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The C of E’s Leadership Vacuum


We all have opinions regarding leadership styles, from Sir Alex Ferguson to the Dalai Lama. My preferred leaders are boringly competent rather than charismatically exciting.

Our society faces increasing internal division and economic hardship. More importantly, we see the benefits of Christian-based Western civilisation being trampled underfoot. Unfortunately when we look to today’s leaders in church and politics they seem to embody the ‘boring’ whilst missing out the ‘competent’.

The greatest controversy facing the Church of England, the UK’s largest and most influential denomination, is the issue of same-sex marriage. Should the CofE bless or even permit homosexual marriages in church?

In this ecclesiastical conflict the church’s leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has chosen to stay above the fray. He has told his denomination, and along with it the worldwide Anglican communion of which he is primus inter pares, that as long as he is in post he will keep his views on same-sex marriage in church a secret.

When questioned on the subject during a visit to Ukraine, Archbishop Justin Welby said, ‘I am not sure I will be able to say during my time in this job. I can express my own view as far as I know my own mind — and it doesn’t change.

‘But the role of Archbishop is to be a focus of unity. That isn’t just convenient or pragmatic. In Christian thinking that is part of God’s call to church leaders. Therefore, I have to be convinced before God that it’s the right moment to do it – and not just politically.’

In a situation of increasing conflict verging on civil war where the people of his denomination are crying out for leadership, the leader is determined to remain silent. He suggests this is because he wants to be the focus of unity. In effect it is an abdication of responsibility.

Coming from an evangelical background, Welby knows the orthodox biblical position. He could reaffirm before the General Synod that the Bible restricts sexual activity to the context of marriage between a man and a woman. Or he could go along with those bishops such as Steven Croft of Oxford who believe that the church must recognise that the world ‘has moved on’ and should move on with it. They hold that the church must recognise homosexuality as part of our God-given diversity, not just to be accepted but to be celebrated.

Either position is preferable to silently sitting on the fence, hoping that people with diametrically opposed views of Scripture will just be nice and get along with each other. Sometimes boils have to be lanced.

Many church leaders seem to view the Bible as an optional extra to be taken down from the shelf and dusted off if and when it backs up the latest editorial in the Guardian. But Church leadership must be biblical, for when leaders follow their own bright ideas the church finds itself in the CofE’s present position, vanishing like snow off a dyke.

If Welby follows his bishops, he is condemned to stand by, wringing his hands as he watches his denomination disappear.

He has already tried and failed to create a middle way over homosexuality. At last year’s Lambeth Conference, his attempt at mediation ended up indicating that both positions were correct because both sides were composed of sincere Christians who had prayed and examined the Scriptures, but come to differing conclusions. The task of the church therefore was to live together whilst accepting their differences. Making hard and fast statements was unhelpful, even if the Bible does so.

In effect Welby’s position was ‘You are both right, now let’s be chums.’ Unless a church leader calls for unity around biblical truth, what is proclaimed is mere surface unity, papering over not cracks but yawning gulfs which will inevitably emerge more toxic than before.

Leadership in the church requires many characteristics which few possess: humility, wisdom, and compassion being amongst them. But the supreme quality necessary for any church leader is faithfulness to the Word of God. The church leader cannot create his own agenda.

This is more than a squabble amongst clerics over long-lost cultural standards. It is more important than the continued existence of the Church of England. The consequences spread further than the church.

Gertrude Himmelfarb, the American historian, wrote of today’s society: ‘What was once stigmatized as deviant behavior is now tolerated and even sanctioned; what was once regarded as abnormal has been normalized.’

Even more importantly, she told us of the consequences of this change for tomorrow’s society: ‘As deviancy is normalized, so what was once normal becomes deviant. The kind of family that has been regarded for centuries as natural and moral – the ‘bourgeois’ family as it is invidiously called – is now seen as pathological and exclusionary, concealing the worst forms of psychic and physical oppression.’

When the defenders of the faith which produced our social structures and moral standards fail to proclaim that faith, the church – and more than the church – Is lost, and we are vulnerable to a day when what is ‘natural and moral’ is proscribed.

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Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Campbell is a retired Presbyterian minister who lives in Stirlingshire. He blogs at A Grain of Sand.

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