Monday, April 21, 2014

The Brilliance of Justin Welby

I rarely comment on current events, mostly because I never find them that particularly interesting. However, a certain occurrence of events has struck my interest, enough to make the claim that I have in the title. From what I understand, the Archbishop has received a fair amount of complaint for his recent remarks on a radio program, wherein he answered viewers questions regarding just about anything (but mostly about human sexuality). The usual stuff can be found on StandFirm or Thinking Anglicans, depending on your persuasion (yet neither are "firm" or "thinking", if you catch my drift). I will add my own praise to the Archbishop's fidelity and brilliance in this short post.

I must say that Justin Welby is truly brilliant. The comment that led me to understand his brilliance was actually not anything that he said but what another man said in relation to what another man had done. Now, this is all sounding rather vague and roundabout, but let me get to the point. There is currently a great deal of uproar in the Church of England over the purported marriage of Canon Jeremy Pemberton to his male lover. Of course, the recent comments by the English bishops indicate that this sort of behavior is not going to be tolerated in the English Church (we'll have to wait and see how serious they were about those remarks in the upcoming weeks).
If one follows the news on the event, they will eventually stumble upon an article in Christianity Today, with various responses to the action. Lee Gatiss, of the Church Society, offers an excellent and thorough response, first, "No one has a right to continue as a clergyman in the Church of England if they so flagrantly flout the teaching of the Scriptures, not to mention the discipline and authority of the church. Article 26 of The Thirty-nine Articles, the Church's doctrinal foundation, states that after a proper process in line with the Scriptures (such as 1 Timothy 5:17-25), such ministers should be removed from office" (See here).
However, this does not relate to the overall point (other than to point out that Lee and the Church Society are contending for the faith in the C of E). The real comment that caught my attention was one made by the Reverend Colin Coward (an appropriate surname), the director of Changing Attitude, who stated in response to the marriage of Canon Pemberton, "Jeremy has done what is right for himself and his partner and has legalised and confirmed the relationship in which he has been living for several years. They have dedicated themselves to each other in love" (emphasis mine).

Now, herein lies the genius. Justin Welby has received a fair amount of criticism for refusing to answer the question, "What do you think about homosexuality?" or some similar form of that question. Instead, he has offered responses such as the following, which was heard during his radio question-and-answer session,
“The church is quite clear that sex outside marriage is wrong. And marriage is between a man and a woman. That seems to be a pretty clear statement. I don’t think you’re right on that, I just think we try to say things with a certain amount of charity and respect for the complexity of issues that people in this world face" (see here).
Now, he has received criticism because various American "conservative" (sorry, you're not conservative unless you can say 'God save the Queen' with integrity to me) commentators have interpreted his statement as waffling or some other form of dissent from the official Church's teaching (which, based off a statement like that, I've no earthly idea how you could arrive at such an interpretation). However, to understand my point, you must return to what Mr. Coward has stated in response to this situation, that what Canon Pemberton did was right for him. However, Justin refuses to give his personal opinion, because his personal opinion doesn't matter. What matters is what the Church says and what the Scripture says (he states some things that indicate his personal acceptance of the traditional view).

There is some strange form of speculation that exists in Anglican-land to try and come up with proof of Justin Welby's personal heterodoxy (allegedly). This is usually done by referencing some of his positive remarks towards gays and gay relationships. The problem with this sort of detective work is that Justin's other comments indicate his overall position. Even if Welby is struggling with aspects of orthodox teaching on this matter, he has stated clearly what the Scriptures teach and what the Church of England teaches: that all sex outside of marriage is sinful and that marriage is a life-long union between one man and one woman. Most believers struggle with some aspects of Christian orthodoxy, either in sexual morality or some other point of doctrine. The life of a mature believer is not one of no doubt but of faith, which includes room for doubt but with a trust in God's message to us in Scripture.

The overall anti-individualistic thrust of Welby's message was heard in his remarks about Africa. "What we say here is heard around the world." His message is clear, that unorthodoxy in the West (or anywhere) has consequences, both temporal and eternal.

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