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Wagatha Christie, cancel culture and the Ukraine war: Justin Welby talks reconciliation with Premier

by Sophie Drew

On meeting him for the first time, the Archbishop of Canterbury is warmer than I would have imagined. 

Often, when we are so used to seeing public figureheads on the screens of our televisions, meeting them in person can make for a rather daunting experience. 

But not him.

I'm at Lambeth Palace to discuss his new book, titled The Power of Reconciliation.

One of his staff has already explained that he's feeling a little under the weather - a bout of recurring pneumonia.

He appears pleased to see us, despite the sickness, and takes a seat on the opposite side of the table.

"It feels as though we're in a time where the Church - whatever denomination - is apologising for rather a lot," I say.  "Is there a group of people that is particularly on your heart at the moment?"

He pauses for a moment before saying: "Because of my Canada visit a few weeks ago, First Nations people around the world; indigenous peoples where the Church was often involved in things like the residential schools in Canada and equivalents elsewhere. 

"The consequences of slavery and the Church's participation; in racism in the Church of England at the time of the beginning of large scale immigration in the late 50s, in the 60s and 70s. 

"And then, in terms of apologies and repentance, the whole issues of safeguarding and abuse remain - overshadowing, quite rightly - much of what we do; and not just the Church of England." 

Despite writing the book last year, many of the Archbishop Justin's comments appear tailor-made for the conflict raging on in Ukraine. Particularly his thoughts on sanctions.

"There seems to be a sense that talk of peace and reconciliation is for the naïve, to be laughed at in satirical comedies about beauty contests, for pacifists and for futility," the book reads. 

"We prefer sanctions to peaceful solutions."

The manuscript was sent to Bloomsbury before Christmas, so I ask him if he still feels the same now.

"Sanctions in the context in which I use it includes violent sanctions, I mean, sanctions in the terms of punishments," he confirms. 

"Peaceful solutions are messy and complicated and sanctions are necessary, but not sufficient, is the key phrase.

"You will have to use sanctions in many cases but they are not sufficient. 

"At the same time, you also have to maintain or build relationships, you have to maintain links, you have to listen, you have to look for opportunities moving forward. 

"Sanctions by themselves will not work, as in most cases in history.

"President Zelensky is really good on this. If you notice, he is constantly talking about the need for a diplomatic solution. 

"He is not addicted to the battlefield, quite the reverse. It's one of the signs of his greatness." 

By now I feel we've built somewhat of a rapport so I feel confident asking him, perhaps, the biggest question on my list.

Wagatha Christie - a case that the Archbishop informs me he is "very familiar" with - has dominated tabloid headlines over the previous weeks. I'm intrigued to know if as the Church's most senior leader he would have any wise words of advice for Rebekah Vardy and Colleen Rooney, in terms of seeking reconciliation.

"I would say it in private," he responds with a wry smile. "I'm a priest." 

The book is part of the Archbishop's ongoing reconciliation ministry and has been shaped by what he has learned during his time at the helm of the Church of England. 

It's a topic that spans the global and the personal. From Ukraine, to Twitter and into our own homes. 

Social media brings connectivity and divisiveness like never before. I ask him what the Church's role amid the 'cancel culture' of the 21st Century. 

"To imitate God and never cancel anyone," he responds without a second thought. 

"To see every human being have equal dignity and worth, and to be as someone who is full of contradictions and conflicts and complexes and all the other things.

"We start with 'God so loved the world that he gave his only son Jesus Christ so that all that might believe in him might not perish but have everlasting life' and treat people with that value.

"Cancelling is about saying they have no value."

"You've never met anyone Jesus didn't die for", I reply in agreement. 

"Yes, exactly", the archbishop responds emphatically. "And we never will."

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