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Archbishop's Interview with the Daily Telegraph

Archbishop of York

Tuesday 31st January 2012

The transcript of the Archbishop's interview with The Daily Telegraph at Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Q: You’ve been in Jamaica previously and have seen how much it has changed.  How have they achieved so much?

Within the souls of many people here there is still a fairly strong religious feeling. There are more churches.

You listen to their national anthem and they all sing it with gusto. It's a prayer and a commitment to justice, fairness and equality. So although along the way there have been areas where that hasn't happened, there is a depth to their spiritual life.

And always remember that the slaves were sustained by the hope of a better tomorrow. And one of the things that is still not realised is that as soon as you teach people to read and write, give them the Bible, that statement is revolutionary. Freedom begins in the soul of the person.

So I suspect that because of their faith, and the beauty of the place, and in spite of all the mess, and its troubles, its people have gone through – with majority of their ancestors having come as slaves from Africa - they are still very joyful.

It is a place with a lot of sun, which makes people more determined to be more cheerful. You see this in England - as soon as the summer comes, everyone is very cheerful. As soon as the winter and the rain come, everyone complains.

But often, because of their faith and traditions, people who go through suffering - their tendency to complain probably ceases, and they tend to have a greater forgiving element.

Q: The people then, have they come to terms with their history.

It's still painful. It’s not easy. But they had a great artist, Bob Marley, whose greatest song says, “We must liberate ourselves from mental slavery”, because that is the greatest killer. When you still feel mentally enslaved, it hinders your ability and it creates a tendency to blame everybody else other than yourself. I think purposefulness is beginning to emerge in a wonderful way. And that’s great.

Q: We also know that Jamaicans have contributed lots to British Society over the past 50 years. We’ve been hearing a lot of them have stopped coming to Britain because of the visa rules that the Government has introduced. Do you have concerns?

The Queen is still the head of this great state, there is a Governor here.  Most people would assume that people would come and go without needing a visa. If I can come here on a British passport without a visa why then, when the Queen is still the Head of State, why can't people come from Jamaica to England without a visa?

This isn't a question of suggesting that every Jamaican should now emigrate to England - there isn't a cat’s chance in hell for that,.  And I don't think they'd want to do that either. Many people I knew when I was a Vicar have come back to Jamaica. At St James's church there were nine ladies that were in that parish at Tulse Hill and they've all come back. But they contributed to nursing, three were teachers, five were midwives. They've all come back - they've done their job, they've sold their property and they've returned. If they hold a Jamaican passport and they're being told they need a visa, I find that very difficult. It would be strange for them, having served the ‘Mother Land’ - as they often refer to England.

What has to be investigated is what about people from Barbados, from Trinidad and Tobago, from the Cayman Islands and other Caribbean Islands. You've got to say to yourself, were the visa restrictions created out of the fear of what you're importing because at one time there was some real violence.

When I was a vicar in Tulse Hill, I was part of Operation Trident. I joined that operation because I was anxious, after the Brixton riots, that unfortunately all Jamaicans were being tarnished with the same violent brush.

Did this come out of saying: “Every Jamaican who comes does not know where they're going to go?” I find that disturbing because stereotypical attitudes do not help anyone.

I hope that the Jamaican government will not start saying that anyone holding a British passport needs a visa. I think they should try and work out a reassessment of the entire visa difficulties before they begin to impose visa restrictions simply because there are quite a number of Jamaicans who hold British passports. It would look quite strange.

 Q: Leaving the Commonwealth, would that be a mistake?

Let us not forget that the British government in many different guises sometimes without often saying sorry has tried to put back that which it destroyed in many ways. Uganda was independent on 9 October 1962 and Jamaica in August, so they are the older brother or sister in terms of Independence and some of the messes we've got ourselves into - yes colonialism did stop our history and development - but now we've inflicted upon ourselves a lot of problems.

The Commonwealth actually has been a very strong moral support to countries that are struggling. Expelling Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth because of its total disregard to democracy and human rights was a crucial thing. Why should Jamaica leave when countries that were never in the Commonwealth, like Mozambique and Angola, want to join simply because they see this as a fantastic group of people where they can examine and challenge each other on the way they are conducting their parliaments.

I'd urge all those wanting to leave the Commonwealth, (to me it's not a sign of growing up) - if you feel fully independent you should be in there to exercise greater influence and greater democratic principles. I'm afraid there are still some members in the Commonwealth that still don't exhibit a government of the people by the people for the people.

 Q: The first time you visited Jamaica you came with Neville Lawrence. Do you feel now coming back that a measure of justice has been done?

 I came with Neville Lawrence at the end of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, after Stephen had been buried in 1993. And I can now see why burying Stephen here was a wise decision: the reason being that his plaque where he fell has been desecrated about nine times. Had those racists known where his body was, it wouldn't surprise me if they did the same thing to his grave. The parents were right.

