The Church of England has waded into one of Britain's most contentious political issues: the European Union.
In a move that surprised believers and non-believers alike, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said yesterday that the church will lead a "Christian debate" on the future of Britain's relationship with the EU.
Warning that an in/out referendum could leave the nation "dispirited and divided", Welby is a driving force behind a new website called Reimagining Europe. The website is hosted by the Church of England and the Church of Scotland, and its articulated "central aim" is to "create a space for Christian reflection and debate on Britain’s future relationship with Europe ahead of the forthcoming referendum on whether Britain should remain a member of the EU".
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a public vote on the UK's EU membership by the end of 2017.
In an inaugural blog post on the website yesterday, Welby wrote: "In less than two years we will have a referendum on our place in Europe. There will be passionate arguments on both sides."
"People will say that we should not take the risk of leaving, others that it is less of a risk than staying. There will be talk of national sovereignty, of national confidence, of repatriation of laws, or being bound by European laws over which we have no control."
"The only certainty is that there will be much heat, probably slightly less light, but that it is a hugely important decision, with thoughtful and committed people, including Christians, on both sides."
While the blog is expected to feature regular commentary, its editors are unlikely to take sides. They wrote yesterday: "It is not the place of this blog to tell people how to vote in any referendum."