The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has performed a stunning U-turn on cancel culture, warning that “we cannot cancel history” in a discussion with Italian paper la Repubblica.
He also added that “we have to hold on to freedom of speech” in the wake of the brewing row in Batley about depictions of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, despite saying that blasphemy is a “morally bad choice”.
“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” said the Archbishop.
“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.”
Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme last summer in the wake of global left-wing riots following the death of violent American felon George Floyd, Welby had said: “The statues need to be put in context. Some will have to come down, some names will have to change.
“The church, goodness me, you just go round Canterbury Cathedral and there are monuments everywhere, or Westminster Abbey. We are looking at all that and some will have to come down.”
He was rebuked last month at the conclusion of a review into monuments at Canterbury Cathedral, which said that none of the monuments should be pulled down.
Welby continues to insist that “one or two” monuments to “really terrible” figures will need to be shuffled into museums, but he has warned against a pervasive cancel culture that he dubs “a huge threat to the life of the Church.”
He also spoke about the Muslim protests against a school teacher outside Batley Grammar School, which has seen a Yorkshire school teacher go into hiding with police protection amid death threats from enraged Muslims.
“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.”