The Most Reverend Dr Barry Morgan

by | Jul 18, 2017 | Faith / belief based groups, Interview | 0 comments

Dr Barry MorganHow would you describe your personal beliefs and identity in terms of religion?

I am the Archbishop of Wales and also the Bishop of Llandaff. One of the bishops of the Church in Wales is always elected as the Archbishop of the province.

My parents and grandparents were Anglican, and the Anglican church was about three miles from our home and we didn’t have a car. Virtually next door to us was a Congregationalist chapel, so I used to go there with my brother and sister on a Sunday morning where the worship was in Welsh, then I would go in the evening on the bus with my mother and grandmother to a bilingual evensong at the Anglican church. The great tradition in that parish was attendance at evening prayer and not many attended the morning Eucharist. Then when I was about 10 or 11 I joined the choir and so that meant of course that I had to go morning and evening, and that lasted until I went to university.

Then when I went to university, I am not sure that you could call it a crisis of faith, but I didn’t go to church for about a year. Then there was a gradual drawing back into the life of faith through the university chaplaincy in London where I was a student. Michael Marshall was the chaplain there and he was very good on apologetics and explaining the Christian faith, so that’s where I began to find my way back to regular worship.

Would you describe Great Britain as an equal and tolerant society, especially in relation to religion and belief?

On the whole I think that it is true. Over the last decade or so, we’ve become more tolerant and more diverse to people of other faiths and those who have no faith. However the church has not always been tolerant in the way that it has treated women and sexual minorities. Society has led the way. We’ve only just made it possible for women to be ordained bishops in the Church in Wales. That has taken a long time, far longer than it should have done. Personally I have no problem with government legislation on same sex marriage. I know that that has caused angst to some but I have been amazed at the number of Conservative peers and MP’s who voted for it. It is not a constituency usually known for being radical. I met one peer recently who said that we all held different views and I assumed what he meant was that he was against it. In fact what he meant was that he assumed I would be against it whilst he was for it. So it is interesting how society has changed. However, the advance of UKIP in Britain and Wales is worrying. It is a party that plays on people’s fears and at times it borders on being racist. We all need to remember that we were all immigrants once and that not one of us has “pure blood” running through our veins, if there is such a thing at all.

How easy is it for you to live in accordance with your faith? Are there challenges?

Obviously there are no legal obstacles and everyone in Britain is free to practise their faith. Trying to live out the Gospel values of course is never easy. Although the Church in Wales is a disestablished Church, there are vestiges of establishment left. All our clergy are registrars for marriages but we are excused by law from marrying same sex couples unless the Church in Wales’ Governing Body passes a canon enabling that to happen. As registrars for marriage, we also have to follow Home Office regulations to make sure people are not entering sham marriages. In Wales as in England, everyone who lives in a parish has the legal right to be baptised in that parish, to be married in the parish church and to be buried in the parish churchyard if it is not full. When churchyards are full however they cannot be handed back to the State as they are in England, but have to continue to be maintained by the church. In terms of the challenges we face as a Church, we are declining in membership, and although we are present in every community and do excellent community work, that is certainly not reflected in attendance at Sunday worship. We are an ageing church although a quarter of the pupils in Wales attend faith schools.

How does Anglicanism regard human rights?

In theory, we support them fully. In practice, I think the way we’ve treated both women and homosexuals in the past have not been commendable. The debate about human sexuality in the Anglican Community is not edifying. There are many Commonwealth countries where homosexuality is still proscribed by law because of British colonial power supported one has to say by missionaries from British churches.

Are Human Rights as applied by the Human Rights Act to all people a good thing?

In Britain all citizens have the same rights and that is as it should be. The law, however, still allows parents to smack children. That seems to me to be an abuse of human rights. There are certain inalienable rights which ought to belong to all people.

Does the C in W have practical influence on Human Rights?

We do protest about the abuse of human rights in the world but in terms of gender and sexual discrimination in Britain, the Church has not always had a good record. Wales, however, has had an Equality and Diversity Minister since devolution and that has helped all of us to think more deeply about these things.

The one area where the government of Wales has been misguided is on the issue of presumed consent for organ donation. If citizens have not opted out of organ donation they are deemed to have opted in. That seems to me an abuse by the State of the rights of human beings. But that is now the law in Wales but not in other parts of the British Isles. I regard the task of the Church as now trying to persuade as many people as possible to sign the organ donor register. Some people are so incensed by this law that they are encouraging people to opt out of organ donation altogether. I think that is a perverse stance to take.

Are Human Rights respected by the government in your view?

On the whole yes, in spite of the above, and the law protects people being discriminated against in terms of race and gender.

Do public authorities intervene too much/not enough in the lives of citizens, especially in relation to religion and belief?

