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Archbishop of Canterbury says Church must think again about portraying Jesus as white

Archbishop of Canterbury says Church must think again about portraying Jesus as white and reveals plan to look ‘very carefully’ at whether statues in Canterbury Cathedral ‘should be there’

  • Rev Welby said statues in Canterbury Cathedral would be looked at ‘carefully’ 
  • He said Jesus is portrayed differently, and Middle Eastern was ‘most accurate’ 
  • Asked if the West needs to reimagine Jesus’ whiteness, he said: ‘Yes of course’ 

The Archbishop of Canterbury has called on the West to reconsider its prevailing sense that Jesus was white – as he revealed a review into religious statues.

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’.

He said that Jesus is visualised all over the world in different forms, and touted that a Middle Eastern son of God was likely the most accurate portrayal.  

The Archbishop waded into the Black Lives Matter debate during an interview on the BBC’s Today programme, where he was asked whether the ‘way the western church portrays Jesus needs to be thought about again?’

He immediately replied: ‘Yes of course it does,’ before rattling off varying interpretations of Jesus’s portrayal in different countries to stress that not everyone sees Jesus as white. 

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'

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’

Speaking about visiting Anglican churches across the world, Rev Welby said: ‘You go into their churches 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. 

‘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.’ 

He also intervened in the debate on whether controversial statues should be removed and said monuments in Canterbury Cathedral would be under the microscope.

Rev Welby 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.’

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 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.  

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.’

Mr 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.’  

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