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The Battle for the Soul of the Church of England

Broken Promises

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”

Archbishop Justin Welby was enthroned as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury to great clamour. With his installation came a hope for the renewal of a compassionate Christendom in Britain and further afield. Citing the abolition of slavery and the foundation of the NHS as great achievements of a Christian heritage, Welby sought to ensure the Church remained connected to Christ in pursuit of goodness:

…if we sever our roots in Christ we abandon the stability which enables good decision making…. there can be no final justice, or security or love or hope in our society if it is not based on rootedness in Christ… Jesus calls us over the wind and storms, heed his words and we will have the courage to build society in stability. (Justin Welby, 21st March, 2013)

Welby’s predecessor Rowan Williams, ordained in the late 1970s, spent a life teaching and understanding the essence of Christian spirituality. He became Archbishop promoting a benevolence and kinship with non-Christians. He knew and acknowledged the shared heritage of Islam and Christianity, from scholastics to jurisprudence, human rights to the enlightenment. An advocate for bridge building and interfaith work, with great humility he shepherded his flock. People of all faiths and none felt the warmth of a genuine compassion and stewardship through difficult times.

As his successor, Welby is a corporate animal with his pulse on the political scene. He has a far more pointed strategic direction. Brought in to renew the Church of England, Welby’s priorities are not spirituality or bridge building, but are of identity and survival. They are entirely political questions. If filling his spiritual sandals is a step too far, where Williams failed on corporate ruthlessness, Welby may well be succeeding.

We face huge challenges on the international stage: the rise of the Far Right across Europe, neo-fascist Trump in America and a new cold war. An increasingly diverse Britain is suffering the brutal consequences of an austerity agenda. We have a politically fractured Europe with the potential end of the EU on the horizon and we see a West increasingly othering the Muslim world. More than ever, the Church has a vital role to play on renewing Christ’s legacy of love, compassion and justice. There are two options: a progressive Church to hold truth to power, to flex its muscles and support an infrastructure of multi-faith/conscience communities; or to sell its soul and find itself in ever closer alignment to government and power structures it would otherwise seek to challenge.

And it is at this crossroads in history, I fear the Church is now failing us.

Welby has decided that the obvious place of security during such tumult is to remain on the centre ground. Even when it shifted drastically to the Right. Through its support for the bombing of Syria and the inevitable loss of innocent life, to prejudice against refugees, the Church’s new Reform and Renewal programme – it has lurched to the Right. It is a political strategy. It is a broken model. The ugly manipulation, re-emergence and twisting of a political Christianity threatens to destabilise Western democracies and structures of government. Single party states are emerging. Attitudes are hardening towards migrants otherwise economic saviours of Western societies in moral, economic and political decline. Empires are ending. Heartlessness is rife. Under the weight of the Church’s identity crisis it faces a demographic time-bomb. The corporate Church has become subject to governmental pressure and poll numbers. It is lead by company oil men not fishers of men.

We need a Church to embrace a new mission. To unite and lead people of all faiths and traditions, on a foundation of love and compassion, for social justice and peace. Be the timber in the eye of plutocracies. Don’t acquiesce to them.

I have written an open letter to Donald Trump warning us about how things may end up across the Atlantic. We simply cannot make the mistake of looking to our political classes to plug the moral gap. We need the Church of England to act as a counter-balance to the dark clouds on the horizon. By aligning itself with interests antipathetic to the goals and vision of Christ, the Church will compound its errors, and continue to fail us at a time when we need moral and spiritual leadership. We don’t need an intolerant Church, we need a benevolent one. The Church should beware: where it fails, others will fill the void. And so endeth Empires.

Justin Welby was absolutely on the money. By severing roots in Christ, indeed the Church abandons us all.

My discussion on Welby’s comments and the battle for the heart of the Church of England on Europe’s largest Muslim broadcast network, The Islam Channel.


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Musician | Lead singer with Solomon | Broadcaster | Political Commentator | Activist

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