The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has declared his support for the Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, in a dispute with the South African president.
In his Christmas sermon, Archbishop Thabo had rejected a call from President Jacob Zuma for the church to stay out of politics. In a statement, President Zuma later said that he had been referring to party politics. In response, Archbishop Thabo welcomed the clarification but insisted the church would not keep quiet and would not keep out of politics.
“The Church must be active in politics, in the issues that concern citizens” he said in a newspaper interview. “The Church will not (keep quiet) especially on ethical issues, inequality, corruption and the need for all to be healed and to be afforded their dignity.”
Archbishop Justin took up the theme when preaching at Evensong in St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town. He noted the prominent role played by the Anglican Church in South Africa in resisting apartheid and in the truth and reconciliation process that followed.
“More than 25 years later, the issues sometimes seem to go round and round,” he said. “Archbishops are warned to stay out of politics. You may as well tell a fish to stay out of water. Water is where fish swim; the polis, the organisation of the city, the country, the region, is where people swim – because they are people in relationship, and relationships of citizens need structures, and those structures need good values… and that means politics.
“Religious leaders commenting on values and politics in England are often unpopular!” he continued. “Party politics is what we avoid, but politics is where we live – and it is a central theme of the gospel. Politics is ultimately about the Kingdom of Heaven. Your Grace, dear brother, we stand with you.
“Being opposed is not fun. It does not lift our spirits. And when, as you have in South Africa, you spent decades and decades facing an atrocious and deeply evil ideology of apartheid, even a trace of wrongdoing brings back the taste of injustice. One thinks, "Perhaps we are simply going round the circle again….Yet we are not.”
Archbishop Justin has been in South Africa for a private visit. He also visited Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has twice been admitted to hospital in the past 16 months.
Read the full text of Archbishop Justin’s sermon