The Economist, to its own surprise, finds Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, to be a credible participant in the debate over the worldwide banking crisis:
The striking thing about the archbishop’s tone is that it avoids several extremes. In contrast with some religious discourse, he does not see the financial sector as self-evidently or incorrigibly nefarious. He does not view the efficient allocation of capital, and the broking of deals between risk-takers and risk-avoiders, as an immoral business. In his BBC interview, with a colleague from the Financial Times, he stressed that the City of London was an impressive pool of talent and that in some respects (insider trading, employment practices) its ethical standards had improved. Nor is he preaching a “prosperity Gospel” in which wealth-creation and spiritual salvation are seen as nearly identical: that is a minority taste in British Christianity but is growing steadily.
Nor again (in contrast to some modern champions of faith) was he signalling that clever public policy pronouncements would be his main concern, because these days nobody much, not even among the faith professionals, was interested in God. In his radio interview, the archbishop gently stressed several times that his personal priority was preaching Christianity, not fine-tuning the financial sector. He had left his wordly career (which included managing the finances of an oil exploration company) because of a “clear sense I had of God calling me to get ordained, one that I obeyed kicking and screaming.”
On other lips, those words might sound self-righteous or cloying, but Archbishop Welby at least sounded as though he meant them. My hunch is that secular listeners will acknowledge that honesty, even if they cannot make much sense of divine vocations. And they will at least hear him out patiently when he speaks out on secular topics on which he has some expertise.