In a challenge to the arguments being put forward by his predecessor Lord Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said that those worried that migration affecting ‘British identity’ demonstrate ‘confusion’ and a ‘lack of proper confidence’ in society’s capacity to learn.
His comments came in a lecture last night "Enriching the arguments: the refugee contribution to British life" to a large invited audience at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London, organised by the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) and University College London.
During the lecture, the Archbishop highlighted the importance of ‘critical reflection’ of society’s practices and values for maintaining and developing intellectual freedom.
He also robustly challenged arguments put forward by right-wing campaigners and Lord Carey, that migration ‘threatens’ British culture.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury wrote in January: "[t]he sheer numbers of migrants from within Europe and elsewhere put the resources of Britain under enormous pressure, but also threaten the very ethos or DNA of our nation."
But in his lecture last night the current Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said: “This is perhaps the moment to note that the vocal anxieties we hear from some quarters about the survival of 'British identity' in the face of migrants and refugees betrays a lack of proper confidence in the capacity and the commitment of our society both to learn and to teach; it suggests a confusion about what matters to us and why.
“In fact it illustrates dramatically why we always need to be alert to argument, because we need to learn how to articulate why we are as we are, and why this or that element of our culture can or should be defended. The presence of the 'stranger' is a gift rather than a threat in this context because the stranger helps us see who we are – hopefully, not as an 'us' over against a 'them', but as an 'us' always in process of formation.”
Pointing to the example of Christians themselves he continued: “One of the mainsprings of Christian self-understanding in the formative years of the Church's life was the idea that the believer was essentially a 'migrant', someone who was in any and every situation poised between being at home and being a stranger.
“In the New Testament and a good deal of the literature that survives from the first couple of Christian centuries, one of the commonest self-descriptions of the Church is in the language that would have been used in the Mediterranean cities for a community of migrant workers, temporary residents. As a 'resident alien' in whatever society he or she inhabited, the believer would be involved in discovering what in that society could be endorsed and celebrated and what should be challenged.
“The Christian, you could say, was present precisely as someone who was under an obligation to extend or enrich the argument –sometimes indeed to initiate the argument about lasting social goods in settings where there was previously no possibility of thinking about what made a social order good or just or legitimate.”
Also on Ekklesia: Migration: Why a broader view is needed, by Vaughan Jones - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/12034