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OPINION

Can Companies Sin? Is The Archbishop Anglican?

In the hours immediately following the announcement of the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, the British press has made much the fact that he is an Old Etonian. But probably that’s an indication that few people in Britain know very much about him.

Justin Welby, 56, is presently the Bishop of Durham and he’s only been a bishop for a year. Some say that inexperience may count against him.

The most interesting thing about Welby’s CV is that he spent 11 years as an oil-industry executive, working first for the French company Elf Aquitaine, and then for Enterprise Oil, before changing course and seeking ordination at the age of 31.

<p>Keith Blundy/AFP/Getty Images</p>

Keith Blundy/AFP/Getty Images

Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham — and the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

He told the BBC in a recent interview that on the rare occasions he was stationed on an oil rig in the Niger Delta, “I didn’t get contemplative very often.” In those kinds of places that’s probably just as well. But he says he did have a kind of “white light” moment when he was attending an evening church service suddenly felt the call to ordained ministry: “Twelve or fourteen hundred people in the Church, and listening to someone preach, and a sense of God saying ‘This is what I want you to do.’”

He says he kicked and screamed his way through the two-year selection process that followed: “They ask a lot of hard questions. And the more they asked, the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to do it, but I couldn’t get away from that sense of call.”

Since then he has had a meteoric rise through the ranks of the Church of England — rector of St James Southam in Warwickshire from 1995 to 2002, then director of the International Centre for Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral, Dean of Liverpool in 2007, and Bishop of Durham in October last year.

Those who do know him are very enthusiastic about his appointment. Christina Rees, a member of the Church of England’s General Synod, says, “He is known to be wise, collaborative, a man prepared to take risks, someone extremely astute.” The Dean of York, Vivienne Faull, worked with Welby when she was chair of the English Cathedrals Executive. She said he was “utterly supportive, enthusiastic in enabling me to do my job. Everyone in Coventry has said how effective he is. He has a disarming self-deprecation: he is always assuming the best of other people.”

Archbishop Welby is an evangelical — a Bible Anglican — which would suggest he is more in the theological mould of former archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, than Rowan Williams, whom Welby replaces. His appointment has been described as a move to the right for the Church of England. The former canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, Dr Giles Fraser, describes Welby as “very conservative” on gay marriage, but “very strongly in favour” of women bishops.

But he is also apparently very open to accommodating opposing views – an essential trait in any contemporary Archbishop of Canterbury. His acumen may be tested as early as this month. The governing body of the Church of England, General Synod, is due to vote on November 20 on a highly controversial bill to allow the ordination of women as bishops in the Church of England.

Welby has described himself as “one of the thicker bishops in the Church of England”, which seems extremely unlikely. As Bishop of Durham he was appointed to the UK Banking Industry Commission where he apparently shone brightly.

Like his predecessor, Rowan Williams, Welby appears to be attracted to aspects of the Catholic Church – specifically to Catholic social doctrine on poverty, justice, and the dignity of the ”human person”. In conversation he cites Pope Leo XIII’s great social encyclical of 1891 on the relationship of capital and labour, Rerum Novarum, and he has described the social teachings of Pope John Paul II as “the best kept secret of the Church”. My hunch is that, if you asked him, he would readily tell you his decision 20 years ago to enter the Anglican priesthood was partly inspired by JPII.

His dissertation at theological college, on the topic “Can companies sin?” (he answered in the affirmative), was presumably inspired at some level by his experiences working in the oil industry in West Africa. That topic suggests he is attracted by the idea of “structural sin” formulated by Liberation Theology in Latin America in the 1970s. Which makes a difference from the obsession with personal – usually sexual – sin of so many other Christian religious leaders.

<p>Chris Jackson/Getty Images</p>

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Rowan Williams, the current archbishop, who has held the position since 2003.

Back in July, Welby told The Guardian’s Giles Fraser that “When one group corners a source of human flourishing, that is deeply wicked. It applies to the City, to commodities traders, and to churches who say only this way is right.” So at least we can be sure he’ll have something interesting to talk about when he meets Pope Benedict XVI.

On the other hand, writing in the UK Telegraph, Church of England priest and curmudgeon Peter Mullen places Welby on the Left of the Church. He suggests that Welby’s views on climate change and banks are drearily predictable and that he will turn out to be “just another Left-wing establishment bureaucrat”. More interestingly (and here he may prove to have a point), he places Welby on what he calls the “excitable wing” of the contemporary Church, citing by way of illustration something Welby wrote about “…a youth group on a week away who dared a short time of prayer…and prayed for the Holy Spirit to come upon the youth. The response was utterly dramatic. They fell to the ground, spoke in tongues – you name it.” Urk. Pope Benedict’s diary may suddenly be full up after all.

