Saturday, January 24, 2015

"Inequality as a Religious Issue: A Conversation With the Archbishop of Canterbury."

 "Inequality as a Religious Issue:
 A Conversation With the Archbishop of Canterbury."
By: Michael Paulson
Published in: The New York Times
Date: January 24, 2015
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In the two years since the Most Rev. Justin Welby was installed as archbishop of Canterbury, he has traveled the world to talk with other church leaders, and his assessment of those visits has been, in many ways, grim.

He has declared the Church of England, which he leads, to be declining in numbers and influence, and has deemed the Anglican Communion, where he is viewed as first among equals of bishops around the world, to be so fractured over gender and sexuality that it is not worth trying to meet collectively any time soon.

But he has remained focused on evangelism, and he has emphasized areas where the Anglican Communion of 85 million people is strong, like using its bully pulpit to influence public policy, particularly about economic injustice and peacemaking.

This week, Archbishop Welby is in New York for a conference on inequality at Trinity Wall Street, which, as an Episcopal church, is part of the American province of the Anglican Communion. On Thursday, he spoke with Michael Paulson, a religion reporter for The New York Times. Below are edited excerpts from their conversation.

Q. Why is income inequality a religious issue?

A. It tends to result in the development of overmighty areas within society, and at the same time of people who are excluded and forgotten. Therefore it becomes an issue about the nature of the value of the human being, the dignity of the human being, which is a religious issue. The human being for whom Christ died is of equal value, whoever they are.

Q. Should the church have a preference for the poor over the rich?

A. Liberation theology in Latin America talked about God’s preference to the poor, God’s bias to the poor. There is emphatically in Scripture a tradition, a sense of God’s bias to the poor, and you see that in the origins of the Christian church. And the church around the world is generally poor, including the Anglican Church and the vast majority of its membership.

I think there is such a thing as God’s bias to the poor. It’s not God’s bias against the rich, it’s not a zero-sum game. It’s not that God sort of has only a certain amount of preference he can give, and if he doesn’t give it to the rich he has to give it to the poor; and if he gives it to the poor, he can’t love the rich.

We see within the life and ministry of Jesus a challenge to the rich to love the poor as God loves the poor: in the same way, with the same intention, and with the same generosity.

Q. In the United States, the Episcopal Church has a reputation as a church of the elite, a church that has generated presidents, that is affluent. Is that a problem?

A. Not necessarily, it depends what you do with it. I’m very careful about commenting on church situations that I don’t entirely understand. But I think you see across the Christian spectrum in the United States many churches that have great resources but deploy those resources with a great deal of passion and love of Christ.

Q. In the wake of the attacks in Paris, do you think Islam is a religion of peace?

A. It’s incredibly complex question, and as Christians we have to recognize the slightly thin moral ground, the slightly thin moral standing, that we have. We only have to go back to the Balkans 20 years ago and Srebrenica to find Christians killing 7,000 Muslim men. So there’s an element of, Let’s not be too quick to stand in a glass house and throw stones.

However, there is within many faiths, traditions, at the moment, a stream that says: “We need to change things, we need to change them quickly, and the way to do that is through violence.

There are aspects of Islamic practice and tradition at the moment that involve them in violence, as there are, incidentally, in Christian practice. The answer to that is not to condemn a whole religious tradition with one simple sentence, but nor is it to pretend it’s not happening.

Q. Do you think that these terror attacks are primarily a result of some kind of political or sociological phenomenon, or primarily religiously driven?

A. There are undoubtedly economic and sociological causes. But it is a massive error of a secular worldview to say that explains it. There are also religious elements, some of them more authentic than others, and the issue of pushing back against terror requires not merely a robust criticism of those places that fund and finance and support terror, but also a long-term ideological campaign to provide alternative narratives that are as exciting as the one the terrorist organizations run.

Q. In Europe, and to a certain extent in the United States, we’re seeing the rise of conservative, anti-immigration political forces, in part driven by the terrorist attacks. What do you make of this phenomenon?

