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Archbishop defends Church schools

The Archbishop of Canterbury has defended Church schools in the wake of the "Trojan Horse" allegations in a speech in which he warned against the dangers of using social media to replace "reflective comment" with "instant reaction."

The Most Rev Justin Welby said "not one" church school had been affected by the recent problems highlighted in Ofsted reports which placed five Birmingham schools in special measures following allegations of a takeover plot in the city's schools by hardline Muslims.

He told a meeting of nearly 700 MPs, peers, church and charity representatives, including Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband, at the National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast, that church schools stand for qualities including "tolerance and acceptance".

"In this country alone we educate nearly a million children in the Church of England, another half a million through the Roman Catholic schools, and, let me say, no recent problems were in one of the church schools," he said.

"It is the church schools that stand for tolerance, acceptance, reception, generosity, open-handedness. Education is something which the Church has done for centuries, which it held in its monasteries when the rest of the world had given up on it in western Europe, and we do it today."

In his speech, Archbishop Welby warned the Church against an "obsession" with internal issues and said the faithful did not have the option of "simply ditching" those with whom they disagreed.

He said he hoped and expected that final approval of women bishops would be passed by the Church of England General Synod when it meets next month in York. But he said the issue was not a "win-lose or zero-sum game" and he "rejoiced" in the Church of England's commitment to those who disagreed with the move.

"You don't chuck out family, you love them and seek their well-being even when you argue," he said.

The archbishop said the Church faced a new phenomenon of instant reaction brought about by the revolution in communications in the 21st Century.

"The comments that even 20 years ago took months to reach the far corners of the Earth, now, as we know, take seconds," he told his audience.

"Instant reaction has replaced reflective comment.

"That is a reality that you deal with in politics and it demands a new reality of ways in which we accept one another, love each other, pray for each other.

"The best answer to a complex issue on which one has heard a sound-bite from a sophisticated argument is not always given in 140 characters.

"The Church of this century must be a generous Church because of that communications revolution, because of technology, because we are face to face with everyone everywhere always, in a way we never have been in history."

Archbishop Welby said the Church should be "hospitable" and "utterly at home in a world of numerous faith traditions".

He paid tribute to "remarkable" Muslim leader Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, the Leicester-based imam and social activist, saying they had spent time together during the Christian season of Lent, when they had shared their scriptures.

" I read bits of John's Gospel with him, and he read bits of the Koran with me. Hospitable," Archbishop Welby said.

"That belonging to one another, being different, diverse and yet authentic to oneself and to one's tradition and the truth, is a gift this world needs.

"It's the opposite of all this Trojan Horse process. It is a generosity of spirit and openness to listen."

Archbishop Welby said the Church in the 21st century was "suffering" in countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan.

He highlighted its work in countries such as the Congo, where he said it had helped victims of sexual violence for years, and the South Sudan, where he witnessed calls for reconciliation by Archbishop Daniel Deng in the face of appalling massacres.

He added that the Church was "speaking heroically" for Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian mother-of-two sentenced to 100 lashes and death by hanging for apostasy in Sudan.

"A 21st-century global church loves the poor and the victim, and stands for human dignity, challenges oppressors and supports victims. It speaks for women killed in lynchings called 'honour killings', or for those imprisoned under blasphemy laws. It does all that despite its own suffering," Archbishop Welby said.

He also warned that it was "easy" to be cynical about politics - but he praised the commitment to maintain international aid at 0.7% of GDP, the introduction of the Modern Slavery Bill and last week's conference on ending sexual violence in war zones, co-hosted by Foreign Secretary William Hague and Hollywood star Angelina Jolie.

"Those aren't cynical vote-winners, from any politician in this room, but they arise from a spirit of generosity, which is right and proper."

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham and a former Labour minister, Caroline Spelman, Conservative MP for Meriden and the former environment secretary, and Sarah Teather, Liberal Democrat MP for Brent Central and former children's minister, were among a series of senior political figures to say prayers at the start of the breakfast.

There was also a reading from Attorney General Dominic Grieve and introductory comments from the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow and Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham and shadow employment minister.

In a foreword to a programme distributed to people attending the prayer breakfast, Mr Cameron wrote: " As I have said before, I believe very deeply that we should be confident in Britain about our status as a Christian country.

"So I think it is absolutely right that our Parliament should express this confidence through this annual prayer breakfast.

"Greater confidence in our Christianity can also inspire a stronger belief in our work as politicians to get out there and make a difference to people's lives - and it should inspire our support for churches and faith organisations in the vital work they do in our society and around the world.

"Whatever our political parties and whatever our disagreements, these are values we share."

His remarks come after he was criticised earlier this year for saying "we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country" and "more evangelical" about faith in a Church Times article.

Mr Cameron also warned that people who "advocate some sort of secular neutrality fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality, or the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code".


From Belfast Telegraph