Archbishop of Canterbury says church must think again about portraying Jesus as white

Imogen Braddick
·4-min read
PA
PA

Some statues in Canterbury Cathedral may have to come down, the Archbishop of Canterbury said, as he said the Church must think again about portraying Jesus as white.

The Most Rev Justin Welby suggested some statues "will have to come down" and "some names will have to change", but he insisted it was not his decision and that monuments would be put "in context".

With the growing support for the Black Lives Matter movement, which has sparked global protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, a number of petitions have emerged demanding controversial monuments in the UK are taken down.

But Rev Welby stressed a need to learn from the past so that it is not repeated in the future.

He was asked if people should forgive the “trespasses” of people immortalised in the form of statues, rather than tearing them down.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We can only do that if we’ve got justice, which means the statue needs to be put in context.

"Some will have to come down. Some names will have to change."

He continued: “I mean, the church, goodness me, you know, you just go around Canterbury Cathedral, there’s monuments everywhere, or Westminster Abbey, and we’re looking at all that, and some will have to come down.

“But yes, there can be forgiveness, I hope and pray as we come together, but only if there’s justice.

“If we change the way we behave now, and say this was then and we learned from that, and change how we’re going to be in the future, internationally, as well.”

Pressed on whether he was saying statues will be taken down in the cathedral, Rev Welby said: “No, I didn’t say that. I very carefully didn’t say that.”

He said it is not his decision, and told the programme: “We’re going to be looking very carefully and putting them in context and seeing if they all should be there.”

Rev Welby added: “The question arises. Of course it does. We have seen that all over the world.”

He said it is “what people do at times like this”, adding: “And it’s a good thing, but there has to be, for forgiveness, there has to be this turning round, this conversion, the Pope called it.

“The change of heart that says we learned from them not to be like that, and to change the way we are in the future.”

Rev Welby was also asked if the church needed to "reimagine" Jesus' whiteness in the west.

He said: "Yes, of course it does, this sense that God was white...you go into churches (around the world) and you don't see a white Jesus.

"You see a black Jesus, a Chinese Jesus, a middle eastern Jesus - which is of course the most accurate - you see a Fijian Jesus.

He added: "Jesus is portrayed in as many ways as there are cultures languages and understandings.

"And I don't think that throwing out everything we've got in the past is the way does it, but I do think saying 'that's not the Jesus who exists, that's not who we worship' - it is a reminder of the universality of the God who became fully human."

Anti-racism protests sparked by the death of My Floyd in the United States have prompted activists around the world to tear down statues.

In Bristol, a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down and dumped in the harbour, while the figure of slave owner Robert Milligan was taken down from its plinth at West India Quay in London’s Docklands.

Last week, the governing body of Oxford’s Oriel College “expressed their wish” to remove a statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes, following fresh protests.

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