‘Cancel culture’ threatens the future of the Church, warns Archbishop of Canterbury

Cancel culture is a “huge threat” to the future of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said as he defended the right to freedom of speech.

Wading into the “culture wars” debate, the Most Reverend Justin Welby expressed alarm at growing censorship in the UK, singling out the “very, very dangerous” trends that had emerged in universities.

He warned that the process of cancelling or “no-platforming” speakers or people whose “views you dislike” could “very quickly” lead to “cancelling everyone who disagrees”.

Amid a growing debate over the tearing down of statues and memorials to controversial historical figures, he said the Church had identified “one or two” that were “really terrible” and would be moved to museums, but added that “we cannot cancel history”.

“The past is a reality. I think cancel culture is a huge threat to the life of the Church,” he told the Italian newspaper la Repubblica. “We need to be able to express truths or to express our views, whether they’re good or bad.”

The Archbishop also said there was a need to uphold the right to free speech when asked about the row over the showing of a picture of the Prophet Mohammed at Batley Grammar School.

Protesters gathered outside Batley Grammar School in Batley, West Yorkshire


Asked about the row in Batley, which led to protests outside a school after a teacher showed a picture of the Prophet Mohammed, the Archbishop underlined the need to uphold the right to free speech

While describing blasphemy as a “morally bad choice”, he pointed out that the Church had supported the abolition of blasphemy laws in the UK, adding that Muslim leaders across the country had urged protesters not to resort to violence or threats.

Asked whether the debate over Brexit was now over, he said that covid-19 had helped the country to move on from the divisions of the past five years, joking that he was a “Remainer” but not a “Remoaner.”

However, with tensions between the UK and Brussels escalating over vaccine supplies, he warned that “vaccine nationalism” was now an “enormous danger.”

With the Church committed committed to reviewing its stance on homosexuality by 2022, Mr Welby refused to answer when pressed on whether same sex marriages marriages could soon be allowed.

Describing the process as “incredibly complex and rather delicate”, he added: ‘I’m simply not going to answer that question because it would prejudge where we might get to, and that would mean that we’d have a lot more trouble getting there.”

Pressed on his thoughts on the cancel culture movement, the Archbishop told the newspaper: ‘’We can’t erase the past. It’s impossible. We have to learn from it sometimes, often, always. We have to repent of it quite often. But we cannot erase it.

“We cannot cancel history. We cannot cancel differences of opinion. Particularly for universities, it seems to me very, very dangerous because you start with cancelling some views that you dislike and very quickly, you are cancelling everyone who disagrees. It’s a very dangerous process.”

On the protests in Batley, he continued: “In this country we abolished the blasphemy laws not long ago, in the past 20 years. And the Church of England was one of those who supported the abolition of the blasphemy laws.

“Yes, in some parts of the world, you have to be very careful what you say because people feel very, very strongly. But in this country, I think, we have to hold on to freedom of speech.

“We have very good relationships with Muslim leaders across the country. Many of them are very upset by the cartoons that were shown but also many of them have said ‘no violence, no threats, make it clear that you disagree strongly, but no violence, no threats’.

“In other words, exercise your freedom of speech, but don’t prevent other people exercising their freedom of speech.”

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