Published: 10:00, 17 November 2016
Church leaders have defended a vicar who preached about Donald Trump and Brexit during a Remembrance Day sermon.
Stunned veterans were said to have left the service in disgust amid claims the Rev Rachel Webbley sidelined the sacrifice of fallen soldiers to refer to the shock election results.
She also asserted climate change was the greatest threat to world peace, sparking outrage from many who had gathered for the service.
Among them was Terry Marsh, 72, who said: “This was a service to remember the Fallen.
“Whatever you think of Brexit, we were there to pay our respects – it wasn’t the time or the place for it.
“When it went from Brexit to Donald Trump, I couldn’t believe it. I thought, when is this going to end?”
In her address, Mrs Webbley said the Brexit vote had divided Britain, with the US election result having the same effect across the Atlantic.
“The Brexit referendum highlighted a huge split within our country, which would have been unthinkable when we faced the common enemy of fascism in the last war,” she told the hundreds who had gathered for the service in Whitstable.
“The American election this week has been the most divisive and controversial ever, and may bring the special relationship with our historical allies into question.
“And the fallout from both of these distract from the greatest threat to world peace and global security today – climate change.”
Mrs Webbley also told those watching how social media has amplified “our human tendency to withdraw from those who are different”, urging people to “reach across tribal boundaries”.
Mr Marsh, whose grandfather fought in India, claims people left the service in disgust.
“An old boy beside me in a wheelchair was shaking his head with tears in his eyes,” he said.
“People were actually leaving, they were that upset with what she said.
“We were at the front of the crowd because I’d laid a wreath. If I was nearer the back I would have left as well, no doubt about it. She was totally out of order.”
David Turner, who has not missed a memorial service since the 1940s, was equally stunned.
"Whatever you think of Brexit, we were there to pay our respects – it wasn't the time or the place for it" - Terry Marsh
“There were lots of feet shuffling and eyebrows being raised – it was the most uncomfortable service I have been to,” he said.
The vicar defended her choice of words, saying her intent was to highlight the need for people to understand their enemies.
“Whatever side you are on, in whatever conflict, you must try to understand those who have the opposing view to you,” she said.
“That is the message I was trying to put across in reference to Brexit and Donald Trump.
“It certainly was not my intention to upset anyone – I was just trying to make people aware of thinking in a wider context.
“I am saddened that some were unhappy with the sermon but I cannot expect everyone to agree with what I say.”
Mr Marsh complained to the Canterbury Diocese and received a response from its secretary, Julian Hills, apologising for the “distress caused”.
He added: “The Rev Rachel Webbley leads a very active church which serves the town well and I know it’s not always possible to get everything right all the time.”
The Ven Stephen Taylor, Archdeacon of Maidstone, later defended the vicar.
“In her sermon she challenged people to think about the tribalism and division present in our world,” he said.
“She used the examples of the EU referendum and the US election to illustrate this.
“Though these decisions have indeed been controversial, her intention was not – I don’t think anyone would deny that this has a been significant and challenging time for our respective societies.
“I am sad that some people seem to have misunderstood her point, which was simply that we must challenge and break down barriers between people wherever we find them, that we must seek greater understanding and not allow ourselves to be divided by prejudice or fear.”
More by this authorJoe Wright
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