Following the open letter on Brexit (doom and gloom) signed by 60% of Diocesan Bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury has called for Remainers (including Bishops) to “stop whingeing”, accept the result of the Brexit referendum, and get on with reconciling the nation. In remarks reported by the Church Times, he said: “We have to take seriously the fact that the majority voted Leave. We may not like it, but that is democracy; and that means we have to stop whingeing about it and do something about reuniting the country.”
Now, no doubt the Bishop of Leeds will cavil with that word ‘democracy’ (“Democracy requires more than just a mere counting of votes”), but the Archbishop’s response is more than a little refreshing in its directness. His focus is on the future, and he returned to his original vision for Brexit, calling for unity around “a vision for this country that is outward-looking, is done top-down, middle-out, and bottom-up.” He is persuaded that “the Church is one of those institutions that can do that”.
Candidly, he admitted: “Do I know how we move forward? No, I don’t, but I’m a democrat, and I’m sticking to it.”
There is something winningly radical about this: there is no creative, searching, scintillating via media being eked out, but an absolute conviction that the people spoke in 2016, and their decision must be honoured; Brexit must be effected. This is now part of Justin Welby’s national mission, and while some perceive it as political intervention, it is, in fact, an acutely pastoral intervention, prioritising, as it does, national reconciliation. It takes vision, courage and energy to speak forthrightly into the life of the nation, especially one which is increasingly secularised, pluralised and plagued by bitter division. But what this Archbishop of Canterbury is making clear is that the Church of England is not marginalised or aloof, but among the people and for the people.
You may continue attacking him, mocking him, deriding him or judging his woeful inadequacies (which he knows are legion). He is presently touring Sri Lanka and India, helping to feed the starving, house the homeless, heal the sick, and praying with those who mourn or have been maimed by bombs detonating in the churches as they worshipped. He speaks boldly to the conscience of each nation he visits, and ministers to individual hearts with the peace and love of Christ. You may not have noticed, but Justin Welby has done and is doing more to strengthen the links of the Church with the population than any archbishop of Canterbury in the modern era. He understands the sacred realm and people’s spiritual longings, and he isn’t afraid to grapple with the awkward questions we find all around us. You may not like his answer, but he’ll love and respect you for it, and he won’t condemn you for your shortcomings.