I interviewed George Carey, then Archbishop of Canterbury,
in the corner of a vast stateroom at Lambeth Palace on the
16th October 1997. His office had initially insisted that
even to national newspapers he gave only 30 minutes, but I
had held out for an hour and eventually got it. It was, I
think, a measure of the esteem that Third Way was held
in by church leaders, and a recognition of its influence.
Some people regard interviews as an opportunity
and some as an ordeal. My impression was that Dr Carey
was among the latter. At the end, to my amusement, he
said: Well, Huw, youve asked some most searching questions!
The interview was reported at some length in the
When Diana, Princess of Wales died, a lot
of people praised your Thought for the Day and said
that at last you seemed to have found a voice you were
comfortable with. Is that how you felt, that this was
the real you speaking?
I have always felt that its the real me speaking, from
the time I was first ordained. I have always said my piece.
It rather surprises me if people feel that Ive changed.
Inevitably, of course, any leadership role puts constraints
on you. If you are a politician, you cant simply act
as an ordinary person, you have to represent an organisation
in my case, a church. Inevitably you are squeezed between
certain things: the kind of thing Id love to say as
George Carey, the things I must say as Archbishop of Canterbury,
the things I cannot say just at the moment because the timing
is wrong. Sometimes when I am criticised by people for not
saying something, I may have it in mind to say it at a more
There was some correspondence in the church press which
said that the church made a mistake in speaking comfortable
words after the princesss death and blew the chance
to preach the gospel. After all, maybe she isnt in the
arms of Jesus now. Shouldnt the church have said that?
I expect the parish priest to deal with a lot of those questions.
But what I think is important was the way in which the churches
(and particularly the Church of England) opened their doors.
I mean, we were talking about literally hundreds of services
in that week, 15,000 candles sold in York Minster, clergy
on the streets talking to people and in listening to
that kind of inchoate spirituality and engaging with it, I
think that was actually a generous church operating. I emphasise
again and again in my addresses about being a generous and
a welcoming church.
The second thing to bear in mind is the public or civic role
that the Church of England plays in the nation. And if you
are trying to appeal to and work with people many of whom
do not call themselves Christians, to come in making condemnatory
statements about individuals
Im not talking about condemning anyone, but isnt
the most crucial role of the church to bear witness to the
reality of judgement?
Indeed, indeed. But I have never used a funeral service to
preach judgement. I think it would be pastorally quite, quite
wrong. What you have to do is to preach hope into that situation.
Preach the resurrection. Now, in the case of the Abbey my
role was to lead, as responsibly as I could, the prayers.
And if you look at the way I crafted those prayers, you will
see themes to do with resurrection and so on very clearly
People look to the head of any church to speak out
in other words, to be prophetic. But whereas most of
the great prophets of the Bible were loose cannons, in that
they werent accountable to anyone except God, the Archbishop
of Canterbury cant be. Is it actually impossible for
you to be prophetic?
Well, I would encourage you to look back over my seven years.
Actually I have got myself in hot water. For example, I spoke
out quite early on about the Newcastle riots. I have spoken
out on housing. I went with Basil Hume to see the Secretary
of State for Social Security on the Asylum Bill. I went to
Khartoum and stood alongside the Sudanese people and said
tough things to their government. I am the only archbishop
in living memory to initiate a debate on schools and moral
values in the House of Lords.
I am quite prepared to speak out when the time comes. I seized
such an opportunity just six weeks ago at the TUC conference.
In the last century, my church sided with the Establishment.
So, I have got a record of speaking out and getting a lot
of flak. A lot of flak.
Of course, you can make any number of speeches but on certain
issues the media will simply not report you, so that your
apparent agenda is in fact set by them. Do you think the Church
of England could take a leaf out of Labours book in
terms of manipulating the media?
We can all learn lessons. Maybe we need to be a lot tougher
with the media. But I remember talking to the last prime minister
[, John Major,] about this. A speech he had given the previous
night had just been ignored by the media, and he was pretty
upset about that. I remember saying to him, So, its
not only the church that suffers from this, and he said,
Oh no. We are all victims when it comes to this.
Thats fair enough, but one could say that the Prime
Ministers primary job is governing but the churchs
is prophesying, so its more crucial for the church to
Prophesying is only a part of the churchs work. It
may not even be the most important part. I mean, you dont
find much about prophesying in the New Testament.
But actually I would reject the idea that we have totally
failed. We can do better, I am sure, but I think we have a
good record. People sometimes say, Doesnt establishment
get in the way of being a prophetic church? And I say,
OK, if that is the case, look at the record of the Free
Churches in this country. I challenge you to name any prophetic
Free Church leaders who have got a hearing.
