The Archbishop of Canterbury has addressed the House of Lords at the beginning of a debate after Britain voted to leave the European Union. He has expressed his dismay at the racist and xenophobic attacks that followed the result, and optimism that the country can do better.
The course of the campaign was both robust, as it properly should be on such great issues, but at times veered over the line on both sides into being not merely robust but unacceptable.
Through those 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 out-welling of poison and hatred that I cannot remember in this country for very many years.
It is essential, not only in this House but for the leaders of both sides, and throughout our society, to challenge the attacks, the xenophobia and the racism that seem to have been felt to be acceptable, at least for a while.
Last week, just over a week ago at Lambeth Palace we had an itfar [sic] – the breaking of the fast at the end of the fasting day of Ramadan – in which I shared with the new Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn [sic], and with the Chief Rabbi. We had over a hundred young people of every faith and of no faith, and that sense of hope and energy and a future was one that carried through the rest of the week. It is there, and we can reach for it.
The Archbishop cited verses from Galatians that many would have heard read in church the Sunday following the Brexit vote (Galatians 5:14-15):
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 that in the way that our politics is developing at the moment.
Welby named inequality as the greatest challenge to cohesion and healing in the country, and named education, public health and mental health provision, and above all “values” as the tools needed to address such inequality.
The biggest thing it seems to me that we must challenge, my Lords, if we are to be effective in this creation of a new vision for Britain – a vision that enables hope and reconciliation to begin to flower – is to tackle the issues of inequality. It is inequality that thins out the crust of our society. It is inequality that raises the levels of anger and bitterness. …
We need a deep renewal of our values in this country. We need a renewal of a commitment to the common good. We need a renewal of solidarity. We need a sense of generosity of generosity, of hospitality, of gratuity, of the overflowing of the riches and the flourishing that we possess …
He said that he is pursuing a full day’s debate on “the nature of British values” to be held in December.
Find the full text of Archbishop Welby’s speech to the House of Lords here.
Featured image: the Archbishop referred to last week’s Iftar with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. The Mayor posted a selfie from the event (via Twitter)