Archbishop of Canterbury warns British Christians against cultural imperialism

The Archbishop of Canterbury said Christian witness needed to be 'seasoned with gentleness and respect'

British Christians need to be sensitive to their country's colonial past and how this might affect their witness in communities that once belonged to the Empire, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

Delivering the annual Deo Gloria Trust lecture at Lambeth Palace on Wednesday night, Archbishop Justin Welby suggested that for some people, the British Empire may appear to be at odds with the message of the Christian faith it brought with it.

He encouraged British Christians to be aware of how they might come across when sharing their faith with diaspora communities.

'How are British Christians heard when we talk of the claims of Christ by diaspora communities who have experienced abuse and exploitation by an empire that has seemed to hold the Christian story at the heart of its project?' he said.

Addressing evangelism more generally, he said it was important that all Christians let their witness be 'seasoned with gentleness and respect', and listen as much as they speak. 

It was also important, he suggested, to recognise the good that other people bring to the table. 

'Let us never be guilty of demeaning the light that others have, just show them something of the light you know,' he said.

'Let's tell people about Jesus and witness to what he has done for us, without feeling the need to presume to tell others what is wrong with their faith.'

He continued: 'Let's be honest. How much of our evangelism is monologuing?'

'Any credible witness requires us to be in dialogue with the other.'

The Archbishop said it was not a contradiction for Christians to present the Gospel faithfully while at the same time being ready to learn from people who belong to different faiths. 

'We are not contradicting any of the claims we make about the centrality of Jesus Christ to the whole of creation, our commitment to him as the source of all salvation, by recognising that other traditions offer people encouragement, community and even deep wells of spirituality,' he said.

'But we may find our understanding challenged and enriched.'

He concluded by saying that evangelism was at its heart about building relationships of love, not power, with other people. 

It was also, he said, not about 'ensuring the survival of the Church' as he warned that some people might be put off if they felt they were just a 'target' for conversion.

'This is why so many religious groups rightly complain of being 'targeted' by Christians,' the Archbishop said.

'It's one thing to feel a calling to share your lives with a particular culture or people. It's another thing altogether to see their value only as would-be Christians.

'How do we express our love for others in witness so that they understand that we care for them even if they make no decision to follow Christ?'