Archbishop Welby will have his work cut out being a symbol of unity in the Church of England. But the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as visible union of the worldwide Anglican Church is likely pretty much over. The communion is more or less in schism and the various national and regional groupings aren’t all that interested in kind of compromise that reconciliation would require.

In March, Rowan Williams announced his resignation as Archbishop of Canterbury in the wake of two major policy failures (his project to secure approval for a kind of lowest common denominator Anglican Communion of Covenant, and his compromise proposal for male co-bishops to be appointed in dioceses with women bishops for those who don’t want to accept the headship of a woman). At the time I suggested that the big question now facing the Church of England is whether being Archbishop of Canterbury is now an impossible task, or whether a new appointee with a different temperament and a different set of skills may change everything.

Williams was a woolly academic who, when the chips were down, wasn’t prepared to advocate for the views he held in private. By comparison, the consensus seems to be that Welby is a low-key pragmatist, and an excellent communicator who speaks to people in language they understand. He may well prove to be a more nimble and subtle pair of hands than his predecessor ever was.

10 comments on this story
by Chris Grady

Good of you, Stephen, not to mention that, unlike his immediate predecessor, Welby's eyebrows won't reach up to his mitre.

November 10, 2012 @ 10:35am
by Azrael the Cat

Williams' time in the job was a tragic waste of intellectual talent and moral decency - and I say this as an atheist (though my parents were church goers). In private (as evidenced by his writings before becoming leader) he recognised virtually all of the church's failings - he was pro gay, pro gay marriage, keen to get much larger numbers of women in all levels of senior and middle management, and was open to flexible interpretations of his religion that eliminated most of the appeals to 'magic'. He didn't mock or criticise those who took it literally and I'm not saying that he himself agreed with taking it entirely metaphorically, but he was certainly open (in his pre-leadership writings) to the idea that the whole concepts of heaven, hell and sin were aspects of the human psyche, whereby a lifestyle of personal corruption (in the broader sense of greed, callousness, etc) would lead to a kind of personal corruption, loneliness, paranoia and a personal 'hell'.

However, the power in the Anglican church is now in the far more conservative regions of Africa and Asia, whereby conservative priests from Africa fly out to the UK and Australia to preach a homophobic and often sexist creed. Williams' personal views were a good represetation of the views of most European lay members of the Anglican church, but he was stuck in a schism between the progressive European members, and the far more numerous (in both lay membership and number of priests) African and Asian wings who hold tightly to traditionalist doctrines of a literal man in the sky espousing homophobia and sexism as he goes.

November 11, 2012 @ 2:35am
by Seamus

When will those making a business out of their imaginary friends grow up? The jigs up, It over, the king has no clothes.

November 12, 2012 @ 6:25am
by Fiona Williams

I went to a Catholic high school - and I'm Anglican. I used to tell the teachers that "we're the fun Catholics - all the perks, none of the guilt!"

November 12, 2012 @ 2:10pm
by Polydore

I don't know that Stephen Crittenden would care to be described as “the best kept secret of the Church” but he must be at least a closely guarded secret of Australian journalism.

I'm puzzled by comments like Seamus's about 'imaginary friends'. Say I produced a friend and introduced him/her to Seamus and then said, 'this is God!' He wouldn't believe me (rightly). So, if he wouldn't believe that a tangible entity was God and he wouldn't believe that an intangible entity was anything but 'imaginary', I figure he's closed the door to rational argument about God. I take meaning as an imaginary friend. And beauty. And morality. Oh! what's that? You can sense these things? But you can understand them; they are intelligible are they not?

What I'm not puzzled by is Crittenden's excellent journalism.

November 16, 2012 @ 6:28pm
by Polydore

I'm puzzled by Seamus's comment about 'imaginary friends'. Say I produced a friend and introduced him/her to Seamus and then said, 'this is God!' He wouldn't believe me (rightly). So, if he wouldn't believe that a tangible entity was God and he wouldn't believe that an intangible entity was anything but 'imaginary', I figure he's closed the door to rational argument about God. Should I take meaning as an imaginary friend? What about beauty? Or morality? You can't sense these things.

What I'm not puzzled by is Crittenden's excellent journalism - or am I imagining it?

November 17, 2012 @ 9:20pm
by Rose

Thank goodness it sounds like the Anglican church is going to be led by a sensible and capable as well as humanitarian pair of hands.

