Theo Hobson

Justin Welby has shown why his church is in such trouble

Justin Welby has shown why his church is in such trouble
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Sorry to sound sectarian, but the Archbishop of Canterbury should really be able to articulate a preference for Anglicanism over other variants of Christianity, including Roman Catholicism. Interviewed here in this week's Spectator, he was more or less invited to do so; instead he said that he was entirely positive about Anglican priests converting to Rome. Hard to imagine the Pope saying the same thing in reverse. Ecumenical enthusiasm is all very nice, but a Church is in trouble if it can’t say why people should stay within it, or choose it over other options.

So what is Anglicanism’s selling point? The answer is unfashionable but unavoidable: its socio-political liberalism. Note that I do not say simply ‘liberalism’. For one form of liberalism, in theology, is not at all helpful: the sort of liberalism that over-promotes rational humanism, undermining respect for traditional religious teachings and practices.

The Church of England should unashamedly tell a story that middlebrow types will dismiss as ‘Whiggish’. It has played a huge role in the emergence of political liberty, human rights and so on. And it remains the form of Christianity that is most in tune with such values (along with the liberal wings of some other Protestant churches I suppose). Catholicism has its virtues (we can leave it to Catholics to trumpet them), but it has not fully managed to affirm various aspects of modern humanism, to banish the reactionary spirit. Until quite recently, the 1960s, it officially denigrated religious freedom, and its theocratic habits live on.

Anglicanism has, for centuries, led the way in a daring experiment: combining Christian tradition with a deep attachment to intellectual and political freedom. If it forgets how to boast a bit about this, it’s finished.