The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said he is trying to heal the split in the Anglican church over same-sex marriage.
“If you love them you have to listen to them very, very carefully,” he said in reference to the passionately held but opposing views among believers during his appearance as guest castaway on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.
Welby ducked a question on his personal views on gay marriage – which he has opposed in the past, though he told Pink News earlier this year that it was “great” parliament had passed the law – telling interviewer, Kirsty Wark, it would be inappropriate to speak of it while the church was debating the issue.
“I’m really not going to answer the question very well because we’re now into conversations within the church, both globally and locally, and I think if I weigh in at this stage it’s inappropriate.”
“When I listen to people I know that I’m listening to people for whom not just the issue of sexuality but the whole way in which the church lives and exists and reaches out to people, what it looks like to be a holy church, is something on which they feel passionately and are deeply, deeply disagreeing.”
He was much more forthcoming about his life and faith. He referred to using time doing the ironing as an opportunity for private prayer, a memorable tea with the elderly Winston Churchill, and his difficult childhood after his parents divorced when he was only three, and his father became an alcoholic.
He spent one Christmas alone at home when his father, whom he recalled as “sometimes very full of rage and anger”, decided to stay in bed all day. “I did think this was a pretty bad day. I went out once or twice, but everything was closed. I don’t really remember, I suppose I watched a bit of telly, scrounged around the fridge for something to eat … that was a grim, grim day.”
His next choice of music, perhaps tellingly, was one he first heard while working on reconciliation during his time at Coventry cathedral, a poignant Advent composition by John Tavener.
His mother Jane Portal had been Churchill’s private secretary during the war.Welby was unsure if she had to take memos dictated from the prime minister’s bath, as some of his secretaries did, but she took many while Churchill was lying in bed, and she brought her small son to tea with him.
“I remember a very, very old man. And he cried, I don’t know why. And because he cried, I cried. And then we sat and had tea.” He added: “I’ve talked to her about it since, and she said ‘Well, he cried quite a lot’.”
Although he spoke warmly of his happy family life with his wife Caroline, whom he met when they were both students at Cambridge, their three daughters and two sons, it was scarred by the loss of their first child, Johanna, who died in a car crash aged just seven months.
“It’s just the constant reminder of the uncertainty in life. The only certainty in this life is Christ – everything else is contention,” he said.
His choices of music included Liverpool’s adopted anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone, which he chose for the day he presided over a Hillsborough memorial service before returning to the cathedral to find it draped with Liverpool and Anfield scarves; Beethoven’s Pastoral to remind him of happy childhood summer’s at his grandmother’s home in Norfolk; and the piece by composer Michael Berkeley commissioned by his mother and step father to be played at his inauguration at Canterbury.
However, his first choice, after admitting his almost total inability to remember tunes, conjured the startling vision of the Archbishop of Canterbury singing In The Jungle (“the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight, a whim away, a whim away ...) to put off whichever member of the family is winning at the card game Racing Demon.
His book choice was Edward Gibbon’s monumental History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, along with all seven series of The West Wing as his luxury object – their escapist television viewing of choice, he said, “it’s what we go to when we just need to switch off”.