An old mentor of mine once related a story of a situation involving a young couple who thought they were facing an agonizing dilemma. The man was married and had two children. The woman was someone other than his wife. They were “struggling in prayer,” however, over whether or not it was “God’s will” for the man to leave his wife and children so he could marry the other woman.
My old mentor did not hesitate in giving them sound pastoral counsel. “I can you tell you right now what God’s will is for you,” he said to the man. “You are to leave this woman, go back to your wife and children and be a faithful husband and father.”
It was not a close call. Any Christian with the most rudimentary knowledge of Scripture would know that a man who had given himself in marriage to one woman was to remain committed in that relationship “for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us do part.” Adultery is never the will of God, no matter how much you may try to sugar coat it with perfunctory “prayers” and self-centered “struggles.”
God’s revealed will for his creation, laid out in vivid detail in Holy Scripture, has a way of , well, revealing itself in quite obvious, if sometimes inconvenient, ways. Apparently, for the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the obvious has become quite inconvenient.
British cleric Gavin Ashendon, who has emerged of late as Welby’s most vocal domestic critic, demonstrates this sad fact with the recent story of an interview in which the Archbishop was confronted with a situation not altogether dissimilar from that of my old mentor.
The parents of one child, practicing Christians at school in the Diocese of Portsmouth, complained. They discussed the matter with school and Diocesan authorities and were rebuffed by a diocese which claimed its prior responsibility was to a very narrow interpretation of the Equalities Act 2010. So they sued the school in order to establish that the Church school had misunderstood and misapplied the law.
The Archbishop was asked for his views on the matter on the radio last week. As the interviewer, Nick Ferrari posed the question, Archbishop Welby held his head in his hands as if facing a problem of herculaean proportions [see photo above]. He admitted he found the case ‘difficult’.
He told the him, and the listening world:
“I would say to them I don’t think that’s a problem.”
“For the other family are making up their own minds. The other child is making up its own mind.”
“Talk to your child. Help them to understand. Help them to see what’s going on and to be faithful to their own convictions.”
That is not exactly the ringing endorsement of the clear and unequivocal will of God that should come from an archbishop who is supposed to be immersed in the Scriptures and conversant with 2,000 years of Christian teaching.
But that would be expecting too much from Justin Welby. He is not, after all, the sharpest knife in the theological drawer. As Ashendon points out, he is not the leader the Church of England and the Anglican Communion need for such a time as this.
In this present Archbishop we have yet to see much understanding of the theological and spiritual issues that the Church faces in a relativistic and increasingly anti-Christian society. We have yet to see an ability to distinguish between the spirit of the age, the zeitgeist and the Holy Spirit. We have yet to see a commitment to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels; yet to see a profound repentance for preferring the secular to the sacred; yet to see the power of the Spirit of purity over the patter of spiritual patois.
If the Church of England is to survive, let alone be raised up, it will require an Archbishop, (and a college of bishops), who are able to both understand these things and put them into practice.
There is no sign of either yet.