Video: Archbishop Welby, Talk Radio, and a Canterbury Tale

The head of the Anglican Church, archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was very brave last week when he became the first person in his post to take calls from the public in an hour-long call-in radio show.

Eventually a caller presented the question of why gay marriages couldn’t be left to the individual consciences of Anglican priests, as had been done with women’s ordination.

In Welby’s response, he struggled with all the nuances required by his position as head of the Anglican Communion.

In this video you can see him holding the burden of responsibility for so many souls. He is bearing the cross. I respect him for that.

I disagree however with a framework that pits one injustice –refusal of Christian rites to gays and lesbians — against another — the persecution of Christians in Africa. To stay there is to live in bondage, not the freedom of the cross.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Martin King in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”


  1. I share your respect of archbishop Welby’s willingness to take these calls and genuinely struggle with them. I am not sure I can agree with your assessment that he is pitting one injustice against another. As I understood his concern, he is recognizing that what we do in one part of the church has implications in another part of the church, often in another very different part of the world. He is acknowledging an interdependence that we so often ignore in the West, especially, where we live amidst eachother with such individualism that we perhaps cannot comprehend other realities where Christians don’t have the “luxury” or freedom to exercise individual conscience without it having violent implications. Perhaps an analogy would be if we understood that our nonviolent activism would result in our congregations, or family members, being rounded up and mass murdered because of fear that our choices to resist empire would somehow infect the rest of the community. I think this is what burdens Justin Welby, when he considers the implications of decisions made in one context and how it might result in violence for people of the church in another context where a Christian is automatically seen as a “foreigner” importing outside ideas regardless of his/her actual ties to their land and people. As I hear him he struggles with the violence done locally to people in the name of religion, and the violence done far away to people if the opposite decision in taken. What I respect is his keen sense of the interdependence of the worldwide church, and a sense that we are accountable to one another. The question is how to negotiate the accountability when we live in places of substantially differing worldviews and political implications !


    • Thank you Susan. Extremely well-presented and persuasive reflection. You may be absolutely right. But I still can’t help but feel as if we are limiting the scope and power of the gospel when we make too direct or fine an equation for interdependence. We absolutely are interdependent – as held in the central celebration of the sacrifice and joy of the eucharist. But when one culture or state holds Christians hostage and says it will kill them if the Church somewhere else tries to live more fully into the gospel, then we must find a way to escape from the violence of hostage taking, not repeat it.

      Or, if it is necessary to define the equation of interdependence narrowly then perhaps, using this case, we should let gay Christians and threatened African Christians negotiate directly with one another so that all our sacrifices for the gospel are honored within the body of Christ.

      But in the case of extending the full rights of the church to gay Christians, the church (in this case Justin Welby, but it’s everywhere) decides to use “interdependence” as an equation that results in direct harm to African Christians, while it doesn’t do this with other situations that also may harm African Christians.


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