Like millions of other people, I’m praying for Justin Welby as he prepares to take up his new job at Canterbury. I wish him all the best. As the media go over every detail of his life and beliefs, there is a danger that we put our trust in a new archbishop to save the Church. This would be a problem whoever had got the job.
In the Church as in politics, real change comes from below and not from above. The Church of England and other churches began ordaining women a long time after Christians at the grassroots began inviting women to preach. Church leaders spoke meaningfully of unity between denominations some time after local churches had started to work together on the ground. Christian leaders in late eighteenth century backed the struggle against slavery decades after individual Christians had become involved in grassroots campaigns on the issue.
In the same way, I hope that the many Christians who thank God for loving, committed relationships – regardless of gender – will celebrate same-sex relationships without waiting for approval from church leaders.
Nonetheless, I hope Justin Welby will go at least some way towards supporting those Christians who would like to see British churches taking a more radically progressive stance. Admittedly, this seems more likely in some areas than others.
He could make a big impact by rejecting the obsession with church “growth” and showing he is more concerned with living out the gospel by following Jesus’ example of siding with the poor. Having made encouraging criticism of the banking system, he could take a firm stance against the government’s vicious cuts agenda and even go so far as to back alternatives to capitalism. While I’m disappointed that he is opposed to same-sex marriages, I hope he will reject the approach of certain other church leaders who are scaremongering about churches being forced to host them – something for which nobody is calling.
I’m keeping an open mind about the chances of each of these things happening. Whatever happens, many Christians will continue to campaign for peace, economic justice and equality. I hope Justin Welby will be among them.