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The first part of this series was yesterday’s post: … from the sublime John Donne.

Today’s entry looks at the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who has been in that post since 2013. He is the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury.

There could not be a greater contrast with John Donne, who was followed all over London by people who wanted to hear him preach.

It is unlikely that people would follow Welby around the capital.

In 2015, he told Michael Gove MP, who interviewed him for The Spectator‘s Christmas issue that year (emphases mine):

I suppose I struggle with a sense that I’m the wrong person for the job. An imposter syndrome, that’s the phrase I’m looking for.

He was not concerned about the severe decline in Church of England (CofE) worship over the past few decades:

Church attendance in this country has fallen hugely both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the population. The number of Christians around the world has risen hugely since the nineteenth century and continues to rise at an extraordinary rate: it is over two billion now. So we’re seeing a change in the pattern of where the church is: the Anglican Communion is essentially global, as much for a sub-Saharan woman and not just someone in a church in England.

You can find a vast range of churches in the Church of England with examples of growth and examples of decline. Sometimes it is simply circumstances: populations move. Sometimes it’s that people feel the church is not welcoming, there is not an ethos which makes them look outwards to those around them. Where they grow it will usually be because they relate extraordinarily well to their communities and that the circumstances are there, there is a clear spirituality, there is a clear sense of what they are about.

Although Welby is pleased with the proliferation of the social gospel at the expense of evangelism, this is where he and others before him have been going wrong:

This is one of the most interesting changes from the 50s and 60s and 70s, where social gospel was for one part of the church and evangelism for another. The two are absolutely inextricable now.

Yes, and most Sunday sermons from CofE priests sound as if they came from The Guardian‘s op-ed pages. Therefore, why not simply stay in bed and read a newspaper? Oh, wait, they already do.

In 2022, he told the BBC’s Michael Buerk in an interview for the Radio Times (‘There’s an end to darkness’, 19-25 February 2022, pp 19-23):

‘None of us want to see the thing go down on our watch’, he says. He talks of ‘bad moments’ when he has a sense of ‘oh, my goodness, am I going to be the one who they’ll say finished the Church of England off?’ He pauses. ‘Then I realise it’s God’s problem, not mine.’

Wow. Welby, along with other clerics, will be held accountable on that fateful day of the Last Judgement. They are supposed to evangelise, as Jesus Himself instructed the Apostles in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20):

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Perhaps Welby thinks that applied only to the eleven remaining Apostles at that time. If so, how sad.

In December 2019, he gave an interview to the Big Issue before the general election that year, when Boris’s ‘Get Brexit done’ slogan won an 80-seat majority for the Conservatives.

Days after the election, the BBC carried highlights from that interview. Welby said:

“I’m not saying we are in a crisis”, he said. “I’m just saying the direction of travel is not what we want.”

He batted away a question about Prince Andrew:

Archbishop Welby was also asked about the controversy involving the Duke of York’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein.

He refused to comment on any particular member of the Royal Family, but said it was wrong to expect them to be “superhuman saints”.

He intimated that those who voted Conservative were consumed by fear:

The interview – which was conducted before last Thursday’s general election – concluded with the Archbishop quoting from the First Letter of John in the New Testament, which says that “perfect love casts out fear”.

He said that people should reject fear and, instead, accept that love of God which – he said – “changes the world dramatically”.

Brexit was largely a huge no-no for CofE clergy, from the top to the bottom. Pewsitters, on the other hand, wanted to leave the EU, as The Economist reported in April 2019:

Justin Welby’s dilemma over Brexit is all the more difficult because he was a declared Remain voter in the June 2016 referendum, while 66% of self-identified Anglicans opted for Brexit.

Yet, there were still some clergy who wanted to part from Brussels, including a former Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Revd Giles Fraser:

Giles Fraser, an Anglican cleric who is a prominent figure on the religious and intellectual left, is a convinced supporter of leaving what he sees as the capitalist European club. “The emotional core of Brexit, and the reason I remain a passionate Brexiter, despite all its problems, is that it seeks to collapse the distance between power and ordinary people,” he wrote recently.

True!

This was Welby’s prayer as the UK exited the EU for good at the end of January 2020. I agree with the reply:

Yes, that’s the eternal essential, not Brexit. However, the prayer shows where Welby’s priorities lie. They do not appear to be with evangelism.