Cardinal Hume and Thomas Winning do, but maybe thats
just because the media are having an affair at the moment
with the Catholic Church.
Well, that sometimes happens, and certainly one is not minimising
what other churches are doing. I regard myself as very much
in step with them on the social issues. But I would say that
the Church of England is more often than not the church that
is quoted in the media. Theyre very interested in church
affairs, and although it is often negative, it is the Church
of England they are focused on and not other churches.
But if I can ask you: what have Cardinals Winning and Hume
spoken out on in the last 10 years that you regard as prophetic?
Well, it is very clear where the Roman Catholic Church stands.
Now, on that issue I (and most Anglicans) would go as far
in being for life as I possibly can, but I cant say
that abortion is always wrong. That is where the Anglican
position takes us.
How do you choose what to speak out on? Is it a case of
what you feel that God is most concerned about? Or where you
think you have the best chance of influencing the outcome?
Or is it pure opportunism?
No, it is not pure opportunism. Look, let me fill you in
on where I stand in terms of vision. I have been emphasising
three themes to the Church of England from the very beginning
of my term as archbishop in the early days of the Decade of
Evangelism, and it will go on until I retire: confidence in
our spirituality, mission in our life and work, and unity because if you are not a united church you cant
be a missionising body. That has been my basic plank. To turn
this enormous beast and it is: 16,000 churches, 5,000
schools and to make it much more effective in the life
of our nation.
And then there have been three or four themes through my
ministry. One, of course, is evangelism and mission and spirituality.
Although I am very much into social action, first and foremost
we are here to declare God and preach the word of God faithfully
to his people.
Second has been moral values that we are a country
in danger of losing our memory, of losing that treasure of
Christian morality. Third has been that dimension of helping
the Church of England to be at the heart of the nation, and
to witness to that nation as a generous, giving and accessible
And a church which is holding on to the treasures of the
past can reach forward with confidence into the future, and
therefore is not afraid of change because change is
the nature of life in any case, isnt that right?
There are some elements in your own constituency of evangelicals
who would applaud all of that but find fault with what one
might call the social gospel.
Yes, I know.
Traditionally, evangelicals have said that the only way
to change society is to change individual human hearts through
conversion. How would you respond to that?
Well, I wouldnt want to take such a simplistic stance
as that and I would want to go back to the biblical
witness. Jesus didnt put evangelism into one box and
social care into another: it all came from a generous heart.
And so healing and care for the widows and prostitutes as
well as preaching the kingdom are all of a piece. You see
that social witness in the early church as well.
I think that is where I am although I would want to
say, because I am still deeply an evangelical, that preaching
the faith and building up the local church are a priority
for me. I was seven years in Durham: what did I do? Well,
we built up the local church. But I wasnt only interested
in its own life. I was also a prison chaplain. I was interested
in work with young people and working out into the community
and that kind of thing. The local church is a springboard
for Christian witness and social witness as well.
In a House of Lords debate, you quoted Basil Hume: Our
task is the training of good human beings
with a vision of what it is to be human and the kind of society
that makes that possible.
Some Christians would say that you cant be a good
human being unless you have faith. So, they might argue,
surely the whole purpose of the Archbishop of Canterbury is
to cultivate faith, not morality, because morality is the
outworking of faith?
Oh, but I have said on so many occasions that Christianity
is not a moralistic religion. That doesnt mean that
we are not interested in morals, but first and foremost we
are here to preach Christ and to lead people to salvation.
And out of that relationship comes a new life, and a new lifestyle.
In that speech my focus was on schools, where we are trying
to make people citizens of one nation. So, at that particular
point its not contradictory to say that the aim of education
is to make people good, moral people. But I went on to talk
about the focus of the Christian faith, that we are interested
in more than just moral behaviour. But of course you have
to hold the two things together: faith in God and a moral
In a sermon last year you said: If people do not
accept the authority of scriptural revelation or of church
tradition, we shall not persuade them by simply repeating
snatches of scripture or church doctrines with the volume
turned up louder.
Does that mean that on some issues, such as premarital
sex perhaps, there is no point in the church speaking
out at all, because our position is built almost entirely
on scriptural revelation?
Well, I need to make myself clear. When you are working in
a nation which is losing its biblical memory, where children
are not being taught the Lords Prayer and so on, its
no good just standing on a street corner shouting John 3.16.
They wont know what it is. They wont even know
which John you are referring to.
Therefore, we have got to preach into this situation and
find a new apologetic in which we can talk about God
and I believe that the local church is where you start. In
fact, preaching Christ and living Christ are all of a piece.