Neville hadn't been since 1993 and he'd been working hard campaigning, the Inquiry had taken place and made some recommendations so he thought he needed to come and spent two weeks. He did some wonderful work of preparing the whole place and making it what it looks like today.

The fact that two suspects, on joint enterprise, have been convicted - the Inquiry said there was a possibility of five or six, means there are some four in my book that haven't really faced tough questioning.

At least we recommended that the double jeopardy rule shouldn’t apply if there is fresh viable evidence. The Court of Appeal decided there was in the case of Gary Dobson and I think the same would be true of the other three or four, should fresh evidence come to light. I don't think the whole thing has been wound up yet.

Q: Could you ever imagine a repatriation of Stephen’s body to England?

 I can’t see that happening. There is a strong tradition of honouring the dead amongst all people of African descent. I am not the parent, but knowing them, I would be surprised.  And there are still three or four who are still out there.

Q: In recent months we’ve seen accusations of racism in football and an Indian student was shot dead.  Do you think racism is still a problem?

The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry was clear in its definition of racism, which sadly some of the media ignored.  This was a report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, not a McPherson inquiry.

A lot of organisations took the recommendations seriously. Racism can be negatively prejudicing somebody or positively promoting somebody from your particular ethnic group. The first institutions which said that this should not happen wereas the Royal College of Nursing, the Church of England, the Trade Union Congress, and then the Met.

I didn't hear that the media ever said let's put a mirror to ourselves and see whether there isn't this tendency of stereotyping, or being prejudiced, of advantaging people because we went to the same school.

 For those that did it, there is real change. For those that ignored it, there is still work to be done. Football never did it, so I'm not surprised.

 Q: We often hear of the lack of Black people getting into Oxford University. What was your experience?

 I reckon that education is a difficult one to judge. When I was at Cambridge, there were people from all over the world. I didn’t experience it at all. The problem is perhaps more at our secondary schools.  I recently went to a school in the Diocese of Manchester, the students felt that they would not get in to either Oxford or Cambridge.  I encouraged them to give your best and go for it.  These were students coming from white working class homes. I am very hopeful.

 Q: You’re a prominent person from a minority background in the Church. Did you experience racism in Church?

When I was a vicar there was a lady who didn't want me to take her husband's funeral because I was black. And I took a funeral of a father, and at the end a man said to me “What did my father do to deserve to be buried by a black monkey”. We received letters in the post with excrement in them.

I used to chair the committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns. We seemed to be making some progress but now it seems that we are going backwards; and it will requires quite a lot of urgent attention.

Of course where we have lost out is with black people who had been raised Anglicans, and who are now joining other churches. That's a huge drain and we've got to start growing our own now in many different ways.

 Q: Do you think the Church of England can attract them back?

 The only thing the Church of England needs to do is to ensure that its worship, its life, begins to reflect the community it serves. Its leadership needs to do that as well. How are we going to grow leaders?  We are setting up a new group called Turning up the Volume, which will ensure the church reflects its congregations and communities.

 Q: if the Church of England does not stop the drain to Pentecostal churches, what then?

Its Establishment means being there for everyone in the parish, regardless of whether they turn up or not.  Everybody is entitled to a service of burial or cremation, in the parish church, whether you go or you don't go. The same is for weddings if they live within the parish. I think that sense of openness is good but I don't want it to be a gathered church that excludes those it regards as outsiders.

It's a very English thing that because you belong here, we've got a responsibility to look after you.

 Q: Do you think the Church needs more black bishops?

 I think it needs to grow them from the bottom up because if they don't, it just won't work.

 I hope seriously that we're going to get people through our selection process, through our teaching, our mission, beginning to see more British-born minority ethnic people in leadership. And by that I mean not only in terms of colour but also in terms of class.

You've got a lot of people from minority ethnic communities in our parishes who – along with the working class white people - need to be helped to exercise their ministry, their leadership.

That is to say, when we look at this congregation, as we look in a mirror, what does it reflect in terms of its leadership. Does it reflect the actual diversity of the congregation? If it doesn't, there is something not right, it seems to me.

 Q: Would you agree in inner cities, that the Church is quite middle class in its leadership?

If that parish has got within its congregation people who are not middle-class and they have no way of offering their gifts in a visible way, there's something not right.

Christ gives gifts to all and our common baptism has made it possible for us to have a ministry from every one of us regardless of our background. It is my hope that we're going to begin to tackle this.

The church should be a sign of the Kingdom of God, and should be telling us what the Kingdom of Heaven will look like. Heaven is not going to be full of just black people, just working-class people, just middle-class people, it's going to be in the words of Desmond Tutu “a rainbow people of God” in all its diversity. We should begin to mirror what heaven is and will be like.

