Anglican leader warns Christians against ‘treating church as politics,’ saying ‘malicious’ things online

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby preaches a sermon at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby preaches a sermon at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. | YouTube/The Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the global Anglican Communion, recently warned Christians against “treating church as politics” and engaging in bad behavior on social media.

Archbishop Welby preached a sermon on Sunday at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., which focused on how refugees should be treated.

During his remarks, Welby said that the Kingdom of God is “an autocracy of the purest love,” and Christians “do not choose to be its citizens; its ruler called us out of helpless darkness.”

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After noting that “our role is to proclaim, our joy is to celebrate,” Welby went on to warn that this is “not always how we show ourselves.”

“Treating church life as politics and our way of doing things as superior, we engage in malicious comment through social media, we are insincere, we are cruel,” he said. “We have been transformed by the grace of God alone, yet we behave as though we then had to wage a civil war in God’s church so that our views may prevail.”

It is “no wonder that in the Global North we see numbers decline” in church attendance and affiliation, “for the rule of love has become the rule of self,” he added.

“We do not as Christians resolve problems by their over-simplification, that is the broad road with much good company of those who we can find who will agree with whatever view each of us chooses.

“The path of the cross, of following the crucified God in His journey, is one that tells us to embrace the complexity of suffering and walk alongside those with whom we disagree passionately, bearing our crosses.”

Pastor and author Timothy Keller voiced a similar concern about partisanship overtaking churches in a series of controversial tweets posted earlier this month.

In his social media posts, Keller denounced the notion that a Christian has to vote for Donald Trump or has to vote for Joe Biden, with the theologian citing a “liberty of conscience.”

“The Bible binds my conscience to care for the poor, but it does not tell me the best practical way to do it,” tweeted Keller at the time. “Christians cannot say to other Christians ‘no Christian can vote for…’ or ‘every Christian must vote for […’] unless you can find a Biblical command to that effect.”

In response to some critics of his thread on Twitter, Keller clarified that his comments on conscience and voting should not misinterpreted as him supporting things like legalized abortion.

“The Bible tells me that abortion is a sin and great evil, but it doesn’t tell me the best way to decrease or end abortion in this country, nor which policies are most effective,” added Keller.

Earlier this week, the Barna Group released a report which found that 74% of surveyed Protestant pastors were concerned that the presidential election will impact their church.

When asking pastors if they were worried about the political impact, 33% of respondents said they were “very concerned,” while 41% said “somewhat concerned.” 

During his sermon on Sunday, Welby also focused on the issue of refugees, noting that around 75 million people were presently displaced, calling it “the greatest movement of people in human history.”

“The causes of movement vary. Poverty, ambition, fear, war all play a large part. Some flee modern slavery. Some run from family or clan disorder,” stated Welby.

“They flee for any and every reason. They may have illusions about their destination and their reasons for fleeing may be more or less understandable. Yet they flee.”

In light of calls to better treat refugees, Welby declared that Christians cannot “surround our love with barbed wire so that only those with the password can be its recipients.”

“When we see the refugee and those who fear them we must not compromise with false simplicities, but we do channel the abundant grace of God.” 

His comments come as President Trump has overseen major reductions in the annual refugee resettlement cap in the U.S. His administration lowered the cap to 18,000 for fiscal year 2020 (Oct. 1, 2019 – Sept. 30, 2020), the lowest it has been since the program was created in 1980. Trump has yet to make a proposal for the number of refugees that could be resettled in the U.S. for the new fiscal year. 

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