In a radio interview with the BBC, Justin Welby also said the Church of England would “very carefully” review church statues for any slavery links following global protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody.
Welby was asked if there was a need for the “Western church” to rethink how it depicts Jesus, with the interviewer highlighting US activist Shaun King’s call to remove statues and murals depicting him as European.
Jesus is frequently portrayed with pale skin, long flowing hair and European features, despite being a Levantine Semite from 2,000 years ago.
“Yes of course,” Welby said, noting the Anglican Church has houses of worship across the globe. “You go into their churches; you don’t see a white Jesus, you see a black Jesus or a Chinese Jesus or a Middle Eastern Jesus — which is of course the most accurate.”
“You see Jesus portrayed in as many ways as there are languages, cultures and understandings,” he continued. “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 that became fully human,” said Welby.
Earlier in the interview, Welby was asked if rather than taking down statues it was possible to forgive those depicted for their “trespasses.”
“We can only do that if we have justice, and that means the statue needs to be put in context. Some will have to come down. Some names will have to change,” he said.
Welby stressed the decision was not his and said all statues would be reviewed “very carefully” to see “if they all should be there.”
Hundreds of thousands of people have held mostly peaceful protests across Britain since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, urging the UK to confront its own history of imperialism and racial inequality.
After some protesters scuffled with police and defaced a statue of wartime prime minister Winston Churchill in London, and demonstrators in Bristol toppled a statue of slave trader Edward Colston, counter-protesters rallied in recent weeks with the stated aim of protecting monuments.
Hundreds of soccer fans and far-right activists clashed June 13 with police near the Churchill statue, which had been boarded up for protection.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced he is setting up a commission to look at what more can be done to eliminate racial injustice, but opponents accuse the Conservative government of opting for talk rather than action.