Q: How can the Church get more people involved?

 We need to be more attentive to the gifting among God’s people.  When I was vicar of Tulse Hill, we had a lot of single mums in the parish; they never read in Church.  Hitherto all they did was to make tea and coffee. So I said, ‘Let us try to get them on the Parochial Church Council’.  Their response was that they found reading difficult.  So we made sure the meetings had less paper. We also found out that some people in the parish couldn’t read or write. So we had our Lent and Advent materials, and Bible lessons put onto audio tapes.

 Q: The recent Good Childhood Report that you launched stated that relationships were the most important. Do you think that the Church should reach out to people from different types of family?

The study was based over a period of 7 years and it was a subjective study of their happiness. All wanted to live in a home with a stable loving relationships. My view, as a Parish Priest, was not to stigmatise single parents, my job was to support them in looking after their children. We had an extended family relationship with them.

My view, as a Parish Priest, was not to look at cohabiting parents and say your relationship is a second-class sort of marriage. My job was to support them as they raised their children.

My view, as a Parish Priest, was that for couples in same-sex relationships, I should support them and their children.  “Sentamu, don’t diminish their relationships, support them.”

And in my village in Uganda, when I was growing up, there were two men living together in a house a few doors away from us.  Everyone said they were in “a same-sex relationship”.  My father was clear that we should treat them with the same respect as others and, as a Reader in the Church, he always encouraged them to come to church and to all church functions.

I believe that marriage is the bedrock of society. It is a gift from God in Creation. It has a public element, a public commitment made to one another and to the community. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.  Already in marriage, there are the ingredients of stability that children are looking for.

 What we shouldn't do is begin to create comparisons of the different family structures because I think that's a dead end conversation.

Marriage is in creation, whether you're Christian or not, there isn't such a thing as “a Christian marriage” - marriage is marriage is marriage. The faith of course can help support it, but we've got to honour the institution of marriage – the Holy Estate.

I've known people who were atheists who were very loving and caring in terms of that relationship. The only thing I said to them was it would be much easier if they knew that the source of romance is God.

We must not torture the English language. Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman and that's marriage.

We supported Civil Partnerships actually in the House of Lords. We supported civil partnerships because we believe that friendships are good for everybody.

But then to turn Civil Partnerships into marriage, that's not the role of government to create institutions that are not of its gifting.

I don't think it is the role of the state to define what marriage is. It is set in tradition and history and you can't just overnight, no matter how powerful you are. We've seen dictators do it, by the way, in different contexts and I don't want to redefine what I call very clear social structures that have been in existence for a long time and then overnight the state believes it could go in a particular way.

And the Equality Act regulations are very clear that if people want those registrations to take place on their premises - not the blessings or the weddings - it would require first of all an application to the Registrar to have that place authorised and it would require the organisation as a whole to agree. For us, that decision can only be taken by the General Synod, it cannot be taken by bishops or anybody else.

 Q: Are you worried that the Church will be the odd one out, if everyone else is in favour?

Sometimes it's not a bad position to be the odd person out. I believe that for the Christian faith is acceptable in nearly every culture but it's not at home in any because the tendency of cultures is to domesticate the love of God and I don't think that's possible. The Church has always stood out - Jesus actually was the odd man out. I'd rather stick with Jesus than be popular because it looks odd.

That does not mean you therefore diminish, condemn, criticise, patronise any sort of same-sex relationships because that is not what the debate is about.

 Q: We’ve just seen a famous victory in the House of Lords. Do you think the Lords Spiritual will be ready for this sort of challenge?

 I don't know how many bishops were there, maybe five, six, seven, but that's a tiny number to upset a government. It requires some Liberal members, some people from the Tory party and nearly all the Labour party to get an upset.

 I think the upset is not going to begin in the House of Lords, but in the House of Commons. We already have, we hear, 100 MPs signing up that they're trying against to change this tradition.

 It's almost like somebody telling you overnight that the church - whose job is to worship God, is to care for people who need support, to be there to persuade people that loving one another is a wonderful thing – let’s suppose suddenly the government saying from now on the Church will be an arm of the Armed Forces. They must take arms and fight, every Bishop shall become a Major. You're completely changing the tradition. No way!

So the rebellion is going to come not only from the bishops. I think you're going to get it from across the benches and in the House of Commons. If you genuinely would like the registration of civil partnerships to happen in a more general way, I think most people will say they can see the drift. But if you then begin to call those marriage, I think you're trying to change the English language.

 And I'm not sure people should simply sit back because they don't want to be seen the odd person out. But I hope also they do it with such great care and great loving and don't be involved in a skirmish. What we should be focusing on is fairness, justice and getting away from all kinds of bigotry. I support civil partnerships.