A. You have to be realistic about the fears of communities that, for one reason or another, have a sense that the world around them is changing, and they find it very difficult to cope because of new people coming in. But you can’t then collude with the kind of racist language that we see. And so you’ve got to find that balance.

There’s a sensible politics of immigration, and there is a hateful despising of foreigners. And there is a foolish politics of immigration that says, “Well, communities just have to deal with the changes that happen.” It’s a failure of politics more than a failure of people.
Q. Do you see a resurgence in Europe of anti-Semitism, and if so, why do you think that would be?

A. The facts are undeniable. The number of attacks on people of Jewish origin has increased very significantly in some countries over the last few years. I really am puzzled by it. It is in a different form, perhaps, than 70 to 80 years ago, but it’s recurring.

Q. Speaking of the Church of England, you said recently, “We are falling in numbers and there’s a change in the attitude to the Christian faith generally across the country.” Do you see the march of secularism as unstoppable?

A. Oh no, good heavens, no. Anything but. In fact, I think the march of secularism has stopped in many, many ways. The church’s challenge is to be seen as something that is not just a very old institution talking largely to itself. The church doesn’t depend on archbishops. The church depends on what it’s like at the local level.

Q. Do you see a future for the Episcopal Church in the United States?

A. Well, you’d have to ask them. I am dodging the question, but it’s not because I don’t see a future for the Episcopal Church. I don’t feel I’m qualified to answer that question. What I see a great future for is the church of Christ in the United States. Because Christ is faithful, and I’m sure there will be a lot of Episcopalians in that.

Q. Over the last decade, or longer, there have been a lot of divisions over gender and sexuality. Some people think it’s just a matter of time for Christian leaders to all come around to embracing equality, others think there’s a fundamental, immutable divide. What do you think?

A. In the last two years I’ve visited 37 provinces of the Anglican Communion, and you get a different view of what is inevitable in each place. We’re in the middle of guided conversations about that in the Church of England, so I’m not going to say where I think we’re going to end up. I am deliberately avoiding that question, so I won’t pretend I’m not.

Q. Do you think that the American Episcopal Church made a mistake in consenting to the election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest who was elected bishop of New Hampshire?

A. I’m not going to go there. I’m very careful about lecturing other churches, here or elsewhere.

Q. Do you see the Anglican Church in North America, which broke away from the Episcopal Church after Bishop Robinson’s election, as part of the Anglican Communion?

A. ACNA is certainly a church of Anglican tradition. It is not currently part of the formal structures of the Anglican Communion. It’s recognized as a fellow Anglican church by many primates in the Anglican Communion, primates whose membership is probably more than half the Anglican Communion. And they’re doing a lot of good work.

Q. Do you think that the Anglican Communion will ever have leadership that is African or non-Western, and should it?

A. Yes and yes. You’d have to sort out the legal and regulatory issues, but the process has changed many times over the years.

Q. Do you expect that Pope Francis will make substantive changes in the Catholic Church, or is it all tone?
A. He’s making very significant, substantive changes. The next session of the synod on the family, this autumn, is going to be very, very important. But the change in tone is already resulting in substantive change across many parts of the Catholic Church. I mean, he is the most extraordinary leader, a courageous leader and remarkable man.

Q. What difference does the pope make for Christians who are not Catholic?

A. Inspiration. People like me, you look to him and you think, “Oh, if I could do a hundredth of what he’s doing, I’d be quite pleased.” He is, in many ways, re-centering the ministry of the church on the love of Christ for the human being. And on the dignity of the human being, whoever they are, particularly where they’re marginalized.

Q. Is there a role for the monarchy today?

A. For the United States? We’re willing to consider it! For the United Kingdom? I think you see the role for the monarchy exhibited in setting an example of service, of adherence to duty, of courage and of faith. I think you see the continued role of the monarchy in being — in a rightly, regularly, and rapidly changing political scene — a point of both neutrality and stability.

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