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Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby says the way the Church portrays Jesus as white needs to be reviewed

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said the way the western Church portrays Jesus as white needs to be reviewed.

In a heated debate on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, Justin Welby said statues in Canterbury Cathedral are going to be looked at “very carefully” to see if they should be there.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

He suggested “some will have to come down” but said it is not his decision and that monuments would be put “in context”.

Mr Welby said justice is crucial to forgiveness, and stressed a need to learn from the past so that it is not repeated in the future.

He was asked on the show this morning if the "way that the western Church portrays Jesus needs to be thought about again".

"Yes of course it does," he said. "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 is the most accurate - you see a Fijian Jesus.

Justin Welby said statues in Canterbury Cathedral are going to be looked at “very carefully” to see if they should be the
Justin Welby said statues in Canterbury Cathedral are going to be looked at “very carefully” to see if they should be the

"You see Jesus portrayed as many as there are cultures, languages and understandings."

He was also pressed on if people should forgive the “trespasses” of people immortalised in the form of statues, rather than tearing them down.

"We can only do that if we’ve got justice, which means the statue needs to be put in context," he said. "Some will have to come down. Some names will have to change.

"I mean, the Church ... 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."

The Most Rev Welby stressed it was not his decision whether statues will be taken down. Picture: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Most Rev Welby stressed it was not his decision whether statues will be taken down. Picture: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

But the Most Rev Welby stressed it was not his decision whether statues will be taken down.

Bosses at Canterbury Cathedral are already working to identify items - such as memorials, statues or heraldic images - that may have controversial links.

A spokesperson said: "All of the Cathedral’s items are being reviewed to ensure that any connected with slavery, colonialism or contentious figures from other historic periods are displayed with clear objective interpretations and contextual information, and are presented in a way that avoids any sense of aggrandisement.

“We hope that by providing this context – and acknowledging any associated oppression, exploitation, injustice and suffering connected with these objects – all visitors can leave with a greater understanding of our shared history and be inspired to undertake further learning and discussion.”

The Church of England’s director of churches and cathedrals Becky Clark said there are monuments to individuals across the country whose “destructive impact” is still being felt by people today.

“Meaningful dialogue needs to engage with this reality, recognise that these voices have often not been listened to in the past, and make decisions that allow these unjust experiences to form a recognised part of both the history and future of our churches,” she said.

The toppling of slaver Edward Colston in Bristol has triggered people to look at the history of the monuments standing in towns and cities across Kent.

A campaign was launched to pull down Lord Kitchener in Chatham after he was condemned for his part in setting up concentration camps.

In Broadstairs, a seaside plaque commemorating the life of a well-known blackface minstrel is under review after campaigners called for it to be removed.

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