Main Site         

The bookies are so sure this man will be the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury that they have stopped taking bets

2012 November 6
by Paul Vallely

If – and it’s a big if, given the track record of the Church of England on these matters – the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury is to be Justin Welby most of the church, let alone the nation, will not know what to expect.

He is an Old Etonian but in the self-deprecating rather than posh entitlement mode.  Before he was ordained he worked as an international oil executive for 11 years, some of it in civil war-torn Nigeria where oil companies are part of the problem rather than the solution. He returned there when he ran the reconciliation ministry at Coventry Cathedral, and later when he was Dean of Liverpool, to do mediation work which three times almost got him killed. He understands pain; his first child, Johanna, died in a car accident.

A man of quiet charisma he has the common touch, even now as Bishop of Durham. Though a conservative evangelical he talks human rather than Kingdom-of-God speak. Commentators have described him as “to the right” of the present Cantuar, though Rowan Williams, for all his liberal inclusive theology, has trodden a pretty conservative path in his attempt to maintain unity with fractious reactionary evangelicals.

And Justin Welby’s theology is not so conservative as some suppose. The title of his dissertation at theological college was “Can companies sin?” – a question far from the usual evangelical focus on personal morality. And his answer is Yes. Unexpectedly he is keen on Roman Catholic Social Teaching which is big on “structures of sin”. A member of the new parliamentary commission on the Libor-fixing scandal he has described the banks as “exponents of anarchy” who pursued “activity without purpose” before the 2008 financial crisis.

Expect him to talk tough on other matters too. He has castigated the present generation for inheriting the benefits of their grandparents’ faith and jettisoning its moral obligations. Society is using up the cultural capital of Christianity and not replacing it.

 Those fractious conservatives may find him no pushover either. Only Nixon can go to China, the political proverb said. Perhaps only a conservative evangelical can square the circle on gay marriage and women bishops by reconciling those who think it a theological necessity with those who think it a theological impossibility. Hope is, after all, a cardinal Christian virtue.

One Response
  1. Kasim Sodangi permalink
    November 7, 2012

    There’s no civil war in Nigeria, communal clashes and crimes are rife, the civil war was in the 70’s. Terrorism is persecuting the church here, but it is still one country with bad leadership.

    It is encouraging to note the Bishop’s work in Nigeria, given he has returned thrice, I hope this gives the Anglican community in Nigeria the initiative to continue his good work in reconciliation.
    Thank you.

Comments are closed.