The newly installed Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is off to a good start by most accounts. In one of his first interviews following his confirmation, he stated unequivocally, although in the typically measured tone of an English gentleman, his opposition to a bill currently before the British House of Commons, spearheaded by "Conservative" Prime Minister David Cameron, which seeks tor redefine marriage. He reiterated the position of the House of Bishops in support of the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
More significantly, however, the archbishop acknowledged the relatively miniscule role of the 1.25 million member Church of England within the worldwide 80 million member Anglican Communion. In the vast majority of provinces, the question of the definition of marriage is not an issue. Many of the provinces, particularly in the Global South, see the controversy in England, the United States, and other western provinces as not only unnecessary but embarrassing.
"I have to look at the whole Communion, not just this country," Welby said. "Realistically, there are 80 million Anglicans around the world and inevitably, and quite rightly, their voice has to be heard."
This sounds, on the surface, like a refreshing change from Welby's predecessor, Rowan Williams, who continued to maintain ties with the errant provinces in North America despite vocal protests from the Global South. On a deeper level, however, Welby's comments must be taken with caution. As the spiritual leader of 80 million Christians worldwide who identify with the Anglican tradition, he ought rightly be expected to address the issue at hand, the definition of marriage, from a biblical, historical, and sacramental perspective. Merely restating a position paper from the Church of England House of Bishops does not come close to fulfilling this expectation.
There would be, of course, political implications should the institution of marriage be redefined in Great Britain (not to mention the United States or any other western nation). However, the deeper issue for Welby is the spiritual consequences for a nation which willfully, and arrogantly, thumbs its nose at the law of God. If the new archbishop wishes to be a true shepherd to his flock, in fact and not just in name, he should use the spiritual prestige of his office to shift the conversation away from false notions of "equality" and "tolerance" and toward real notions of reverence for God and the social order which he has ordained.
To benighted politicians like David Cameron, Archbishop Welby should issue a gentle but firm admonition that a fallen world does not redeem itself by giving in to its very fallenness. Redemption comes only through surrendering to Christ and following him obediently, even to the cross. It may be asking too much of a politician to make such a sacrifice. It is not asking too much of the spiritual leader of 80 million Anglicans, however, to take up his cross and boldly proclaim the only message that will save England, America, and every nation, tribe, people, and tongue.