I did not expect, on this cold yet sunny day, to be writing a response to the Archbishop of Canterbury; but upon opening my copy of today’s Mail on Sunday, my eyes were met with the headline “Archbishop: Britain split and crushed by Brexit and austerity”. The Archbishop, it appears, feels as though his job entails the same tasks as that of a political commentator. Given that the Archbishop insists upon interjecting in the lives of the non-religious, I feel that it is only fair for me to give “The Most Reverend” a piece of my own mind in return. Given his Christian nature, I am sure he will forgive me for doing so.
The Archbishop’s article begins by claiming that “we are facing our biggest challenge and shake-up to society since the Second World War”. One of the reasons for this, he believes, is the imminent arrival of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (or “Brexit”, to use that ugly term). The Archbishop says that he is neither “Eeyorish” nor “blandly optimistic” about Britain’s post-Brexit future, and appears to focus on the rocky social climate surrounding Brexit rather than the negotiations or possible implications to the economy. Of course, Archbishop, the first thing the conflicts surrounding Brexit needs is the running commentary of the Church (I hope the reader can sense my sarcasm).
However, all was not bad in his public address. I shall give the Archbishop credit where credit is due, despite my disapproval of his interjection as an official man of the cloth. He expressed his concerns with growing inequality, and his words on the tragedy that struck Grenfell Tower, which he described as “a metaphor for our collective failings, shows us that that we need a moral revolution in housing that centres on people”, were rather moving. He was also right to point out that austerity “is crushing the weak, the sick and many others”. Those words will resonate with a large proportion of the general public. The Archbishop, however, made the age-old mistake of commenting on politics whilst trying to remain apolitical. His written piece was quite clearly an attack on the Conservative Party, but it appears that the Archbishop knows he can only push his luck so far in the realm of politics.
The Archbishop finished his article with a flurry of Christianity (as one would perhaps expect from the Archbishop of Canterbury). His closing statement made it clear, at least according to him, that “it is the duty of the Church and of all us to reimagine what it means to be this remarkable nation in the 21st Century”. The Archbishop is correct to point out that Britain is “suffering from a lack of such common values”, as he was right to say the things he said about Grenfell. But the last thing this country needs is more interference in political matters from the Church (as an institution). Of course, Archbishop Welby is not the first of his line to stick his oar in clouded waters. Again, I shall give Archbishop Welby credit, and praise him for not going as far as his predecessor, Rowan Williams, who called for Sharia Law to be introduced in the United Kingdom for those who wanted it.
Despite the fact that I have many agreements with the Archbishop, we simply cannot have the Church constantly trying to put its foot in the door of politics. The Archbishop can vote as he pleases, he can favour whichever economic system he pleases, and he can be as nostalgic about the Christian days of old as he likes, but he cannot do so on his own terms; and his religious position should not, by any means, give him a national platform to comment on such issues. His opinion must remain an ordinary opinion. If Archbishop Welby wishes to influence government policy he shall have his opportunity at the polling station; he can go one step further, if he wishes, and abandon his Holy post and stand for Parliament. It must also be said that both the Mail and the Archbishop have, perhaps, overestimated the power of Welby’s position. Many people, based upon the reactions I have read online, have expressed concern at the political nature of the Archbishop’s public address, including some Christians who are in absolute agreement with him. Like many other people, my heart sinks when I see an “official” religious figure making political statements (especially when they are doing so in the national press!). Call me cynical, but before I had even read the Archbishop’s piece, I was ready to throw it into the fire of eternal damnation.