Charles Moore, writing in The Daily Telegraph of the colourful family background of Justin Welby, which Moore himself had a major hand in uncovering, concludes that the Archbishop ‘is uniquely well-placed to lead the Church in, as the jargon puts it, “meeting people where they are” ’. Precisely so.
But what an extra-ordinary background it was: involving, in one capacity or another, Pat Kennedy (JFK’s sister), Rab Butler, Peter Lawford, Vanessa Redgrave, and an additional supporting cast. As louche as you like!
There is an obvious downside, which Charles Moore did not mention.
The Archbishop’s ‘gracious’ acceptance of the facts not only allows him to appear approachable to those with a similarly eventful family life. It also makes it more difficult for him (and the Church he leads) to uphold the decidedly less bohemian view of matrimony and procreation entertained by the Scriptures. The illegitimate son of a serial adulterer, conceived a matter of days before his mother married a divorced man, whom she then divorced, going on to marry again, is unlikely to make marital fidelity the strong suit of his preaching.
‘Meeting people where they are’ carries with it a tacit acceptance that ‘where they are’ is where they should be. It can easily occlude the fact that the grace and mercy of God devolve from his righteousness.
In fairness to Welby, none of this is his fault, and probably does not much matter, in any case, in a Church which has already enthusiastically embraced divorce and remarriage, and will soon give its blessing to same sex unions.