Vivian Wineman, The Chief Rabbi, Archbishop Justin Welby and Gillian Merron

Vivian Wineman, The Chief Rabbi, Archbishop Justin Welby and Gillian Merron (Photo credit: John Rifkin)

The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken of the need to move beyond interfaith dialogue characterised by “bland statements of anaemic intent” to urgently address sources of tension – warning that failing to do so would be “disingenuous and ultimately dishonest”. 

Justin Welby impassioned plea came during a speech at the Board of Deputies annual dinner in which he reflected on a year blighted by “religiously-sponsored violence” across the globe.

“Within the Christian community we need to stand against our own tendency, when exhibited over many centuries, to violence; violence against each other and above all violence against Jewish communities in horrendous and horrible ways going back well over a millennia,” he told hundreds of guests at the representative body’s annual dinner in central London.

“We need to stop that both with security but also with ideology that subverts the arguments of the radicals. If we don’t do that we leave all the good arguments in the hands of the radicals.”

To achieve that, he argued, there was a need for communities to come together to have “difficult conversations. “We need to move beyond inter-religious interaction in which the usual suspects issue bland statements of anaemic intent with which you could paper the walls of Lambeth Palace – and much good would it do. All desperate to agree with one another so that the very worst outcome could be we end up acknowledging our differences. 

“That is not enough in the face of the dangers we face at this time. It is disingenuous and ultimately dishonest because alongside all we hold in common there are profound differences too. True friendships can withstand honestly-held differences in values, opinions and religious understandings.”

The Archbishop – who apologised for the recent actions of Church of England vicar Stephen Sizer and vowed to make every effort to stand alongside the community in the challenges it faces. But in strikingly candid remarks, he warned: “We will fail from time to time. I hope we’ll have the guts, as we have done, to apologise, acknowledge our failure and do better in the future.” 

Pledging that his Church would take anti-Semitism seriously, the leader of 18million Anglicans added: “I’ve made in the past one serious mistake on that – failing to stand up and protest about something when I should have done – it was about three years ago – and I will not make that mistake again.” 

Welby – whose speech combined an intensely serious message with effortless comedic touches –  even touched on the UK elections. “There’s rather a lot of promises around at the moment,” he said. “I’m not saying they’re done dishonourably. It’s just sometimes they’re more hope than expectation. 

“My experience of them particularly over last 6 months has been of very honourable people doing very difficult jobs with inadequate resources. They do their best to do it as well as they can. They get it wrong. So do I, constantly.”

The Anglican leader also paid tribute to the “wisdom grace and great insight during extremely challenging times” of President Vivian Wineman, whose six-year term ends this month.

Photo credit: John Rifkin

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