not obviously something I think…’if we leave a Christian community in this area we will all be made to become homosexual and so we’re going to kill the Christians’. The mass grave had 369 bodies in it and I was standing with the relatives. That burns itself into your soul, as does the suffering of gay people in this country.
JO: Archbishop Justin Welby thank you very much.
JW: Thank you.