Opinion: Welby must ditch the evangelism

The new Archbishop of Canterbury should represent everyone, including the bankers he has castigated


Dominic Griffiths, banking partner, Mayer Brown

As lawyers sat down to lunch on Remembrance Sunday did the conversation drift into debate over the new Archbishop of Canterbury-designate? Does anyone really care about the background or suitability of Justin Welby, the man chosen to lead the Anglican church?

Welby will be the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury following enthronement next March. You could be forgiven for assuming that the appointment means a lot less to our nation than in the times of his predecessors. This appointment is, however, important, and those who work in or depend on the City for their livelihood should take particular note.

Welby, a law and economic history graduate, worked for an oil company in France before finding his calling, initiated by the tragic death of his young daughter. His apprenticeship in the ways of evangelical righteousness was offered by Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), that bastion of uncompromising Christianity made popular in the 1980s when born-again Christians were all the rage. HTB now boasts a thriving community of enthusiastic supporters and fundraisers, many of whom are City professionals looking for a deeper meaning to their lives. They fill churches, serving up a compelling cocktail of rock music, speaking in tongues and faith healing. Justin Welby has carried this radical influence into his other parish and diocesan appointments.

Prime Minister David Cameron recommended the appointment to the Queen after being delivered a shortlist by the Crown Nominations Commission. The choice looks astute – an archbishop who can boost a dwindling Anglican congregation and a man who is respected by the troublesome African wing of the church. That wing, like their fellow evangelicals at HTB, take a literal interpretation of the scriptures and, like Welby, oppose gay marriage – an issue that threatens to split the Church.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is still an influential figure, not least because when he speaks on a political or moral issue his views become front-page news. While Welby will avoid expressing strong views on homosexuality and has already toned down the evangelical rhetoric – unpopular with liberal and Anglo-Catholic factions – he will not be shy in attacking bankers and the ‘evils’ of capitalism. He has already used his position on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards as a conduit for populist condemnation.

He is outspoken on the sins of bankers and has suggested that if banks do not fulfil a social purpose they should be forced to do so. Many have congratulated the PM for appointing a man who understands finance and the City, but does an oil executive role in Paris and a couple of inner-city parish appointments qualify him for such an accolade? Does Welby appreciate the important role the City and the banks play in society or what really caused the recession?

More importantly, does Welby know or care what will lead to increased prosperity and higher standards of living? Surely, an archbishop’s role in the modern world is to be a spiritual leader and guide, to reach out to and represent all factions of society. That should include bankers.