THIS has been a challenging week for the Church of England. A new survey pointed to an “unrelenting decline” in the number of people who associate themselves with the CoE – and now the Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech to the TUC Congress has left the Right Reverend Justin Welby vulnerable to the charge of hypocrisy.
From the pilgrimages – and public appearances – undertaken by the incomparable Archbishop of York to the unseen, and often unheralded, work undertaken by clergy in local parishes, the Church remains a committed champion of the poor and family values in this country as a by-product of its spiritual mission.
By straying so far into the sphere of politics, and appearing to associate the Church so closely with Labour’s agenda, Mr Welby risks alienating those who would prefer to the Church to focus on issues of faith and its good deeds at a local level. Having criticised firms like Amazon for paying “almost nothing” in taxes, his defence of the decision of Church Commissioners to invest in the online giant is awaited with interest. If he believes the CoE is using its status to influence the debate about the corporation’s business ethics, he should make the positive case.
And, at the same time, Mr Welby does need to be more enlightened when it comes to the gig economy. Zero-hours contracts are not necessarily the “reincarnation of an ancient evil”. There are many instances when they do, in fact, suit an individual’s employment needs. And there will be cases when they allow, for example, the Church to give a second chance to a reformed offender. Perhaps the Archbishop will now recognise this before some have further reason to question their faith in him.