Archbishop Justin Welby has become the practical conscience of the UK, speaking out about the moral consequences of the banking industry in the UK and the consumer culture in the west.
Gillian Scott blogs at God & Politics in the UK:
Welby’s approach to the position he finds himself in is radical, which explains why many are still trying to make sense of what he is trying to achieve. He is a completely new breed of Archbishop having spent much more of his life working outside of the church than within and it shows. His business experience gives his opinions weight; they are certainly not the pontifications of an uninformed cleric. What is more, he is not content just to comment on the injustices that he sees, he is willing to put words into action, stepping in where he sees a gap that the Church can fill. His commitment to creating a network of credit unions through the Church of England is an ambitious proposal that will offer a far more ethical alternative to the payday lenders who are regularly accused of exploiting the most needy. The Church of England will also be partnering with Oxfam and the Child Poverty Action Group to conduct an investigation into the rapid spread of food banks and will seek to establish ways of tackling the underlying causes of food poverty.
Case in point: in an interview to be broadcast on ITV next Tuesday, Welby said that people are making themselves “miserable” at Christmas because of the pressure of buying expensive gifts for loved ones.
The Most Rev Justin Welby said families should not to make their lives “miserable” by trying to keep up with “ridiculous” pressures to spend money.
He admitted it was a “cliche of modern life” to complain about materialism.
But he said the “over-the-top” consumerism of the festive season was putting relationships under strain.
In an interview with The Martin Lewis Money Show, to be broadcast on Tuesday night on ITV, he said: “It’s a cliche of modern life that someone gets up and says Christmas is becoming very materialistic as though it wasn’t 300 years ago.
“Yes obviously the secular over-the-topness, everything you have to have, new clothes you have to have, new this, new that, new the other, is ridiculous, it’s absurd, it shouldn’t happen. It puts pressure on relationships because when you’re short of money you argue.
“You get cross with your kids more easily, it spoils life.”
The archbishop said that if he suggested that people should stop giving Christmas gifts, no-one would listen.
“It’s obviously not what Christmas is about but to be absolutely honest, there’s not that much point in saying it because nobody’s going to pay attention,” he said.
He added: “Giving at Christmas reflects that generosity of God. So be generous in a way that shows love and affection rather than trying to buy love and affection,” he said.
The interview is an example of what Scottobserves about Welby’s practical witness:
What Welby is managing to do so effectively is speaking into situations with precision and clarity where politicians’ words are so often woolly and meaningless. His aim of approaching issues from a moral perspective makes a refreshing change from the usual party political rhetoric that we are so used to. Some might think that his regular focus on the most vulnerable in society makes him a socialist seeking to attack a government that is reducing the size of the welfare state, but this very much misses the point. Welby made it clear in a Channel 4 interview on Thursday that he has no interest in getting involved directly in party politics. Instead he has said that “a flourishing economy is necessary but not sufficient. A healthy society flourishes and distributes economic resources effectively, but also has a deep spiritual base which gives it its virtue.”
As head of the Church of England, Justin Welby sees the clear Christian imperative for looking after the poor and needy, but he also believes that for a society to be healthy and function well, morality and religion need to be taken as seriously as economics, politics and the law. This is Biblical stuff. The church has an important role to cover the ground where politicians fear to tread, to ask the difficult questions, but also to offer answers where it sees them.