In the first instance, people are more likely to be impressed
by the quality of our living than they are by the words we
say. The quality of our humanity has to speak to people and
we draw them into our fellowship, and thats where the
encounter with God often takes place today.
On the issue of premarital sex, I would say that it is certainly
not Gods ideal. I have said again and again, sexuality
is expressed within a faithful, loving, lifelong relationship
But that is not an argument, is it, that will carry any
weight with a society that, as you say, does not accept biblical
No, it is not an argument: it is a position that comes out
of a way of living, and your understanding of biblical revelation.
Part of the problem is that if one is a gathered church, with very clear, black-white differentiation between
the world and the church, you may satisfy your conscience
that we are biblical and so on and they belong to darkness,
but you can have no way of speaking into that situation.
What we have to do is, while holding on to the central tenets
of the Christian faith and Christian revelation, to be accessible.
We have got to listen to the questions of the world. We have
got to be available to enter into a dialogue. Its very
difficult to be a church like that, and therefore I have often
said that the Anglican communion is a body with ragged edges.
But it doesnt mean to say that we havent got a
clear body of doctrine. We certainly have, in our Articles
and our commitment to scripture.
On some issues environmentalism, perhaps
the church has seemed to follow the wider culture. As a leader,
how do you discern between the spirit of the age and the Spirit
speaking through the world? Take the ordination of women.
As John Gummer remarked, how did the present generation of
church leaders know that they were right and 19 centuries
of Christians before them were wrong? And wasnt it a
bit of a coincidence that the church should change its mind
just after the rest of the world had?
Well, sometimes it is quite difficult really. But if you
go to the Bible, you will see the way in which God uses people
like Cyrus as an instrument. We mustnt think that God
cannot teach the church a thing or two through the wider culture.
For me, Gods grace is perceived and reached through
a number of different sources.
The second way into that question is to recognise that on
a number of these questions the gospel has been saying things
long before the church has picked them up. Take slavery, for
example. It took the church and society 1,900 years, but it
was an Anglican layman,William Wilberforce, who, listening
to scripture, said that this is wrong. But the Epistle to
Philemon had been saying that, Galatians 3.28 had been saying
that, and so on. To our shame we are not always listening
Take the ordination of women. Why do I believe in that so
passionately, and have done all my ministry? Because as I
looked at scripture and the implication of baptism and the
gifts of the Spirit, and women prophets in the New Testament,
and women possessing gifts of leadership, and Galatians 3.28,
it seemed to me that the tenor of scripture was leading us
to say, Look, women are being imprisoned and rejected
so much by men.
And if you press the question Why now?, well,
because that general tenor of teaching has also coincided
with the emancipation of women. Women are liberated now.
Lately there has been a significant rapprochement between
Christian and Jewish and Muslim leaders. Is there a danger
that by placing such emphasis on our shared values you are
failing to bear witness to much more important truths which
Yes. I dont think anyone can accuse me, though, of
in any way diluting the Christian faith, because in my commitment
to dialogue between the religions I have been very much upfront
in emphasising the uniqueness of Christ. Christ is the only
way of salvation. I did it in my enthronement address.
I was asked this question in Leicester just two days ago and Leicester has got the largest number of Hindus
in Britain and so I was able to say to them, Look,
the last thing you want is a bland Christian leader. Im
not bland. I believe that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour.
Now, I can tell you that because I know that I have also got
to listen to your story, too.
For me, the central issue is not evangelism but the way we
evangelise. We should be Christlike in our evangelism to people
of other faiths and should listen to them and respect them.
Enter into dialogue, understand them just as my namesake
William Carey spent 14 years learning the languages of India
before he felt it was right to preach into that situation.
Interfaith dialogue is important do not minimise that;
but I am unapologetic in my commitment to evangelism.
But might not interfaith dialogue and ecumenism feed relativism?
People see you sharing a platform with the Chief Rabbi and
they think, Oh, its all just a matter of perspective.
Theres not actually that much difference between them.
Well, there is always that danger. But what good would it
do if I didnt do that? What kind of message would it
send out to the world? That the Christian church is not interested
in these other people, does not value them as people, will
not enter into a dialogue. I think more harm would come of
Inevitably, there will be some people, ignorant, complacent
and so on, who will always read the wrong thing into whatever
one does. If you went around trying to get 100-per-cent approval,
you would never achieve it at all. You have always got to
risk being misunderstood. So, I gamely carry on risking that.