We had just left the EU when coronavirus hit.

This could have been a huge moment for the CofE. Had John Donne been Archbishop of Canterbury, no doubt he would have recognised this.

But Justin Welby thought otherwise and went along with the decision to close Anglican churches, a closure that even forbade priests from entering their own churches for a moment of private prayer or even cleaning for several weeks. Many vicars were distraught.

Welby issued the closure tweet one week before lockdown:

Welby told the Radio Times this year (p. 23):

If I had the time again, I would be more cautious about closing the churches. At the time, we were being told the virus can stay on surfaces for ages and that it could kill 30 per cent of the people who caught it.

It wasn’t just me. It’s not a dictatorship. I am not the Pope. But I had an influence and I’m not sure I got that right.

No, he definitely did not get that right. People were bereft. They would have loved to actually enter a church and worship in person, even if socially distanced and even without Communion. Morning Prayer services would have sufficed for the first few months. Masks were not mandated until the first lockdown was lifted.

Sure, there were Zoom services later in the Spring …

… when participants were erroneously told to consecrate their own piece of bread and sip of wine for Holy Communion. That is not a tenet of the CofE.

Welby could have called for a National Day of Prayer, but he didn’t:

What happened in June 2020 was startling. It was as if the pandemic never happened. Here he was, responding to an American issue. Once more, I agree with the reply:

If Welby wants to feel guilty for physical characteristics that God gave him, then, by so doing, he disgraces God, who chose him to be created as he is.

On June 8, he wanted to create a collective sin, when what he accuses the majority of Britons of has been rare in recent decades. His job is to preach the Gospel, not identity politics:

At the end of June 2020, Welby pledged that the CofE would review its monuments in place at Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Readers will not be surprised to find that I agree with the replies:

The following day, Welby tweeted again. A layman has a better perspective than he does:

On June 28, The Telegraph‘s Nick Timothy wrote an excellent editorial on Welby’s pronouncements, far more numerous than any he ever made on the pandemic, which was still very much a concern in Britain. Churches continued to be closed.

Nick Timothy shows he understands Christian theology better than Welby:

Nobody personifies the madness of our times, and the moral cowardice of our leaders, like the Archbishop of Canterbury.

On Friday, under pressure from precisely nobody, Justin Welby climbed atop his chosen pulpit – an interview on BBC Radio 4 – and announced a review of statues and commemorative names in Anglican churches and buildings. “Some will have to come down,” he said, and “some names will have to change.”

Welby seems to believe Britain, and all white people, carry collective sin specific to them. He recently invited us to pray for “white Christians [to] repent of our own prejudices”. On Friday, he said: “For this country and for this country in the world, there’s got to be a generosity … there’s got to be that new life which is always on offer.” Britain, and specifically Britain, he believes, must repent its unique sins to be born again.

When a Black Lives Matter activist called for statues of Jesus to be pulled down because they portrayed Him as a white European, Welby had the chance to draw the line. Jesus is depicted in different ways the world over, the Archbishop explained. He might have gone on to say that the significance of Jesus is spiritual, not political or racial, that Jesus was God made flesh, and that we are all made in God’s own image. Instead, he agreed that the depiction of Christ in Western countries should change and criticised the “sense that God is white”. Jesus was “Middle Eastern, not white,” he later reiterated, studiously avoiding the more accurate description that Jesus was a Jew. But then Middle Eastern Jews, or Israelis as we also call them, are these days an unfashionable minority to defend.

In this strange fusion between a belief in collective national or racial guilt and Christian forgiveness, Welby articulated a new – and utterly incoherent – account of forgiveness and mercy. “There can be forgiveness [of those from the past we commemorate],” he said, “but only if there’s justice: if we change the way we behave now.”

There is, of course, an unanswerable Christian case for treating all our fellow beings with respect and love. There is still racism in our society, and great disparities in the experiences of people from different ethnic backgrounds, just as there is for people from different class backgrounds. There is a Christian case for seeking to address all such disadvantages. But there is no such case for the conditional forgiveness he proposes.

The Bible tells us “a son will not bear the iniquity of the father, and a father will not bear the iniquity of the son.” We are responsible before God for the trespasses we commit, but not for the trespasses of others. And just as God will forgive us, so we should forgive others. “Pardon, and you will be pardoned,” Saint Luke tells us. There is no biblical justification for making the forgiveness of one generation conditional on the actions of another, just as there is no biblical justification for a presupposition of collective national or racial guilt.

