The Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested that Brexit and the election of Donald J. Trump as U.S. president are symptomatic of a rise in nationalist, ‘fascist’ politics globally.
Presenting his Presidential Address to the Church of England General Synod in London on Monday, the archbishop, Justin Welby, told members:
“There are a thousand ways to explain the Brexit vote, or the election of President Trump, or the strength in the polls in Holland of Geert Wilders or in France of Madame Le Pen and many other leaders in a nationalist, populist, or even fascist tradition of politics.”
As a nod to those who argue that Brexit and the popularity of Trump, Wilders, and Le Pen are reactions against a globalist agenda which is failing the working classes, Welby conceded: “Almost certainly there is no simple explanation, almost certainly the impact of globalisation economically, or marginalisation politically and of post modernity culturally have some role to some extent.”
But the explicit link to fascism is likely to shock many, not least as Welby proposes the church take an active role in reshaping society through its numerous faith schools as well as through its churches and community projects.
“This is a moment to reimagine Britain, a moment of potential opportunity, certainly combined with immensely hard work and heavy lifting,” he said.
“This could be a time of liberation, of seizing and defining the future, or it could be one in which the present problems seize our national future and define us.
“Which is where we come in.
“We educate a million children. We are in every community. We are embedded in the national history. We can work in partnerships, ecumenically, interfaith and across society, partnerships that have grown stronger in this century.
“[As] we are a major provider of education our first question must be addressed to ourselves.”
Welby acknowledged that there is plurality of thought in the church, such as over the recent bishops’ report on sexuality which is currently threatening to divide the synod, but went on to chastise those at the traditional end of the spectrum for undermining the “safety” of their colleagues.
The Rev Canon Simon Butler, a gay clergy member who has vocally supported a change in church policy on matters of sexuality, disclosed that he had received a text from another synod member shortly before the meeting opened which he described as “borderline harassment”.
Referencing the incident, Welby said: “The text received by Simon Butler was an inexcusable self-indulgence by the sender; a perfect illustration of how not to act. He rightly said that it or all actions like it eliminate any sense of safety, and, as Jayne Ozanne says, any sense of trust.”
Welby’s comments come as, in Rome, the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the Holy See is concerned about the rise of populist movements both in Europe and in the U.S.
“Certainly these closings are not a good sign,” since many of them “are born of fear, which is not a good counsellor,” he said.