We all have to respect and tolerate different views, except where those views are so offensive, they are in danger of inciting religious or racial hatred.

Is living in a democracy a good thing? Does it make it easier or harder to live in accordance with your faith?

It is. Winston Churchill once said that parliamentary democracy was not a good system of government but was better than all the others. It does mean that people are free to voice their opinions and to change any Government at the ballot box if they are unhappy with its policies. The interesting question in Britain now is how much power devolved Governments should have? Scotland and Northern Ireland have been given a far greater degree of devolved powers than Wales. The nature of devolution in Wales is at times so complicated that various disagreements on various bits of legislation between the British and the Welsh Governments have had to be resolved in the Supreme Court and that is not good for democracy.

Does your faith mean that you have a duty to vote?

The right to vote in this country has been won at a price and so all citizens ought to regard it as a privilege to exercise it. The Church has often helped the democratic process, convening meetings at election time where different parties have been asked to explain their policies. Free and fair elections are not observed everywhere in our world so we ought to cherish what we have.

Should Parliament have the final say in making and changing law? Should judges be empowered to strike down legislation?
Ideally it is for democratically elected governments to make and pass laws. The judiciary should never lightly strike down legislation unless of course a law is manifestly unjust. How the law is interpreted is a different matter however, because of course laws can be interpreted in ways not always intended by their framers. That is why you need legal minds to look at them, but the supremacy in the end must lie with parliament.

Is democracy as the majority will, a problem for minorities? Are there barriers to participation for some groups in our society?

Obviously I think in any parliamentary democracy, if you are a Labour supporter and there is a Conservative government or vice versa, you feel that you have been disenfranchised. What’s interesting I think is that recently we had something akin to a European model of government with a coalition of the Liberal Democrats and Tories. If we introduced PR then we’d find perhaps that the balance of power might be held by a small group of people. That brings its own problems. People might feel that they were being held to ransom by a small group of people for whom few people had voted for. The Welsh Assembly is partly elected on PR lines and the result in 2016 has been the election of 7 UKIP AM’s.

Does it concern you that the House of Lords is unelected?

It’s a very difficult question and I don’t know where I stand. The trouble is that if you have a second chamber which is elected, that then means that you might have a clash between two houses, because both have been elected. And you could find a different kind of party in power in the two chambers as in America at times. We need however to abolish hereditary peers in the Lords. Under the present system, there are people prepared to give their time and expertise from all spectrums and walks of life. They can refine legislation and give time to thinking through its implications. Very often the H of C votes on party lines and although that can happen in the H of L as well, there are cross party peers with no axe to grind. With difficult pieces of legislation, they bring different and often expert perspectives to bear. If you had elections for the H of L, who are the people who would stand? You wouldn’t get ex-judges, ex-lawyers, ex-businessmen doing so. It might consist of people who had once been MP’s. I don’t think that the Prime Minister should be able to choose peers.

Do you think that it is problem having Church of England bishops as of right in the House of Lords?

Yes it is. Life has changed. 26 bishops are a vestige of a past age where it was assumed everyone was an Anglican and went to church. That is clearly now not the case. The Lords spiritual have been diluted a bit by appointing the former Chief Rabbi, the leader of the Sikh community, and Lord Griffiths representing the Methodist Church. But they sit in a personal capacity, not as of right. But if you are having any sort of reform of the H of L, it doesn’t seem fair to restrict spiritual input to 26 members of one church. And it pays no regard to the devolved nations either. If we are part of this democratic UK, there ought to be some form of religious representation from other parts of the British Isles. Lord Eames, the former Primate of Ireland, is a member but again that is in a personal capacity.

Is it good or bad that some decisions made by EU and devolved institutions in Wales and Scotland?

I find it strange that some members of main political parties complain vociferously about the EU and yet are willing to concede powers to Scotland and Wales. I think the sad thing about the Scottish independence debate was that it was only because the government was fearful that it promised powers which it didn’t really want to give. No such promise has been made to Wales. With the Brexit vote, we still need to realise that we need our European neighbours.

What does your faith teach about people with power, and the ways in which they should be held accountable?

Power should only be used to serve people and should be exercised with humility. In the end, we are all accountable to God and one another. Some people in the C in W think that bishops have great power and that the archbishop has absolute power to do what he wants. In fact, the only power one has is influence. If you are in a position of authority, you have to be careful that you don’t abuse it. In the end, bishops are accountable to the Church which appoints them.

Are practising Christians still appropriately and proportionately represented in public life? Do they have particular insights to bring?

One is often struck by the sheer goodness and humanity of all kinds of people who do not claim any faith, who can often put ordinary Christians to shame. One would hope that people who claim to be Christian, would exemplify the values of the Gospel, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes it can be dangerous for people of faith to have political power because they think that God is on their side and supports everything they do.

