WHEN the Archbishop of Canterbury is forced to take to Twitter to deny he had branded almost half the electorate as “fascist”, you know the Church of England has landed itself in an unholy mess once again.
Justin Welby made the contentious remarks at the opening of the General Synod in London this week when he likened the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit to the “fascist tradition of politics”.
Stung by the reaction to his comments, Welby took to the social media platform to deny that was his view and pleading with people to read his actual speech.
So I did, and these are his actual words taken from the Archbishop’s own website: “There are a thousand ways to explain the Brexit vote, or the election of President Trump, or the strength in the polls in Holland of Geert Willders or in France of Madame Le Pen and many other leaders in a nationalist, populist, or even fascist tradition of politics.”
This seems pretty unequivocal to me. Despite his later denials, he is clearly making a direct link between Brexit voters and fascism. Presumably the speech was put together with some care, so if he didn’t mean those words, why in heaven’s name did he say them?
It is easy to get annoyed with such inflammatory and provocative remarks, but then you think: “Why bother? It is only the Church of England.”
And therein lies the tragedy of the modern church – condemned to ever-greater irrelevance with each achingly-trendy pronouncement.
Eton and Cambridge-educated Welby won’t be the first member of the gilded elite to denigrate fellow citizens for daring to hold a different point of view, and he won’t be the last.
Since the referendum vote last June, those of us who voted to leave have been branded as Nazis, fascists, racists, bigots, xenophobes – all because we refused to bend the knee before our unelected, unaccountable masters in Brussels.
Apparently if you want Britain to become a free and independent nation again you are “just like Hitler”.
If they think such low abuse is likely to change anyone’s mind, then I am afraid they have another think coming. It is water off a duck’s back.
I suspect what infuriates our political establishment and cultural elites more than anything is the fact that no one takes much note of what they say any longer – hence the frankly hysterical reaction to Brexit, of which Welby’s poisonous comments are only a part.
This is a great pity because the Church of England could use what platform it has left to actually do some good in the world. It could, for example, highlight the plight of Christian communities in the Middle East who suffer appalling persecution at the hands of Islamist inspired pogroms.
In the birthplace of Christianity, some of the most ancient Christian denominations in the world have been virtually wiped out – with barely a peep of protest in the West.
People are massacred, women and children raped and churches burned down – but you won’t hear much about that at the General Synod.
Instead we have endless, anguished debates about how many homosexual priests can dance on the point of a pin. Quite frankly, who cares?
The Church of England looks at its rapidly-emptying pews and wonders how it can make itself “relevant” to the modern world. Well, here’s a radical suggestion – how about preaching the unchanging verities of the Gospel instead of aping ever-changing fashionable opinion?
How about offering a bit of leadership to people desperately in need of spiritual guidance instead of picking at the fluff in your own navel?
How about having the moral courage to robustly defend Christian beliefs instead of retreating into the safe space of vacuous identity politics?
When Welby’s predecessor Dr Rowan Williams came out as an advocate for Sharia Law, which actively discriminates against women and girls, some of us thought the Church of England could not possibly fall any lower.
It seems Justin Welby is intent on proving us wrong.