It should have been a great scoop for The Telegraph. ‘Archbishop Illegitimate: Welby conceived in drunken romp shame’. Except it didn’t turn out like that.
This weekend, following an investigation sparked by decades-old rumours, The Telegraph revealed that Justin Welby was not, in fact, the honeymoon-baby son of Gavin Welby, but was the product of a liaison between his mother and Winston Churchill’s Private Secretary, Sir Anthony Montague Browne, shortly before the wedding.
Yet what could have been a public scandal, and a personal devastation, was dealt with simply and quietly by Justin’s deep faith.
In a statement on his website, reproduced on The Telegraph‘s, he said simply, “I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes.”
He pays tribute to his mother’s “very remarkable determination and effort” in overcoming her alcoholism, with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, the NHS and her Christian faith, and says their family story is one of “redemption and hope from a place of tumultuous difficulty and near despair in several lives,” explaining that, “It is a testimony to the grace and power of Christ to liberate and redeem us, grace and power which is offered to every human being.”
Even in the midst of what for many others would be at the least a highly embarrassing scandal, Justin Welby demonstrates the true depth of his walk with God, not only in the utter security he has in his own identity and sense of self, but in his care and concern for others. He doesn’t use this as an opportunity to wallow and self-examine and wonder what might have been, but as a prompt to offer the security and hope he has to anyone who wants it, and to pray for those in real need:
Even more importantly, my role as Archbishop makes me constantly aware of the real and genuine pain and suffering of many around the world, which should be the main focus of our prayers.
What a fantastic example of the difference true faith in Christ makes to a life. Total security, compete freedom, and genuine love for others. I hope I reflect even a part of that kind of witness, though I know there’s definitely room for growth.
Wanting to know who we are seems to be an innate part of being human. Look at how we organise ourselves into families and clans, marked out by names passed from one generation to the next. Look at the lists of genealogies found in the Bible, and the family trees dating back centuries in stately homes. In some cultures, I understand, the first question you ask when you meet someone new is not ‘What do you do?’, as ours usually is, but ‘Who are your family?’; what you do says less about you in those cultures than what – and who – you are a part of.
One of the teachings of the Christian faith is that when you become a Christian – when you accept his forgiveness of your sins and make him Lord of your life – you are ‘born again’ into a new family. Your identity changes. That doesn’t mean you cut ties with your earthly family and the story you are part of but, as Welby shows, their hold over you is broken. The things they did wrong, just like the things you did wrong, no longer stack up against you in the ultimate reckoning. You’re a child of God, redeemed by his son and adopted forever into his family. Nothing can change that.
Had canon law not been changed in the 1950s, The Telegraph reports, Justin Welby’s job might well have been at stake, as until then illegitimate men had been barred from becoming Archbishops. I have no doubt that he would have handled that with the same calm assurance. His past, his present and his future are in the hands of a God he trusts implicitly and loves deeply. That doesn’t mean his life is without pain or deeply difficult questions, as he alludes to in his statement, simply that he has someone to go to with those questions and with that pain, instead of being left to flounder in hopeless despair.
If you would like to know more about my or the Archbishop’s faith, and how it gives us that security that can’t be shaken, do please get in touch, or go along to your local church and ask someone there. You too can have the unshakeable security that Justin Welby has got.
Picture Credit: Archbishop of Canterbury’s website