Is there enough distance between legislature and judiciary?

That is certainly the case in Great Britain. All the judges I’ve met have not been influenced at all by the fact that their appointments may have come through the Lord Chancellor’s office or the judicial appointments system. They have strong independent minds and administer and interpret the law without fear or favour. They have sometimes struck down cases brought by government departments against people and organisations.

How does the C in W challenge problematic decisions?

The only power it’s got is the power of making representations when necessary. One of the advantages of devolved government is that ministers are accessible and it’s much easier to meet and talk to them. I chaired the All Wales report of Shelter Cymru on poverty. It is quite damning in terms of child poverty in Wales. The Minister responsible made time to discuss the report as did the First Minister. I don’t know how much effect that had but at least they listened. One Government Minister was astonished at the involvement of the church in the Credit Union movement for example. He wanted to further that involvement. So the Church has got the chance of getting involved in discussion at all kinds of levels and since it has a presence in virtually every community, it has first-hand information and empathy with how people live their lives. There is a Faith Communities Forum of all of the faith communities in Wales which meets the First Minister twice a year, and he brings in a cabinet member for the topics under discussion that pertains to that Minister’s portfolio.

Do public authorities have a good understanding of Anglican needs?

Not always. I think that we’ve become too politically correct and we forget that the laws of this country were founded on Christian principles and the Christian faith was fundamental to it and to the setting up of schools and hospitals. Now given the fact it is still a Christian country in that wider sense, I think it is nonsensical when you have a hospital chapel which is required to remove all Christian symbols and yet still have a footbath provided in it for Muslims. Some Health Boards have appointed hospital chaplains without asking for example about their attitudes to sacraments. It is no good appointing, as a hospital chaplain, someone who will not baptise dying babies or refuse to anoint the dying because their theology does not embrace such acts.

Is it important to act within State law at all times?

The law would have to be really morally repugnant for anyone to disregard it in Great Britain. I can’t think of an instance where that would happen in this country, thank goodness. There are countries where it is lawful to persecute Christians and stone women to death and where female genital mutilation is allowed. The Confessing Church in Germany disregarded Hitler’s laws as did many people in South Africa over laws governing apartheid. We are not in that position, but if we disagree with laws, we have the right to protest.

Is the Church in Wales campaigning for changes to secular law?

The Church in Wales has made representations about the need for more devolution for Wales. But we have protested about other things such as the bedroom tax, and issues of inequality, poverty….and I personally have protested about nuclear power. That I think is the way to try and change laws.

Do you believe that you have a duty to speak out about injustices effecting third parties?

Absolutely. If the leader of a Church does not speak out on issues which cause grave injustice to others, he or she is abrogating their duty. Minorities expect you to do that. The Church should always stand up for the voiceless and marginalised. People quite frequently ask me to sign letters to ministers to get laws changed. I have done so over the issue of asylum seekers.

Is the Rule of Law applied equally? Do some groups experience preferential or prejudicial treatment?

Black people in this country have, in the past, accused the police of such behaviour and the present Archbishop of York has accused the Metropolitan Police of being institutionally racist. Whether that is true or not, I do not really know.

How do you feel about the increase in police powers over the past 15 years or so?

That worries me. It is always difficult to balance human rights over against issues of safety and security. It is the role of Parliament to make sure that ministerial directives don’t subvert the Rule of Law and peoples’ rights.

Are there any legal rules which have a negative impact on your personally?

Not that I can think of. I protested against the Iraq war because I did not believe we should have fought it without a further UN Resolution.

Is there anything that you would like to add on this topic?

I don’t think so, I think you’ve been quite comprehensive. I think we’ve had cases where a guesthouse refused a bedroom to a homosexual couple and were taken to court, and I think that’s quite right. Guest houses offer a public service and you ought not to be able to discriminate. One does not ask heterosexual couples for proof that they’re married if you’re running a guest house. And I think that George Carey is very wide of the mark in some of the statements that he makes about the persecution of Christians in this country when you compare it to the persecution of minority Christian populations in the rest of the world.

Dr Barry Morgan is currently the Archbishop of Wales and Bishop of Llandaff but previously served as Bishop of Bangor from 1993-1999. Born in South Wales, he read History at University College London, Theology at Selwyn College Cambridge and trained for the ministry at Westcott House, Cambridge. He has worked in a range of ministerial contexts – in parish ministry, as a university and theological college lecturer and university chaplain, as an Archdeacon, Director of Ordinands and as a Continuing Ministerial Education Officer. He has served on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches and until 2011 also served on the Primates Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. He has published a number of articles and books, his latest being a study of the work of the Welsh poet R S Thomas called “Strangely Orthodox”. He is a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales and Pro Chancellor of the University of Wales and a Fellow of several Welsh universities.


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