A biography of Archbishop Justin Welby compiles his writings from his days as a parish priest and later as Bishop of Durham. Whether or not it really tells us anything is a separate question.
The Daily Telegraph previews the book which it will be published in serial form starting tomorrow. It was compiled by the Rev Dr Andrew Atherstone.
The book evidently shows that in his days as a parish priest, he was more willing to take firm, exclusive stances, on the social issues of the day including opposition to an agency allowing adoption by same-sex couples.
It also shows that, as Bishop, he is concerned about the viability of the “big institutions” that the Church of England is committed to and wonders aloud about whether the formality of the church makes it inaccessible to the common person.
…(S)ince being named as Archbishop he has hinted at a softening of the Church’s stance, expressing strong support for civil partnerships and attacking homophobia.
Some commentators have noted an apparent reluctance on his part to be drawn into issues such as the gay marriage debate since his appointment.
But the book, extracts of which will be published in The Daily Telegraph tomorrow, discloses a series of writings to his local parish at Southam in Warwickshire in the late 1990s, advocating a seemingly more uncompromising line.
“He speaks his mind with wonderful frankness, unencumbered by nervous press officers,” said the author of the biography, the Rev Dr Andrew Atherstone, an Oxford academic.
In one letter to his parish in 1999 he criticised the Church of England charity The Children’s Society’s decision to lift its ban on placing children for fostering or adoption with gay couples.
He spoke of the parish having to “review its decision to support them” in light of the change and urged the charity to rethink.
Since then the law has been changed making it illegal for charities to discriminate against gay couples, a move which effectively forced the closure of all Roman Catholic adoption agencies in England.
As Archbishop, Justin Welby is now likely to be named as a patron of the charity in line with his predecessors.
Any one who remembers how Archepiscopacy of Rowan Williams deviated from his earlier writings should ask whether these examples are all that useful in predicting the direction of Welby’s tenure.
Nick Baines wonders about the utility of the biography:
The bizarre thing is that anyone thinks this is anything other than story-creation. The Archbishop might or might not hold to views held or expressed in the past. I have no idea, and he can speak for himself. But, the notion that he should now be entirely consistent with what he said or thought or wrote twenty, ten or five years ago is utter nonsense. It simply suggests that he should never have grown up.
What matters is what he thinks now. The journey there might also be interesting. But, the fact that he might have said things or thought things in the past matters little… except, of course, to those looking for contradictions.
I remember a fellow curate in the late 1980s rejecting the idea that Jesus might have had to learn or change his mind (we were talking about the episode in Matthew 15 with the Syro-Phoenecian woman). In the end, I asked if he was suggesting that somehow ‘learning’ was sinful… and he said it was – the logic being that Jesus was perfect and didn’t need to learn. Er…