Church of England

Don’t bash the Archbishop of Canterbury – pray for him

Funny. Defend Nigel Farage against Justin Welby, you’re “racist” or a “bigot”; defend Justin Welby against Nigel Farage, you’re a “feminist-humanist-pro-Marxist” (amongst other things). There is no apparent via media between Ukip and the Church of England: Kippers incline to the view that the Church of England has abandoned our Christian culture and heritage, betrayed the clear teachings of Christ for “liberal atheism”, and dithers on important matters of morality. Anglican bishops incline to the view that Ukip is full of racists, bigots (“little Englanders, cranks and political gadflies”), and that people who believe as they do are of a lower order of intelligence and are not being very Christian at all.

The Archbishop of Canterbury accused Nigel Farage of “pandering to people’s worries and prejudices” and “giving legitimisation to racism”. Nigel Farage countered with the allegation that Justin Welby is “not actually prepared to stand up and fight for our Christian culture”, and so “should go”. Bash, bash, bash. Perhaps if they were to pray for one another…

“If you ever pray for me, please pray for wisdom, for patience, and for courage,” tweeted the Archbishop of Canterbury this morning. That’s a sound list. Please don’t bash him in the comment thread unless you’ve done that, and only then to expound reasonably and intelligently how his wisdom, patience and courage may not quite cohere with the mind of Christ (being sure not to mistake that for the mind of your own imagining). We don’t have a prayer list for Nigel Farage, so you are free to be guided by the Holy Spirit in your intercessions for him, and free to guide others in the comment thread with your (reasoned and intelligent) suggestions.

O, and tweeting isn’t praying. Nor is making a comment in a blog post. Praying is not as deliciously satisfying as crafting a verbal barb, and nowhere near as entertaining as scoring a social-media win that’s witnessed by the world. No, it’s a tedious, often lonely pursuit. A bit of a drudge, actually. Why bother praying for the Archbishop of Canterbury when it’s as plain as the day that he lacks the nous for the job? Wisdom? Courage? You’re having a laugh. O, he’s got bucket-loads of patience, alright – for all those “feminist-humanist-pro-Marxist” things which Jesus would spit out. But courage.. wisdom..

Be careful here. For when the Archbishop of Canterbury asks for wisdom and courage, it is not as Ukip gives (or Labour, or the Tories, and certainly not the LibDems). Your mind may be preeminently attuned to perversions of marriage and invading hordes of Muslim immigrants, and you may believe your mind to cohere perfectly with the mind of Christ on these matters, for Scripture is absolutely clear, and you can’t get clearer than that. But Justin Welby is not asking to see as you see or think what you think. If ‘perversion’ and ‘invasion’ are not in his spiritual vocabulary, he cannot be coerced or confined by your understanding. He is not asking to become what he is not, or to be re-cast against his nature. He is asking to see more clearly the wisdom, patience and courage of Christ. He is asking for his horizons to be stretched; for his being to be transfigured in the light of God, not in accordance with the political priorities of any individual soul. His mission is to serve and lead the body with its many members, not to let the big toe mistake itself for an eye.

Your theme may be political liberation and individual freedom. For the Archbishop of Canterbury, all prayers for wisdom, patience and courage are for spiritual liberation and the gospel of freedom. You proclaim on immigration; he on salvation. You bring a message of moral orthodoxy; he of reconciliation. You demand victory; he the service of necessity. There is no political utopia this side of the reign of Christ: the messianic era may be here and freedom may be proclaimed, but the Messiah can reach only as far as men and women seek the wisdom to hear and the patience to obey. Courage? Well, you may want Justin Welby to cleanse the temple, expel demons, condemn the rich and curse hypocrites. But if his vocation is to bless the peacemakers, feed the hungry, and suffer alongside the unemployed, homeless, sick, sad and discouraged, he is still being Jesus, and you see through a glass, darkly.