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General Synod digest: We are called by God to act together, says Archbishop Welby

18 February 2022
Max Colson/Church of England

Archbishop Welby delivers his presidential address last Tuesday

Archbishop Welby delivers his presidential address last Tuesday

Excerpts from Archbishop Welby’s presidential address:

A KEY lesson of Covid has been unequivocally that the illusion of individualism and atomisation is just that: it’s an illusion. A fallacy. The very nature of a virus is that it is contagious or infectious — it needs many people to spread and thrive. It took that physical manifestation of connection for many of us to realise how we are connected in all sorts of other ways.

From staying at home, to bulk buying supplies, to getting the vaccine, to wearing a face mask — the message was clear: our actions affect other people. We cannot do what we want without it having an impact somewhere else. . .

However, in the debate over vaccination especially, it is noticeable that individuals and groups talk extensively about their own rights, needs, and wants as though still entirely autonomous.

Amongst the greatest challenges we face as communities, as a nation and as a world are the challenges of the tension between individualism and community. Global intergenerational equity, technological change, climate change, vaccine nationalism. These are all interrelated issues with a common feature: those who have, gain more, and those who have not, bear the consequences. The strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must. . .

As we face the pandemic, as we look at the threat of climate change, we are standing before issues that affect every single one of us across the globe, no matter where we live and who we are. We are being called to look at the world as one rather than through the lens of narrow nationalism, factionalism, politics, economic union, or self-selecting group.

We face the call to see every single person with whom we share this world no longer as a stranger, a foreigner, an alien, but as a neighbour. . .

For many richer countries the philosophical, moral, and above all spiritual loss of even a notional underpinning of what it means to be a society leaves us without the means of navigating the huge changes of the near future. . .

The result is that in our national life, there are two areas in which we miss out when we become autonomous and individualistic. The first is responsibility. The second is truth. . .

A society that forgets about God, that loses the sense that it needs God . . . that no longer desires God . . . such a society loses the profound call to see the wholeness of the individual human person and the call to love, by that person being set free in relationship with others.

And without the Church, without that community of faith, as the salt and light of that society, that society loses its way. Without God it cannot maintain a determining objective except power.

Jacques Maritain, the Roman Catholic philosopher, wrote [in Christianity and Democracy] during the deepest darkness of 1942: “Deprived of a determining objective, political communion will carry its demands to the infinite, will absorb and regiment people, swallow up in itself the religious energies of the human being. Because it is not defined by a work to be done, it will only be able to define itself by its opposition to other human groups. Therefore, it will have essential need of an enemy against whom it will build itself; it is by recognising and hating its enemies that the political body will find its own common consciousness.”

Does that not speak to us as much today as it did in 1942?

And so in politics our concern about truth-speaking and truth-acting is not about political groupings — or in the Church — but about where we find the foundations for confidence in government, confidence in leadership, and above all the confidence in one another which enables us to function as a good society which seeks the common good.

It’s through that community which seeks the common good and that sense of the common good that we gain the ability to recognise that in serving Christ we are not a church of loss and gain, factions in a zero-sum struggle, but of abundance and grace. It is in showing such a way of living that society can learn that lesson when they see us living it.

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