Whether you are a Christian or not, this departure from scripture is profoundly worrying. Christianity’s promise of redemption, and the idea that we are each accountable for our own sins, has shaped our civilisation. We are members of families and communities large and small, but we are more than just featureless components of some greater group identity. This is one reason why we have equal political and civil rights, and stand equal before the law.

Our Christian heritage – and our associated history of bloody religious conflict – also inspired another important Western principle. The realisation that clashes between different values, beliefs and interests are inevitable gave rise to the essential liberal idea of pluralism. We should accept and tolerate difference, while agreeing laws and processes to mediate clashes, guaranteeing rights for minorities, and protecting the norms, traditions and institutions that foster a common, unifying identity to build trust and reciprocity.

Now this principle is also under attack. The more our society boasts of diversity and inclusion, the more it becomes illiberal and intolerant. Businesses, public services, universities and other important institutions are engaged in an organised hypocrisy, closing down debate, sacking people with the wrong opinions, and participating knowingly in a politically correct doublethink …

Such nonsense and nihilism is possible because through ignorance and cowardice our leaders have allowed the pillars that support our society – built up through time by thinkers and statesmen upon foundations laid in part by Christianity – to crumble. Time will tell if we are worthy of our inheritance, but one thing we do know. A civilisation that ceases to believe in itself is doomed to self-destruction.

The next day, The Telegraph published several letters in which readers expressed their disapproval with Welby. The first three are from Scotland:

SIR – Nick Timothy (Comment, June 29) rightly points to the most recent example of the divisive leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in his response to the Black Lives Matter protests.

The Archbishop has often talked of “reconciliation”, but his latest comments seem to continue a trend of the divisiveness of his leadership in a whole range of matters, from Brexit to Covid-19.

It’s a terrible shame: the Church has missed a multitude of opportunities to be an institution that can unite the population.

———–

SIR – About 25 years ago, as a white, middle-aged, middle-class, mildly overweight woman, I had the supreme privilege of training for ordination under the authority of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

I wish the Archbishop of Canterbury would seek advice from him about the kind of discourse that leads to real truth and reconciliation, and forgiveness and justice. Each life matters.

———–

SIR – Regarding church memorials, if we wiped from history everyone who has done great things but might have done something politically incorrect in the past, the list would have to include Moses (murder), Jacob (deceit), Rahab, an ancestor of Jesus (prostitution), and King David (adultery and murder).

———–

SIR – The Archbishop of Canterbury, instead of worrying about the colour of Jesus’s skin, should perhaps be concerned about how Jesus would react to being charged £12 to enter Canterbury Cathedral, the House of God, and having to exit via the shop.

———–

SIR – In his haste to jump on a bandwagon, the Archbishop of Canterbury contradicts himself. He says the Church is guilty of portraying Jesus as a white European, but he celebrates his portrayal as black, Chinese, Middle Eastern and Fijian.

Is not the portrayal of Jesus as white in Europe the same kind of legitimate cultural contextualisation as his portrayal differently in other societies? Unless we confine ourselves to depicting Jesus as a first-century Middle Eastern Jew (whatever that might have been) we are bound to portray him in the various ways he has been throughout history. And it cannot be otherwise since he is the Saviour of people from all nations.

Later in 2020, the Government and scientific advisers put us on track for a winter lockdown, which started early in the New Year. This time, Welby proposed that churches be allowed to remain open, with coronavirus measures in place:

On February 27, 2022, Welby admitted he was not very good at attracting more worshippers to Anglican churches in Britain.

Now, John MacArthur considers unbelievers to be his ‘mission field’, which is very true. So, one would think that the spiritual head of a denomination with millions of members the world over would think the same.

Not so. The Daily Mail reported on Welby’s interview with an atheist on Radio 4:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has accepted responsibility for failing to attract more worshippers into the Church of England, with numbers hitting record lows in recent years.

In a BBC radio interview being broadcast today, Justin Welby makes his admission to Dr Susan Blackmore, a psychologist and atheist, after she expressed doubts about whether she would ever convert to a faith.