Some people would say that the best way to show you value
people is to present the gospel to them. Yet you dismayed
some evangelicals by distancing yourself from the Churchs
Ministry among the Jews. Was that to avoid giving offence
to the Jewish community?
No, it wasnt. I am quite unapologetic about that. I
must control my own ministry and not have it controlled by
I came in as president or patron of over 400 organisations,
so I had to clean it up. I believe in the responsibility:
if I am a patron, I take it seriously. What did I find? I
was president of the Council of Christians and Jews, and patron
of CMJ. I had no contact with CMJ actually, I was just on
their letterhead. I found that it would be very difficult
for me to do both, and CCJ was a crucial thing. One didnt
take me seriously, the other one wanted a contribution from
I am still on good terms with the leader of CMJ, but what
it has done for my ministry is to clear the clutter, and that
was what I was anxious to achieve. Sorry to speak with strength
on that, but I want to get that across.
Suppose that when his time comes to accede, Prince Charles
were to say, I want an interfaith coronation service.
Would you be happy with that?
I really must reserve my position on that, because its
so hypothetical. I dont mind being quoted that its
I hope that people know that I am a person who doesnt
compromise on central beliefs and I do not agree with interfaith
worship. And other faiths dont like it either. You wont
find a Muslim who would want it.
Assuming that establishment lasts, and I believe it will,
it will inevitably be a Christian service.
And you would defend that? You wouldnt say that as
we are a pluralist society
No, no, we are not. We mustnt concede the game to being
a multifaith society we are not. Other faiths comprise
less than 10 per cent of the population. So, 90 per cent still
are rooted in a Christian position.
You talk a lot of the importance of unity in the wider
church, and you have said, We know deep down, even if
institutionally we have difficulty in admitting it, below
all our divisions heart speaks to heart. When you have
a high-profile meeting, say with the Pope, which the media
like to portray as a sacred summit, how do you go about realising
the unity of the Spirit?
I have no difficulty respecting Pope John Paul II as a very
fine Christian man. I have worshipped with him in his chapel,
side by side in silent prayer, and heard him praying
and hes very Christocentric, actually, as a leader.
So, I respect that.
Of course, there are fundamental differences between us that
we need to sort out things like Marian dogmas, papal
infallibility, all these things are very serious issues that
still have to be dealt with theologically.
At the organisational level, there is a lot of work to be
done, a lot of putting right of history and so on. Most of
us have been influenced by our traditions and we see these
churches as somehow over against us. When I was a younger
Christian, the Roman Catholic Church seemed to me very unbiblical.
But its at the level of personal encounter you realise
theres more, much more, going on. Over the years you
realise there are wonderful, faithful men and women of God
That is why I am passionately committed to unity not
because of ecclesiastical joinery or anything like that, but
for the mission of the church and Christs kingdom. For
me, ecumenism is very important, because its the witness
of the church that is affected. When the world looks at us
and sees that there are something like 300 member churches
in the World Council of Churches and some important ones,
such as the Roman Catholic Church, are not members, its
a scandal, it really is.
And evangelicals are not good at unity. Since the Reformation,
we have been a very fissiparous group of people. We will often
divide over finer points of doctrine until, you know we think we have salved our own conscience but in fact we
are weakening and weakening the mission of the church.
I wish I could believe that unity is round the corner. Its
not. In the meantime, we have to trudge on as pilgrims.
It seems to me that being Archbishop of Canterbury is an
Well, I think it is most of the time, yes.
What do you hope to achieve in it? Im mindful that
you have said that Christ calls us to faithfulness, not necessarily
Yes, well, I do have clear goals. I always have had in my
ministry. But the goals have to be shared, and one must not
be afraid of failure. I think I would rather encourage people
to set out on a journey and risk failure than to sit at home
and achieve nothing.
If at the end of my time I can leave a Church of England
behind which is much more confident in its mission, with every
church focused on growth and service, I would be happy.
The ordination of women happened in my time. I am delighted
that we now have 2,000 women priests. Thirdly, we are dealing
with the structures of the Church of England at the moment.
The Turnbull proposals will bring together finance and policy
and vision, which I want to achieve. Fourthly, if we can make
the Church of England more secure at the heart of our nation
I would be pleased.
Fifthly, I want to strengthen the Anglican communion throughout
the world. That is a very important dimension of my ministry.
I am concerned about international debt. I am concerned about
the worlds poor, and the women and orphans in the Anglican
communion. I am trying to strengthen the structures of the
But its not for me to assess success. I often go back
to 1 Corinthians 4.4, where Paul says, I am not being
judged by you. It is God that judges me. That is a very
precious text for me.
© Third Way 1997
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