“It’s a great shame that the head of our established church is not actually prepared to stand up and fight for our Christian culture in this country,” Nigel Farage told Sky News. “He’s somebody else who should go, too.”
Justin Welby is not, of course, head of the Church of England: that’s Jesus. And the Queen is its Supreme Governor, so Dr Welby is shunted down a bit further. But that’s a minor quibble. The allegation made by Nigel Farage is that the Archbishop of Canterbury is “not actually prepared to stand up and fight for our Christian culture”, which Sky extrapolates to: “failed to represent Christians”; “not prepared to ‘stand up for Christian values'”; and “failing to do his job properly”.
Is it the Archbishop of Canterbury’s job to fight for a “Christian culture”? Does his job specification involve resilience to ethnic (and so religious) pluralism? Is he tasked with a mission of resistance to sociological change, and repudiation of the self-spiritual motifs and cultural symbols of the new generation? Or is his task one of adaptation to the context and the accommodation of diversity? Is it to negotiate a way through the morass of competing convictions and to incarnate Christ in space and time, causing those who see or hear to wonder in awe and pursue a life of peace?
It surely isn’t Justin Welby’s job to force children to sing hymns in Sunday School or to make hardhearted adults fall to their knees and pray. It isn’t his place to rail against spiritual mobility and free choice, or to pour scorn on people’s post-associational weekend preferences. How does condemnation win hearts? How do harsh words of judgment change minds? How do you persuade non-Christians of Christian truth if the primary impulse is to batter them over the head for their lack of Christian virtue?
Nigel Farage says Justin Welby “should go”, and therein lies Nigel Farage’s negation of Christian character, for it is immensely unneighbourly, not to say profoundly un-Christian, to tell peace-loving people to “go”. Jesus sat down and talked to them, argued with them, corrected and guided them. Scripture is clear on how Christians should handle disputes and disagreements:
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
But if he will not hear [thee, then] take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell [it] unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican (Mt 18:15ff).
But Nigel Farage has leapt straight to treating Justin Welby as a heathen man and publican (or Islamist and immigrant with HIV, to posit Ukip’s modern equivalence). That might make a good Sky soundbite, but it’s a bitter song which can never forge fraternity. Nor does it persuade Anglican Remainers (or, indeed, non-Ukip Leavers) that there may be trust, truth, wisdom, discernment and virtue to be found in Ukip.
Our “Christian culture” has changed, and that change preceded this particular archbishop of Canterbury. Its causes are complex and contradictory: personal enlightenment trumps organised religion; individualism beats restrictive communalism; secularisation erodes public faith. There is disaffection, cynicism, consumerism and societal atomisation. That is the essence of our contemporary culture: the young have no care for the old ways. Nigel Farage may spy a straightforward trajectory of remedy, but Justin Welby is a man of deeper insight. You may think he “should go” for forsaking the Faith or for his failures of leadership, but he is there because God put him there (Rom 13:1), and the exhortation is to pray for him (1Tim 2:2).
And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you‘ (1Cor 12:21).
The Church of England isn’t an idealised political party. The Archbishop of Canterbury isn’t a here-today-gone-tomorrow politician: he is the Lord’s anointed. Nigel Farage has gone. What a pity his last words were of shallow bitterness, pettiness and spite, rather than ringing the Bishops’ ears with the peel of his political victory and a chorus of national liberty.