Last week saw the announcement that the Right Reverend Justin Welby will replace the Most Reverend Rowan Williams as the Archbishop of Canterbury next year. The Telegraph’s Charles Moore (who went to school and university with Welby) described Welby as “the Alpha male to save the Church of England”.
Does the Church of England really need an Alpha male? What of empathy, understanding and reaching out to disaffected Christians and followers of other faiths? Is an Alpha male right for the job?
Moore could be describing Welby as a product of his Eton education, where the likes of David Cameron and Boris Johnson were educated, and his time spent as an oil executive and treasurer for a FTSE 100 firm, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find that actually ‘Alpha’ refers to the Alpha course made famous in the 1990s by a Knightsbridge evangelical church, the Holy Trinity Brompton, and where Welby was a member of the congregation. His rise to Archbishop of Canterbury, a position second only to that of the Royal Family in the UK, has surprised many (he wasn’t the early favourite) and he has some very big shoes to fill.
The departing Rowan Williams is, ideally, what a Muslim Imam should be like in a lot of ways – outspoken and not fearful of speaking the truth and what’s on his mind, especially in the face of unfounded opposition. Williams was forthright in opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq as well as warning of the ‘folly’ and ‘criminality’ of military action against Syria and Iran. Similarly his criticism of the free market and his support of the Robin Hood tax campaign saw him labelled ‘naïve’, but he continued to assert his views. Few Imams or Muslim leaders are as confident or as assertive. They need to be.
Williams’ views on Islam and Muslims also saw him criticised, and unfairly so. His interview with Emel magazine attracted much criticism after he expressed sympathy with the victims of Israeli aggression, amongst them Christian Palestinians. His views on Sharia law and the headscarf saw similar criticism and he articulated an opposition to the banning of the headscarf and religious symbols in France better than most others.
His biggest attack was directed towards the current coalition government’s Big Society initiative and, in Williams’ words, “radical, long-term policies for which no-one voted”. However, the best example of leadership he exhibited was in his article for The Times when he skilfully condemned the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister for Minorities in Pakistan and a Christian, and highlighting the protection an Islamic state gives its minorities – essentially informing Bhatti’s murderers that they have acted unlawfully.
These are just some examples of the departing Archbishop’s stances on a variety of issues – many an Imam could learn from him.
So, what of Welby and the future?
His business career gives him an edge over many other religious leaders and enabled him to take a lead in the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, set up after the rate-fixing scandal, whilst in the House of Lords.
As Dean of Liverpool he increased the congregation there to nearly twice the size, proving that outreach is not beyond him. This will be important when he reaches out to disunited Christians in Britain and followers of other faiths in the UK, much like his predecessor did. But more importantly, and leaving wrong or right aside, he has asserted the Church’s right to oppose gay marriage and believes in the ordination of women bishops – examples which suggest that he could be as assertive and as outspoken as his predecessor.
Welby would be wise to keep the following Bible passage in mind when he starts his new job: “I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” (Psalm 3:6).
Originally published at MPACUK
- Hindus Urge New Archbishop Of Canterbury To Promote Interfaith Dialogue (eurasiareview.com)
- Ex-oilman Justin Welby formally announced as new Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury… (whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com)
- Pope Welcomes New Archbishop of Canterbury (frstephensmuts.wordpress.com)
- Bishop Justin Welby (Bishop of Durham) About to be Named Next Archbishop of Canterbury? (frstephensmuts.wordpress.com)
- Give winnings to church – Welby (bbc.co.uk)