The Most Rev Justin Welby also said statues in Canterbury Cathedral are going to be looked at “very carefully” to see if they should be there. He suggested “some will have to come down” but said it was not his decision and that monuments would be put “in context”.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the Archbishop was asked if the way the Western church portrays Jesus needed to be reviewed in the light of the Black Lives Matter movement and the anti-racism protests that have swept the globe.
Rev Welby replied: “Yes of course it does, this sense that God was white.
“You go into churches around the world 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.”
Rev Welby said he did not want to “throw out” the past but would rather offer a rounded picture of the “universality” of Christ.
He said: “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.”
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Rev Welby said justice was crucial to forgiveness and stressed a need to learn from the past so that it is not repeated in the future.
He was asked if people should forgive the “trespasses” of people immortalised in the form of statues, rather than tearing them down.
He replied: “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.
“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.”
Pressed on whether he was saying statues will be taken 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 programme: “We’re going to be looking very carefully and putting them in context and seeing if they all should be there.
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“The question arises. Of course it does.
“It is what people do at times like this. 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.”