Unlike the Paranoid States of America, the so-called United Kingdom does not insist on the separation of church and state. Quite the opposite. The Church of English is the "established" (official) church of, errr, England [Duh! Ed.] and the Queen of England is "Fidei Defensor" (Defender of the Faith), etc etc. As well, senior members of the Anglican hierarchy have positions in the British Parliament as "Lords Spiritual". So it is that the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the C of E, occasionally makes public his opinions on matters political.
The incumbent Archbishop, Rt. Rev. Justin Welby, gave a lengthy interview to Politics Home, Parliament’s weekly magazine, in which he called upon Britons to be welcoming to migrants but said that concerns about assimilating them into British society are not racist. "There is a tendency to say 'those people are racist', which is just outrageous, absolutely outrageous,>" said Britain's chief cleric. "Fear is a valid emotion at a time of such colossal crisis. This is one of the greatest movements of people in human history. Just enormous. And to be anxious about that is very reasonable."
Archbishop Welby accepts that, politically, the debate around refugees and migrants is deeply divisive, and says concerns about the pressure new arrivals could place on communities and services are entirely legitimate. "In fragile communities particularly – and I’ve worked in many areas with very fragile communities over my time as a clergyman – there is a genuine fear: what happens about housing? What happens about jobs? What happens about access to health services? There is a genuine fear. And it is really important that that fear is listened to and addressed. There have to be resources put in place that address those fears."
Speaking of the jihad being waged by ISIS and other Islamic extremists against the West, Archbishop Welby warned that, "For the first time in centuries in this country ... we find ourselves involved in conflict which has very, very significant theological aspects. Not only in the Middle East but around the world, in all kinds of places, you’re seeing the outworking of that. You’re seeing it in Libya, in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, right across the Levant and Mesopotamia.... And therefore an intelligent response to this must include theological and religious literacy, and an understanding of what drives people when they are caught up in religious ideas."
Internationally, he opines, that means confronting those states, in particular Saudi Arabia, that have aided the development of extremism and violence. "The key thing is, if we are going to deal with extremism, mainstream religious leaders – which within many parts of the Islamic world includes governments – must be very, very clear about taking responsibility for the violence within their own traditions ... and tackling that effectively. That will mean places like Saudi Arabia tackling extremist thinking within their own tradition. Much support has come from within those countries, and they need to be challenged on that. They need to stamp out the support for the extremist views from within their own societies."
In order to be fully successful, the Archbishop said, the struggle against religious violence and extremism must involve a domestic component too. He offered a staunch defence of the UK’s own "Judeo-Christian tradition", and warned against attempts to dilute those values out of a misplaced fear of causing offence.
"I think you’ve got to be very clear about rights and wrongs," he said. "You can’t turn a blind eye, in any way at all."
This, he added, is where secularism too often goes wrong. A successful multi-faith society, he believes, should not view faith as a threat to be pushed to the margins, nor identity as a zero-sum game of exchange, where different groups deny their values to avoid alienating others. "We need to be confident about our own heritage, our Judeo-Christian heritage, whether we’re believers or not," he says. "That is what has shaped our own values, and we need to be confident in that." [My emphasis. Walt]