From the desk of Revd. Mike Blanch Associate Vicar St.Margaret’s, Isfield
“Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” (Henry 11 on Archbishop Thomas Becket)
During September our Lectionary has brought us the Book of James, an often under-rated book. This Epistle has been thought to be authored by none other than Jesus’ half brother James, the leader of the Jerusalem church in the turbulent times after Our Lord’s resurrection. Possibly too, it is one of the earliest works in the New Testament, predating the gospels. And certainly, it is a work full of challenge and of sage advice.
So I turn to this writing by an early leader of the church in turbulent times, when thinking about our own leader, Archbishop Justin, currently the centre of acclaim and criticism alike, for taking to the stage of the TUC, and for co-authoring a paper by the Commission on Social Justice. The Archbishop called for a redistribution of wealth in the UK, saying. “Our economic model is broken. Britain stands at a watershed moment where we need to make fundamental choices about the sort of economy we need. We are failing those who will grow up into a world where the gap between the richest and poorest parts of the country is significant and destabilising.” He went further and attacked Amazon over its evasion of tax and the government over the failure of its Universal Credit programme, echoing criticism by the National Audit Office. The reaction to Archbishop Justin has provoked a level of hostility in the press unseen since the attacks on Archbishop Robert Runcie for his 1985 report “Faith in the Cities”. These attacks are not necessarily because of what Justin Welby has said, but because it was he who had said it. The church, many say, should not be seen to be openly political
But that’s the problem with leadership, it is never an easy path. James 3 v3, “ Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways.”
So was Archbishop Justin stumbling, or was he wise to take this essentially Christian Socialist position? How should we judge him? Back to James. James speaks of two kinds of wisdom, and how Christians can discern between them (James 3,13-17)” Who is wise and understanding among you? if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” Was Archbishop Justin motivated by selfish political ambition or was he sincere in what he said? You must make up your own minds.
But I would remind people that the role of top leadership is difficult. We may or may not agree with our leaders, but Christians should reflect on why they have taken a position. James himself, took a strong position against the Roman occupation forces, and was martyred for it around 65AD.