Williams was a committed, well meaning man but a fuzzy idealist who - unbeknown to himself via the agency of too much Theory - wound up inadvertently supporting authoritarianism.

His pro-everything stance was bound to unravel - including the Sharia proposal courtesy of Tariq Ramadan's Postmodern propositions of the compatibility of Islam with Everything. On 7 February 2008, Williams as the then Archbishop of Canterbury, proposed to an audience of more than 1,000 eminent lawyers, that Britain should adopt elements of sharia. The rationale in the speech was quite detailed. Amongst other things it expressed the idea, held in common with the Western left, that at least elements of Islamic law, such as its family law, are compatible with modern liberal humanist conceptions of human rights. The speech included the following:

“when specific communities or traditions are in danger of claiming finality for their own boundaries of practice and understanding, they are reminded that they have to come to terms with the actuality of human diversity - and that the only way of doing this is to acknowledge the category of 'human dignity as such' - a non-negotiable assumption that each agent (with his or her historical and social affiliations) could be expected to have a voice in the shaping of some common project for the well-being and order of a human group.

In conclusion, it seems that if we are to think intelligently about the relations between Islam and British law, we need a fair amount of 'deconstruction' of crude oppositions and mythologies, whether of the nature of sharia or the nature of the Enlightenment. ,…. If the paradoxical idea which I have sketched is true - that universal law and universal right are a way of recognising what is least fathomable and controllable in the human subject - theology still waits for us around the corner of these debates, however hard our culture may try to keep it out. And, as you can imagine, I am not going to complain about that.”
(Rowan Williams 2008 Civil and Religious Law in England: a religious perspective, The full text of the Archbishop of Canterbury's lecture in London, part two, Reproduced in * guardian.co.uk, Thursday 7 February 2008 18.32 GMT
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/feb/07/religion.world3 accessed 9 June 2010]

November 29, 2012 @ 2:53pm
Show previous 7 comments
by Rose

[Part 2] Stephen Crittendon's article about Rowan Williams, cites the former Archbishop suggesting that we could consider Al Qaeda a "conversation partner", arguing that terrorists "can have serious moral goals": and that "We have something of the freedom to consider whether or not we turn to violence, and so, in virtue of that very fact, are rather different from those who experience their world as leaving no other option."

Too often the only opposition to conservative traditionalists in Christianity today are Leftist supporters of anti-Western traditionalism - and plenty of these are found even in the Churches. They believe in the preeminence of ideals and "spirituality" and "communalism" over evidence and genuine liberal humanist values. This brand of Left wing religious share the assumption of the modern Left that the great bulk of evil comes from the West, not just some, and that other cultures simply don't have the same capacity for evil. Moreover they believe that Western conceptions of human rights are not as good as the most traditionalist religious ones from non-Western cultures. As a woman I find this really frightening and fear its a matter of time before generations born in this century have to endure the same treatment that women of earlier generations did.

The problem is the Left is too busy preaching to generations of young people who don’t know what it was like up into the early 1980s for women. It, together with traditionalist Western religion, also appeals to women who have been bludgeoned by the traditionalist assertion that their subordination is a form of love and familial/communal caring and so they must always be the servants and subordinates of others in order to do God’s work. I also think these people would rather have us all virtuously poor, fanatical, mystical and medieval than well off and modern. And I firmly believe that in normal circumstances, traditionalist cultures are more violent cultures, and that righteous ideological thinking abroad and in the Western left community has given succour to righteous exceptionalism and the rise of neoconservativism in America.

Its just that the Left are so into Theory and Principle and Philosophy they don’t know where some of their activism actually leads.

November 29, 2012 @ 2:54pm
by seriously

Rose
" The Left" is such an outdated and meaningless perjorative that harkens back to a period when they world was full of black and white.
Any perspective that takes a humanist or communal position rather than that of commerical self interest is now leftist, "when do unto others" is a fundamental tenet of christianity.

December 17, 2012 @ 3:21pm
by Rose

Seriously the left is very much alive today - just the label is unfashionable. The Left may have post modern or green clothes these days but the point i make is that although it no longer calls for industrial communism it niaively - and still inhumanely assumes that the ONLY evil is western evil. It rightly draws attention to western wrong deeds but ideologically fails to see dominating actions of other cultures. It DE FACTO supports traditionalist behaviours in other cultures. Still. That makes be an unfashionable fascist. Humans seem to have a disturbing need to believe in simplistic ideologies or dogmas even when they deny this when it is pointed out to them

January 1, 2013 @ 4:55pm
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