 Q; We’ve seen in recent years, religious stories in courts or in employment tribunals.  Will religion be involved in more legal cases?

I support the Equality Act, but I think its application at times has lacked what I call a fairly typical British compromise. The British legal way, I admire.  For example the Abortion Act stated that after 28 weeks a woman wishing to abort her child must have the certificates of two doctors. However, no doctor is required to perform that operation if, on grounds of conscience, they object.

 If the British system ignores freedom of conscience and says everybody has got to stand up on the same platform and hold the same card, that isn’t the English common law.

 If we end up in the European Court of Human Rights because of the way we apply our laws, there's a bit of me that says don't go for a Bill of Rights which is unnecessary, but find a way in which in England you define the way the law can be applied; the kind of subtlety you've got which does not run everybody into the same sausage machine all coming out the same way.

 The Roman Catholic adoption agency said it could process the papers, or could pass then on to another agency that would. The issue of what’s in the best interest of the child should be at the fore. We should not use our rights to trample over another person’s rights. Human rights mean that what I regard as my right, does not end by enslaving another person.

 Q: You’ve been active on rights for the elderly- and visited a Home for the Aged here. What were your thoughts?

That has been one of my highlights here.  More than 50 years ago, when the Home started, some of the people had no relations left and would have died alone. I thought the dignity of older people mattered. The Home was set up as a safety net for anybody who could not be cared for at all by their relations and I thought that was fantastic.

In England if we bite the bullet in terms of what the Dilnot Report said, we could do it.  It could be done, but it would require funding. When someone is aged 85 and needing a lot of care, it needs to be means tested.

 I think that our role, because we're all ageing, is to urge the Government to go in the direction of Dilnot.

 The Church works alongside older people and it's still true, Vicars still visit more older people than any other organisation.  We used to run schools and hospitals and the Church still supports homes for older clergy.

 It is for all of us to say we are willing to pay more taxes for better provision. Health needs a co-ordinated approach.

 I want to put my weight behind Dilnot, it's only £2billion out of the £700bn Government spend.  When suddenly money needed to be found to bail out Ireland, war in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan funds were taken from the Special Reserve Fund.  Why can’t Cameron and Osborne kick-start Dilnot’s recommendations?  We could sort it very quickly.

 

Q: We’ve looked at lots of stories about neglect?

 I think we've got to take it very seriously; it's time that we revised our chaplaincy provisions not only for hospitals and prisons, but also into schools. The same should be true in care homes. We now need to look afresh at what spiritual provision and care we are providing in our local vicinity instead of the vicar trying to visit all groups.

 

 Q: You’ve achieved a huge amount. Would you say you’re still ambitious? Would you go to Lambeth if the position became available?
 
Ambition for me is a very bad word because it is very ambiguous. People use it in a derogatory way to mean 'he is aiming for that which he has not possessed' and I'm not like that.

Have I got still a passion for Christ and seeing the Church of England serving everybody in this life? Yes.

Everybody who has gone to York, there is not a single archbishop who has not loved it. Those who have gone from York to Canterbury have always wondered, 'what was this all about?'

Because unfortunately the job in Lambeth pushes the person in a hundred directions. I'm always happy where I am. And I'll support anybody who needs to be supported.

I've got a passion for Jesus and that's what matters to me, not where you go or what you do or don’t do. When I visit churches in the Northern Province, there is fantastic stuff going on.  I’ve never applied for a job - always hesitated leaving Tulse Hill, Stepney and Birmingham.

I'm a year older than Rowan and they're beginning to speculate as if he's older than I am. But also they're speculating when nobody has actually suggested there's a vacancy. They are already working out successors from thin air!

 Canterbury and I have been trying to re-connect the Church of England with England and, although we come from totally different backgrounds, there has been this wonderful synergy and people should concentrate on that which he and I are doing and not speculate and create that rather unfortunate Blair-Brown succession nonsense.

 Q: Do you think it’s an impossible job?

Canterbury is not an easy job because you've got a big province and then his primacy in terms of the Communion - first among equals - every province organises itself. The people who've suggested he ought to do more, I'm sorry - Canterbury isn't a Pope.

 People know that but they talk about him as if he should be like the Pope. All you can ever do is try and influence.

It's not an easy job. It may have been in the past in those days where the Anglican Communion was emerging. It's now emerged, 39 provinces, autonomous and self-governing, and when they gather together, they meet not as the colonial master lording over but as equals.

 Q: are you happy?

Yes I am always happy. In the end, I'm not going to be asked which jobs did you do or didn't do well. I'm simply going to be asked how much did I love Christ and cared for his people. Then it doesn't matter if you're a parish priest, archdeacon, bishop or archbishop because the following of Jesus as a disciple is the first calling and the first priority. If you don't concentrate on that you're going to end up absolutely disappointed, and so you should.

 

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