The Archbishop of Canterbury has urged the West to reconsider its prevailing mindset that Jesus was white – as he revealed a review into religious statues.
Justin Welby said monuments in Canterbury Cathedral are going to be looked at ‘very carefully’ to see if they all ‘should be there’.
The head of the Anglican Communion waded into the heated statue debate during an interview this morning, where he was also asked if the ‘way the western church portrays Jesus needs to be thought about again’.
He immediately replied: ‘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.’
Rev Welby stressed his view was not to ‘throw out’ the past but instead offer a rounded picture of the ‘universality’ of Christ.
Justin Welby this morning said monuments in Canterbury Cathedral are going to be looked at ‘very carefully’ to see if they all ‘should be there’
Rev Welby stressed his view was not to ‘throw out’ the past but instead offer a rounded picture of the ‘universality’ of Jesus (stained glass window in Canterbury Cathedral, left, and statue of Christ enthroned surrounded by angels above the doorway, right)
Speaking this morning in a wide-ranging interview Rev Welby told BBC’s Today: ‘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 to do 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.’
Rev Welby also revealed that statues in Canterbury Cathedral would be under the microscope on the back of a nationwide Black Lives Matter campaign to rip down monuments to controversial figures.
Speaking about the recent calls for statue removals, he said people should forgive the ‘trespasses’ of people immortalised in the form of statues, rather than tearing them down.
But he added: ‘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.’
Jesus portrayed by Robert Powell in the 1977 TV show Nazareth. Rev Welby said ‘Jesus is portrayed in as many ways as there are cultures languages and understandings’
He said he does not have the power to unilaterally remove statues in Canterbury Cathedral, but said the Church would be reviewing the monuments
He added: ‘Some names will have to change. 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.’
He said he does not have the power to unilaterally remove statues in Canterbury Cathedral, but said the Church would be reviewing the monuments.
Jesus portrayed at the Last Supper by Da Vinci in 1494. Justin Welby this morning stressed that Christ is not always depicted as a white man
Pressed on whether he was saying statues will be torn down in the cathedral, Mr 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 Today 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.’
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.’