A former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord (George) Carey, is at the center of a religious and political debate after writing a newspaper article in which he urged limits on immigration to Britain and said migrants needed to recognize the country's Christian heritage.
"The sheer numbers of migrants from within Europe and elsewhere put the resources of Britain under enormous pressure, but also threaten the very ethos or DNA of our nation," Carey wrote in an article published in The Times newspaper on January 7.
In the article, Carey said he welcomed "the contribution of both economic migrants and asylum seekers to our lively cosmopolitan culture." However, failure to reduce the number of migrants, he warned, "could be seriously damaging to the future harmony of our society.”
Carey said that immigrants should also "recognize that they are coming to a country with a Christian heritage and an established church."
As Archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 to 2002, Carey was the spiritual leader of the (Anglican) Church of England, which has a special status in England. This includes the right for some of its bishops to sit in the United Kingdom's upper house of parliament, the House of Lords.
Carey said he was supporting a call by a group called Balanced Migration for Britain's main political parties to make commitments to prevent the population reaching 70 million, a figure that Carey said official figures projected for 2029. The current population stands at around 61 million.
The former Anglican leader said that if politicians did not "seriously address" people's concerns, this would "play into the hands of the far Right," such as the British National Party, which campaigns against immigration.
"We cannot ignore that such far-right-wing groups exploit genuine concerns about both overpopulation and the ability of this nation to integrate new communities, whose values are sometimes very different, even antithetical to our own," wrote Carey.
In response to Carey's statements, Hina Majid, the legal policy director for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, a non-governmental body, described as "pure supposition" the assertion that Britain's population would reach 70 million by 2029.
In a letter to The Times, Majid said also that the former archbishop's comments were being quoted approvingly on the Web site of the British National Party.
The Anglican bishop of Ripon and Leeds, John Packer, was quoted in The Times on January 15 as saying that Lord Carey's comments would "play into the hands of racists.”
Packer said he did not believe that Carey or Balanced Migration are racist, "but their approach can play into what becomes a racist opposition to people who are not from a white, Anglo-Saxon background.”
Separately, Bishop John Saxbee of Lincoln told Ecumenical News International that a much more "nuanced" debate is needed on the subject of migration.
Support for Carey came from the former bishop of Rochester, Pakistan-born Michael Nazir-Ali. The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported him as saying that both Carey and Balanced Migration "are right that every country has limits to the numbers of new arrivals that it can accommodate, and the UK in particular, as a small country, cannot take an indefinite number of people who wish to live here.”