Archbishop of Canterbury 'snubs' RSPCA — not
The Times (£) reports that the Archbishop of Canterbury 'has abandoned decades of Church leadership of the RSPCA by rejecting a traditional post at the top of the charity'.
According to intrepid 'Investigations Editor' Dominic Kennedy, this amounts to a 'snub' which will 'rock an organisation facing accusations that it has lost its way'.
Whilst it is undoubtedly true that the RSPCA has occasionally ventured into highly political realms and appeared rather more inclined to persecute those who are made in God's image than protect the beast of the field and fowl of the air, there is no question of Archbishop Justin offering a 'snub' to anyone. Indeed, had he wished to 'rock' the RSPCA, he'd have given them the Wonga treatment and announced the establishment of Lambeth Pet Care to compete with the Royal Society.
But The Times won't let go: 'His snub to the RSPCA will be seen as a deliberate distancing of the Church of England from a welfare organisation with a distinguished history founded by a London vicar in 1824. Dr Welby’s four predecessors — Rowan Williams, George Carey, Robert Runcie and Donald Coggan — accepted honorary positions in the charity’s hierarchy.'
Setting aside the fact that this 'Investigations Editor' really hasn't investigated the Archbishop's correct appellation very well at all, 'deliberate distancing' is not his style. By nature he reaches out and reconciles, and he is as concerned with animal welfare as any Christian who understands the responsibilities bequeathed by the Lord in the stewardship of creation. It is simply that he happens to be one of those who isn't overly concerned to have his name on hundreds of letterheads, preferring instead to patronise only those organisations which time permits.
As Lambeth Palace explained: “Since taking office in March this year, the Archbishop has received many kind invitations to patron a large variety of charities and good causes. Each invitation has been an honour, and in an ideal world he would like to accept them all. However, in light of the sheer volume of requests the Archbishop receives, and the many pressures on his time and resources, he has reluctantly decided to restrict his patronage to a manageable number of organisations, based on where he feels his support could be most beneficial."
It really couldn't be clearer, could it?
The Palace continues: "Nevertheless, the Archbishop has enormous admiration for the RSPCA and hopes to see its work thrive long into the future.”
But this, to cynic Dominic Kennedy, amounts to a humiliating rejection 'couched in gracious terms'.
So the Archbishop is really saying 'sod off' nicely.
The thing is, if we have learned anything about this particular Archbishop since his appointment, it is that he possesses a certain tendency to express himself candidly, and never crudely. He didn't say to the head of Wonga, "You're a splendid chap but don't you think you could adjust your interest rates a little out of compassion for the poor?" He reported that he said to the Wonga boss 'bluntly': "We’re not in the business of trying to legislate you out of existence, we’re trying to compete you out of existence."
But The Times labours on: '..the decision to abandon the RSPCA will be seen by many as creating a moral vacuum at the top of the welfare charity.'
This is simply laughable. Moral obligation is not fulfilled by having a token bishop on the board: ethical judgments are taken and decisions made in specific situations in accordance with an organisation's foundational principles, and it is for all leaders to reflect on the morality of their undertakings. Whether it be peace and justice or love and compassion, prophetic religion requires the incarnation of a grounded ethical paradigm, and this is a corporate pursuit which is not attained by clerical patronage.
The Times continues: 'Dr Welby is a typical family man who has kept pets. However, the evangelical strain of Christianity which he follows emphasises mankind’s stewardship over the animals rather than believing that other creatures have souls.'
Are we supposed to infer from this absurd sentence that Rowan Williams, George Carey, Robert Runcie and Donald Coggan all believed animals have souls, and that was the reason they became patrons of the RSPCA?
Justin Welby believes the Word of God has invaded the world, and human reason can only bow before it. We will not all agree on the application of the Word, but we can agree that the priority is people’s welfare in respect of a right relationship with God. Archbishop Justin has the capacity to soar above the theological squabbles of the day and take every issue back to first principles – the nature and purpose of the Christian Church. Establishment commits the Church of England to full involvement in civil society and to making a contribution to the public discussion of issues that have moral or spiritual implications.
For the moment, at least, that does not stretch to the RSPCA. There is nothing more to it. And there ought to be no more expectation of the Archbishop's ex-officio patronage than of RSPCA staff commencing every day with prayer and Bible study.