Church must stand up against oppression, Archbishop of Canterbury says

·4-min read

Anglicans must stand up against oppression “at any and every level” including speaking out on the climate emergency, the unethical treatment of migrants and human rights abuses, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

Justin Welby told the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference of worldwide Anglican bishops they must speak, act and “take risks” particularly as many communities are unable to do any of these things.

Suggesting this could seem to put them in conflict with governments, the archbishop said: “Our approach springs from scripture.

“This is not the church getting involved in politics, it’s the church getting involved in God.”

Applause broke out during his keynote speech, at the Canterbury meeting on Sunday, as he said: “To be silent on the unethical treatment of migrants, or on war, oppression, the abuse of human rights on persecution, is to be one of the oppressors.

Lambeth Conference
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (centre right) with bishops from around the world gather at Lambeth Conference (Gareth Fuller/PA)

“We live in solidarity because the person with the gun pointing at them, and I have been there, often can not say anything.”

He added that “those in other countries can speak with power, they can gather support, they can take risks”.

He described the climate crisis as “an undeclared war with huge consequences”.

People should not be silent on the climate emergency and its implications for the economy today, and not in 10 years, “which is a political expression meaning `after I have retired’,” according to the archbishop.

He said: “Climate change, better called the climate crisis or better still the climate emergency as we know is the result of the wealthier countries having declared war on God’s creation, unknowingly, unthinkingly starting from the 19th century.

“The symptoms of that war now are that the wealthy dump refuse in the oceans.

“They tell the poor not to use carbon-generating fuels and they say to the world, too often, not by their word but by their actions ‘we will keep our wealth and you, the poor, must discover new paths’.”

Lambeth Conference
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at the altar during the opening service at the Lambeth Conference(Gareth Fuller/PA)

He spoke of the creation of 800 million to 1.2 billion refugees.

The archbishop added that, while the full impact of current decisions may not be known but predicted “we do know that the results will be tragic beyond anything in human history, overwhelming beyond anything we can imagine and devastating for so many people.”

He said the church needs to stand firm in its ability to help others.

He said: “In history, in empire, in politics, all too often all churches, not only Anglicans, have got sucked in to supporting governments colluding with injustice and upholding oppression at any and every level.

“To stand against oppression is frightening because it is costly and so many of you know that so well.

“We don’t like it when governments speak forcefully against us or do worse than that in many parts of the Anglican communion, yet we must speak and we must act.”

Earlier this week the archbishop told the meeting that church members have “disagreed without hatred” in recent days but “not as many in the press want us to”.

It came after he reaffirmed a 1998 Anglican declaration rejecting same-sex marriage, sparking a controversy over the church’s relationships with the LGBTQ+ community.

The resolution states that marriage is “between a man and a woman”, and that same-sex relationships are “incompatible with scripture”.

On Tuesday, the archbishop said he could not and would not punish churches for conducting gay marriages.

He said: “I neither have, nor do I seek, the authority to discipline or exclude a church of the Anglican Communion.

“I will not do so.”

Anglican churches in Scotland, Wales, the US, Canada, New Zealand, Brazil and Mexico either conduct or bless same-sex marriages.

The most determined opposition comes from churches in sub-Saharan Africa, with the archbishops of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda boycotting the conference.

The archbishop, who said he had “missed” the African church leaders, felt his greatest failure at the Lambeth conference was “not to have encouraged them enough to be here”.

He said: “Discussion might have been more complicated but if we love one another we might all find renewal.”

On Sunday, the archbishop suggested there is still much work to do by the diverse and often argumentative global Anglican community.

He pledged that areas of learning which have been raised during the conference will be followed up to try and help “deepen relationships”.