The new archbishop of Canterbury has wasted little time in attacking the government for changes to the benefits system that he says will push children and families into poverty. Justin Welby‘s intervention, barely a month since he was confirmed, indicates that he is set to follow in the footsteps of some of his predecessors in his willingness to confront the government.
Rowan Williams (2002-2012)
Welby’s immediate predecessor was forceful in his condemnation of the coalition government’s health, education and welfare reforms. He accused it of forcing through “radical policies for which no one voted”. David Cameron responded by defending the church’s right to make political interventions, while adding that he “profoundly disagreed” with many of the archbishop’s comments. Williams also suggested that the prime minister’s “big society” project was waffle.
Robert Runcie (1980-1991)
Soon after his enthronement Robert Runcie said he thought “the Christian voice must be loud and clear on the great political issues of the time: race relations, unemployment, disarmament and the proper distribution of the world’s resources”. It was a stance that led to a strained relationship with Margaret Thatcher’s government.
Thatcher was angered in 1982 when Runcie asked a congregation to pray for the relatives of Argentine soldiers killed in the Falklands war. He also clashed with the Conservative government over nuclear weapons and the miners’ strike. In 1985 a commission appointed by Runcie to look into inner cities was published as “Faith in the City”. Its portrayal of unemployment and deprivation saw it savaged as “Marxist” by Conservatives.
Michael Ramsey (1961-1974)
In 1965 Ramsey outraged rightwingers by suggesting it would be Christian to use British troops to overthrow the white-minority regime in Rhodesia. He also criticised what he saw as the futility of the Vietnam war and limits on immigration to the UK of Kenyan Asians.
Turbulent archbishops: Justin Welby joins Canterbury’s list of dissenters – The Guardian
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