The Most Rev Welby, 66, said: ‘As you can tell from numbers in the Church of England, I don’t persuade many people.’

He almost wears that admission as a badge of honour. It’s ridiculous and heinous in equal measure.

He has an odd sense of his relationship with God:

The Archbishop also said there were times when even he questioned God.

He described one encounter with a warlord, whom he did not identify, as the only time he had come face to face with evil.

A warlord?

Anyway:

Asked how he coped with those situations, he said: ‘I go back to the Psalms, the Psalms of protest and lament, and say to God, “This is all wrong. What do you think you are up to?”‘

He told Michael Buerk more about his spirituality and devotions in the Radio Times interview.

He never mentioned Jesus Christ, not once.

He began speaking in tongues while he was at Eton (p. 23). Note that this is not the type of speaking in tongues that the Book of Acts describes — foreign languages understood not by the speaker but by listeners — just mere ululating:

… in what he describes as both a process and a moment of awareness, he says he opened his heart to a God he ‘didn’t even know existed’.

From that moment, Welby began speaking ‘in tongues’, producing a stream of sounds, often involuntarily, that have no obvious meaning, but which Pentecostalists, in particular, regard as a sign of the Holy Spirit.

The Archbishop continues to do so to this day, which has raised eyebrows in the more conservative ranks of his church. He plays it down. ‘It’s unduly controversial, and not really as interesting as it sounds.

‘I get up very early in the morning and, after making a cup of tea, I go into my study, read the Bible, and speak in tongues. I don’t pray in a language I know. I do it quietly — it’s before six in the morning, remember — with no sense of ecstasy or excitement at all. I’d rather be in bed.

‘It helps me focus’, he says, perhaps defensively. ‘It’s not something that leads me dancing or clapping, or waving a tambourine.’

He gave few details on his journey from Eton to Cambridge to being an oil company executive to the Church, other than to say that his bishop at the time told him:

There’s no place for you in the Church of England.

The bishop was not wrong.

Yet, Welby ‘persisted’ and, somehow, reached the heady heights of Lambeth Palace in London, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s official residence:

I’ve been surprised to be here every single day of the nine years I have been doing the job.

So have millions of us.

Most of the interview has some political bent to it, and he told Michael Buerk that he allows Boris Johnson to jog in the Lambeth Palace garden, which is near Downing Street.

Buerk tried to press him on the matter:

‘It’s such a live party-political issue, it’s not for me to step into it too much,’ he maintains. I say I thought having a moral view on public life was what he was paid for. ‘Not exactly,’ he replies, a little sharply. ‘I am paid to talk about God.’

Really? Interesting response. Where does talking about Jesus fit into his job description?

Strangely, perhaps, he is also on antidepressants. I still do not understand how so many clergy can be depressed.

I can appreciate that Welby is still grieving over the death of his seven-month-old daughter Johanna who was killed in a car crash in 1983, but, surely, over the years, a closer relationship with God would help him to reconcile that in his mind.

Welby told Buerk that consolation (p. 21):

eventually came from friends, which he regards as coming from God anyway, even if indirectly. ‘There’s an end to darkness. There’s light but you might be surprised by how it comes,’ he says.

Indeed, the Archbishop makes no secret of his lifelong battle with depression: ‘Only last week, I really messed up something in a way that really left me down for several days.’

In the past, Welby says he would have denied it was a problem. But dark moods, which he likens to what Churchill called his ‘Black Dog’, made him feel ‘hopeless’.

He’s open about it now, though. ‘I’m on daily antidepressants, which work quite well, but it is a struggle. Certain things trigger it, principally about myself, and sometimes it comes out of the blue. But it’s a lot better than it used to be,’ he says.

The other major disappointment for him was finding out that the man he thought was his father — Gavin Welby — wasn’t (pp 21, 23):

DNA tests have shown that his biological father was actually Churchill’s private secretary, Sir Anthony Montague Browne.

Welby’s mother, Jane Portal, had been Churchill’s personal secretary. She came from a long line of well-connected, prominent people.

I am sorry that Justin Welby is such a tortured soul. I’m even sorrier that he feels the need to project his insecurities on most of the Anglicans in Britain.

I hope that his relationship with God and Jesus Christ, in particular, improves.

May the Lord grant us a better Archbishop of Canterbury someday. We haven’t had a good one in decades.

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