Render Unto Caesar, Primate

BY TIM DAWSON

Who is Justin Welby to judge? Well, okay – he’s the Archbishop of Canterbury. But his recent partisan interventions – both in a speech at the Trade Union Conference in support of John McDonnell and then, yesterday, in an article for the Church Times condemning Brexit – have moved beyond what is appropriate for the principal leader of the Church of England.

Even in this secularist age, the sight of a clerical collar, particularly when paired with a luxuriant mitre, carries moral weight. We are still, though we may be increasingly squeamish about admitting it, a nation shaped by Christianity. For many of us, this is a residue of childhood – faded memories of primary school carol services and singing ‘All things Bright and Beautiful’ at the end of assembly.

The God of this Anglicanism was a benign and approachable God.

If a man, He would be an older fellow, well-spoken and properly educated, watching cricket on the village green. Rosy-cheeked and jolly. One pictures a cold glass of cloudy lemonade, or even something stronger, in his hand. And, of course: he’s smoking a pipe.

This God is a traditionalist but not a reactionary – bemused by the excesses of the modern world, but not frightened of them. Naturally Conservative. Certainly not a hot-headed Corbynite. And definitely not on Twitter.

Our current Archbishop of Canterbury is both a Corbynite and on Twitter – and, in both cases, this is a pity. Labour’s message is blunt, and Twitter is a blunt instrument. As with many on the Left, a combination of Brexit and social media finds His Grace at his least graceful.

Perhaps Dr. Welby’s socialism is an attempt to repent for earlier sins. His younger self made a small fortune in the oil industry. I imagine this troubled his conscience – and pleased his bank manager.

As the leader of a church founded in the fire of high politics, the Archbishop should – frankly – know better. Politics and priests are rarely the happiest of bedfellows. And his revolutionary zeal seems particularly inappropriate for a Church which needs to be reaching out to its flock, not alienating it.

The attitude towards voters by Parliament is being neatly reflected by the attitude towards church-goers from Lambeth Palace. Whilst the elites of the Church sit on the Remainer left, the majority of Anglicans swing towards the Brexiteer right. Go to your local Parish church on a Sunday morning, and you will still find The Conservative Party at Prayer. Almost certainly with a diminished attendance compared to 50, 25 or even 10 years ago, but in politics and temperament very much as you would expect.

The problems this highly political Archbishop is creating affect both the Church and wider society. Church-goers are, ironically, fed up of being preached at. Evoking scripture – as His Grace is all to keen to do – to justify his political interventions sits poorly amongst those who disagree with him. No wonder C of E members are peeling away to Rome, or just ‘giving up on God’ altogether.

“Temporary is an eternity,” tweeted the Archbishop in support of his Church Times article eviscerating Brexit. This is perhaps true. The ‘temporary backstop’ in Mrs. May’s deal is likely to last forever. But the idea Brexit will make us poorer is purely subjective and based in cant, not evidence. That the blood-red economics of John McDonnell will make us poorer is beyond doubt. However, Dr. Welby stands in awe of them, forgetting it seems that there was little room for God in the Soviet Union.

We need, particularly during this turbulent period, our religious leaders to provide solace and healing. It’s easy to pay lip-service to this, as the Archbishop does on occasion. But actions speak louder than words, and Welby’s partisan crusading is fuelling division.

We already have an establishment lined up to excoriate and ignore Brexiteers; Parliament,the BBC, the Arts, our Universities – must we add the Church of England to that, too? Previous Archbishops have adopted propriety in office; one cannot imagine Lord Carey ranting about ‘Austerity’ at the TUC.

If Justin Welby sees his mission as one of political rather than religious leadership, he should resign his position and seek election. I wish him luck. He’d need it.

After launching himself into a successful screenwriting career with BBC3 comedy ‘Coming of Age’, which was commissioned when he was just 19 years old, Tim Dawson became ‘Broadcast Hot Shot’ in the 2008 Industry Magazine. Whilst he saw his TV series run for three successful seasons (2007-2011) he also lent his hand to writing for ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps’ starring Ralf Little and star of stage and screen Sheridan Smith. He has written for The Telegraph and The Spectator. 

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