Justin Welby: Rebirth of values required to stem tide of referendum hatred

Justin Welby is the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Justin Welby is the Archbishop of Canterbury.
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THE events of the past two weeks have led to some of the most traumatic and dynamic changes that we have known.

The course of the EU referendum campaign was robust – as it properly should be on such great issues – but at times veered over the line on both sides: it was not merely robust but unacceptable.

Through such comments were created cracks in the thin crust of the politeness and tolerance of our society through which, since the referendum, we have seen an outwelling of poison and hatred that I cannot remember in this country for very many years.

It is essential to challenge the attacks, xenophobia and racism that seem to have been felt acceptable, at least for a while.

Just over a week ago, at Lambeth Palace, at the breaking of the fast of Ramadan, I shared an iftar with the new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the Chief Rabbi.

There were more than 100 young people of every faith and of no faith there. That sense of hope and energy for the future carried us through the rest of the week. It is there and we can reach for it.

If, however, we are to thicken the crust through which the cracks have come, if we are to move to a place where we are not yet speaking of reconciliation but beginning to get on a path where in future healing and reconciliation ​will begin to happen, we need to beware. St Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, says to them at one point: “Love one another, cease to tear at one another, lest at the end you consume one another.”

We are in danger of doing that in the way that our politics is developing at the moment. If we are to tackle that, we have to put in place some fundamental issues to be capable of creating the agile, flexible, creative, entrepreneurial and exciting society – full of the common good and of solidarity and love for one another – which is the only way that this country will flourish and prosper for all its citizens in the world outside the European Union of the future.

The biggest challenge we face if we are to be effective in creating a new vision for Britain, a vision that enables hope and reconciliation to begin to flower, is to tackle inequality. It is inequality that thins out the
crust of our society and raises the
levels of anger, resentment and bitterness.

We have done it before; this is not new. In the great Governments following 1945 we tackled the inequality that had been so ruinous to our society in the 1930s and led to the failures of that time.

The tools for tackling inequality are as readily available as ever. They are the obvious ones of education, public health – we would add today mental health – and housing.

We must, however, take up those tools and invest in them. I am glad that the education side of the Church of England has just launched a fresh vision for education that draws together not only the need for skills but the need for a whole person, deeply imbued with the virtues, hopes and aspirations that we will need in our society.

However, we also need investment in public health and to narrow the inequality gaps that have emerged in recent years.

Last week we saw horrifying figures on the levels of child poverty in this country. We have seen a widening of the unfairness in our society, and with that it is no surprise that some shocking things have emerged in the last few days.

Those tools, however, cannot be used effectively if they are held in some kind of vacuum of values. We need a deep renewal of our values in this country.

We need a renewal of a commitment to the common good and of solidarity. We need a sense of generosity, hospitality and gratuity, of the overflowing of the riches and flourishing that we possess, not only into our society but across the world.

The issues of immigration, and the hatred expressed to those who may have been here for two or three generations, are not to be solved by simply pulling up the drawbridge.

Neither will the plight of the many British citizens in Europe. I was talking to the Bishop in Europe, whose churches many of them have attended, and hearing of their massive concern and deep insecurity.

We are to have a new sense of values. On a Friday in December, I hope to hold a day’s debate on the nature of British values. That has become much ​more important. We cannot despair.

Many of us will have been part of the 48 and some of us among the 52. To bring them together for a country that flourishes for all its citizens is now our great challenge. I started with the scripture of St Paul and I will finish with Deuteronomy. As the Israelites were about to enter the promised land, God said to Moses: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

We live in a society deeply embedded in that sense of destiny and of hope. We can catch hold of that hope and be that agile, flourishing and entrepreneurial society that will benefit the poorest and richest – one that will reach out with a forward foreign policy to the poorest around the world and can renew the standards that we believe are the best of this country.

Justin Welby is the Archbishop of Canterbury. He spoke in a House of Lords debate on the EU referendum. This is an edited version.