By Harry Phibbs
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The Church of England's decline has slowed, but not halted. Average church attendance in 2010 was 1.12 million, in 2011 it was 1.13 million. On the other hand, the number of church weddings is up even while the numbers getting married is down. In 1960 there were 2.2 million of us who took communion on Easter Sunday, by 2010 it was under a million.
Rowan Williams has been a popular Archbishop of Canterbury with the Guardianista atheists. But it is difficult to think of his being a success by any other criteria. The problems for the Church didn't begin with him but he has made matters worse.
As The Bible says:
For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
Dr Williams wrote an article for the Sunday Telegraph which was interpreted as doubting the existence of God. Then there was his crassly partisan New Statesman editorial – a highly divisive indulgence. It wasn't just that he was dabbling in politics, but the selective way he went about it. For instance, in 2008 when the then Education Secretary Ed Balls attacked church schools, the Labour MP Frank Field hit back, but Dr Williams kept out of it. We also had silence from Dr Williams while economic inequality grew under the Labour Government. Why? His selective indignation was not inspiring.
Now there is an opportunity for Anglican revival under the new leadership of Justin Welby, who is to become the new Archbishop of Canterbury. As Damian Thompson at the Daily Telegraph notes he used to worship at Holy Trinity Brompton, whose Alpha Course has been the most extraordinary success story.
I don't know which political party The Rt Rev Justin Welby would vote for (were he not a member of the House of Lords). That is as it should be. It was all too obvious that Dr Williams would never vote Conservative. But I think Mr Welby is someone the Government will be able to do business with. Someone who will be effective in cooperating with shared objectives.
What is his view on economics? This is something which seems to attract much more interest than an Archbishop's thoughts on theology. Mr Wellby used to be a derivatives trader. Good for him. But that does not mean he is uncritical regarding capitalism. He has told the House of Lords:
"Since the 1980s the multiple between the average earnings in FTSE 100 companies and the earnings of top executives has risen from about 29 times to at least 140 times. If we do not see any improvement in these differentials, they will prove dangerous to social cohesion, as has been widely seen across Europe."
He has told his Twitter followers:
Strange media interest after comment that 4,000%+ interest on pay day loans a sin. Next prophetic insight, motherhood/apple pie can be good.
But he is a critical friend of capitalism. He wants to make a success of it. He is a positive force. He wants to level up not down. He is more concerned with free will than resorting to regulation that renders us moral cripples.
He regards economic growth as morally right:
With economic growth we are able to deal with some of the great issues of human flourishing, such as loan-sharking, the breakdown of families, the high levels of unemployment and the 1,100 people who have visited a food bank that I opened last week-a food bank in this country. Such things destroy human flourishing and diminish the human spirit. The need for confidence and investment in skills is not merely to have a bigger economy but to enable us to see a transformation of our society. These things will not happen merely through exhortation but they require action and leadership.
Is that obvious? It is to me, but I'm not so sure it is to Dr Williams.
In a speech to financiers in Zurich, Mr Welby said:
Financial services have huge potential as vehicles of the common good in order to unit increasingly autonomous and disparate societies.
In the same speech he said that regulation was not the answer, but that a change of culture was the key. He said banks "must be allowed to fail." He commended another speech by Andrew Haldane of the Bank of England, "The Dog and the Boomerang." (On the Bank of England's website it is actually entitled "The dog and the frisbee.") In this speech Mr Haldane argues "the type of complex regulation developed over recent decades might not just be costly and cumbersome but sub-optimal for crisis control. In financial regulation, less may be more."
As Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will want to take on the loan sharks. But how will he achieve this? He has told the House of Lords:
Contrary to much of what has been said, for example, in Scotland recently by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the answer to the payday lenders is not to limit interest rates as this will simply drive matters back into the hands of the illegal loan sharks. At the moment, if you go outside the Darlington Building Society when the benefit payments come in, you will find a queue of people who will withdraw from their accounts everything but one penny in order to pay it straight into the hands of the loan sharks who are standing by their doors threatening to break up their furniture.
Instead he wants to boost credit unions – which are so much more popular in Ireland and the United States than in the UK. "Banks that demonstrate social purpose could receive an easier tax regime and a lighter regulatory touch," he says. I suspect he will also push for the Church to use the power of its membership, financial resources and network of buildings to gve credit unions a boost.
When Baroness Thatcher was Prime Minister she famously observed during a visit to the north east:
Some of the work that is being done is fantastically successful. Don't you think that's the way to persuade more companies to come to this region and get more jobs—because I want them—for the people who are unemployed. Not always standing there as moaning minnies. Now stop it!
In his maiden speech as a member of the House of Lords as the new Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, said:
I am privileged to be the Bishop of Durham in the north-east of England, which has been one of the most formidable and remarkable parts of this country for more than 1,000 years. It is a source of spiritual and material regeneration and the home of the Industrial Revolution in a way that continues to this very day. We have just heard mention of the new investment by Nissan in car plants and about the SSI steelworks on Teesside and the train assembly by Hitachi within a couple of miles of where Stephenson manufactured the Rocket. These are all areas of intense international competition. These investments show the capacity of the north-east to face anything that comes and to be successful.
This morning I was speaking with the chief executive of the chamber of commerce about a company near Newcastle that makes remotely operated vehicles for subsea work. It has created 500 jobs in the past five years, which, again, is extraordinary. We were talking about how we can develop a trade mission to Nigeria-a country that I know well-in connection with that and with the oil industry, which I also know well.
No doubt the new Archbishop of Canterbury will make mistakes. I'm sure he will come up with all sorts of comments that will annoy all sorts of people. But he is a man who has the confidence and determination to help his Church and his nation succeed. He is not a moaning minnie.