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Archbishop WelbyJustin Welby, the humble and good-humored Archbishop of Canterbury, marked himself from the beginning of his reign by the contrast he struck with his predecessor Rowan Williams, now Baron of Oystermouth. Lord Williams was one of the seminal reasons for my conversion to Anglicanism. He was born in Ystradgynlais in Swansea, Wales, to a Welsh-speaking family He is perhaps the most prominent Christian mystic in the world today, and was Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford. As well as an impressive theologian, he is a hobby literary scholar: his Dostoyevsky: Language, Faith, and Fiction is a work of independent merit. Lord Williams is also generally thought to lean towards Anglo-Catholicism, and his theology is moderate-to-traditional: supportive of women’s ordination and generally pro-life; he spent much of his career as the focal point of the Anglican Communion’s debate over human sexuality, eventually founding the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality. Over time, he moved from gently affirming progressive sexual mores to criticizing its more radical advocates: he coined the phrase Welcoming, not inclusive, saying,

I don’t believe inclusion is a value in itself. Welcome is. We don’t say ‘Come in and we ask no questions’. I do believe conversion means conversion of habits, behaviours, ideas, emotions… Ethics is not a matter of a set of abstract rules, it is a matter of living the mind of Christ. That applies to sexual ethics.

I sympathize with that approach. It’s clear he is painstakingly considered both arguments and struggled a great deal with the implications these issues have for real people, unlike the mean triumphalism many traditionalists (myself included) sometimes descend into during debates on moral theology.

Archbishop Welby is another cup of tea altogether. After Eton, he read history at Cambridge, and subsequently worked in the oil industry for eleven years. During his business career, the Archbishop joined Holy Trinity Brompton, the Church of England’s “evangelical headquarters”. When he was elected Archbishop, I was a bit disgruntled. Like many young Roman Catholics who became attached to John Paul II, I was (and, I think, still am) very much a “Rowan Williams Anglican”. And I did not like that his hair was so short. It seemed un-Archbishop-of-Caterbury-ish. William Temple was pushing it a bit for my taste.

But my prejudice was steadily proved wrong. An article published last week in the UK’s Spectator, “Thank Heavens for Justin Welby!”, should be read by anyone interested in global Christianity. Episcopal Churches should slip a copy into their pew bulletins. (Though they might clip out the tactless attacks on Lord Williams first.) The Archbishop’s reign has already been remarkable. The article reads,

Welby has inspired reform of the industry not by trying to set himself up as the leader of the opposition in a cassock, but by acting as an effective leader of the Church of England. His approach to the payday loan industry was not to demand that it be banned, he being aware that an even darker industry of doorstep loan sharks would replace it, but to compete with it head on. He took the church to the needy by supporting credit unions which will do the job of Wonga but without annualised interest rates of 5,853 per cent and threatening letters from fictitious firms of lawyers.

This is what is known as the To Your Credit initiative. In a statement given via the Church of England’s website, the Archbishop wrote,

A credit union is similar to a bank, but unlike a high street bank it is run and owned by its members and serves the community rather than working purely for profit. Credit unions need a broad range of members in order to thrive. So, by taking an active part in a credit union you’re helping it to help people in financial need to borrow and save responsibly.

Positively Bellocian! And it’s not just words: as of November 13th, two branches of the new Church Credit Champions Network were established in Peckham and Hackney in England.

In a global communion plagued by such unfortunate experiments as a “feminist-inspired ‘milk and honey’ ritual designed to replace traditional bread-and-wine Communion”, Archbishop Welby is a lung-rattling breath of fresh air. Many of us in the American province were not aware that Anglicans were capable of such direct, meaningful action. What a welcomed surprise it is to see our spiritual leader turning over the money changers’ tables. Bravo, Archbishop; and, God willing, the American church will follow your lead. For weal or for woe, the Episcopal Church is known for championing the cause of same-sex marriage and women’s ordination in global Christendom. Perhaps someday soon we might be known for championing the cause of the poor and those in need.

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