No `Correct Christian View' on U.K. EU Vote, Archbishop Says

  • Church of England's top cleric says fear should drive choice
  • Not true that ‘God says you must vote this way or that way'

There’s no “correct Christian view” on how to vote in Britain’s referendum on European Union membership, according to Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the most senior cleric in the Church of England.

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While acknowledging that he has to be “sensitive” in the way he responds to the referendum, Welby said in an interview for The House magazine published Thursday that voters should consider what scares them when they make their decision. Opponents of Prime Minister David Cameron have described his campaign to keep Britain in the 28-nation bloc as “Project Fear” because of its warnings of disaster if the country leaves.

“I don’t think there is one correct Christian view, one way or the other; You can’t say ‘God says you must vote this way or that way,’” Welby told the magazine, which is distributed to U.K. lawmakers. “It should be about what we fear. Fear is a valid emotion. Fear of what happens if we leave, fear of what happens if we stay. You can understand why that really matters. Fear is legitimate.”

Welby, whose religious role means he is also a member of Parliament’s upper, unelected House of Lords, is the latest senior member of the British establishment to come under the spotlight for his views on the June 23 vote. The Sun newspaper reported this week that Queen Elizabeth II backs British withdrawal from the EU, citing comments allegedly made in private several years ago.

Governor’s Comments

Representatives of the Queen have filed a formal complaint about the Sun’s story, though the newspaper’s editor has said he stands by it. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney was dragged back into the debate earlier Thursday when Cameron cited him in a tweet as saying that leaving the EU is “the biggest domestic risk to financial stability.”

Welby, who lived in Paris for five years and regularly visited Africa while working in the oil industry, called for a debate about Britain’s place in the world. He said discussion was needed on how the U.K. can continue to provide aid to poorer countries and be a force for good whether it remains in the EU or opts to leave.

“It mustn’t all be about us; it’s got to be about us, but about what we do in the world,” Welby said. “At the moment we’re one of the most effective people on international development, we’re one of the most effective people on international trade, we lead the world on tackling modern slavery, and we have huge skills and gifts to bring.”

The archbishop defended people who are concerned about the effects of immigration on British society.

“In fragile communities particularly –- and I’ve worked in many areas with very fragile communities over my time as a clergyman –- there is a genuine fear: what happens about housing? What happens about jobs? What happens about access to health services?,” he said. “There is a tendency to say ‘those people are racist’, which is just outrageous, absolutely outrageous.”

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