The Briefing, Friday, November 9, 2012

TODAY: A new Archbishop of Canterbury, Jared Loughner sentenced to life in prison, Mormonism after the election, can the law make us decent? I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

Anglican sources have confirmed that Justin Welby, currently Bishop of Durham, will be named today as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. The Crown Nominations Commission is expected to nominate the new Archbishop, with action to be taken by the Prime Minister as early as later today.

Bishop Welby has been a bishop for only a year, and his background has been mostly in the business world. He was for many years an oil executive before entering the ministry later in life. He is Eton-educated and considered to identify with the evangelical wing of the Church of England. As The Telegraph [London] reports, “Theologically, he is unashamedly part of the evangelical tradition, upholding a more traditional and conservative interpretation of the Bible than some in the Church of England.”

The new Archbishop of Canterbury will assume leadership of a deeply divided church and a world-wide Anglican Communion on the verge of a break-up. As Archbishop, Welby will be the titular head of both the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. The Church of England faces tremendous challenges, including the fact that most of its members rarely, if ever, attend services. The secularization of British society has left the Church of England in a strange position — central to the ceremonial life of the nation, but marginal in the lives of its citizens.

As Fraser Nelson reports in The Telegraph:

“There are two ways of looking at the decline of Christianity in England. One is to bemoan the relentless secularization and the supposed decay of society in general. The other is to accept that being Christian in Britain now means being part of a minority, and that the Church’s mission is to explain the Word of God to people who have grown up having never heard it. Those who know Bishop Welby place him firmly in the latter camp, and say that his mission is evangelical, and that his approach to the task was summed up by his predecessor-but-six Archbishop William Temple: ‘The Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members.'”

The Church of England is deeply divided over many issues, including women bishops and homosexuality. The church faces the immediate challenge of the British government’s plan to legalize same-sex marriage. The Church of England has opposed this proposal, and Bishop Welby is known as a strong opponent of same-sex marriage.

If appointed, Bishop Welby would follow Archbishop Rowan Williams as head of England’s state church. Williams is not an evangelical, and he was a supporter of the ordination of practicing homosexuals to the priesthood before assuming office as Archbishop. An academic theologian who now plans to return to university teaching, Archbishop Williams offered indecisive leadership as his church and the world-wide communion was threatening to unravel over the issue of homosexuality.

As Philip Jenkins of Baylor University has argued, the typical participating member in an Anglican church these days is more likely to be a mother of several children in Africa than a stereotypical member of a parish church in England. And the Anglican churches of the “Global South” are far more conservative. Time will tell if the new Archbishop can or will provide leadership to pull his fractious church together.

In Tucson, Arizona, a federal judge on Thursday sentenced Jared Lee Loughner to seven consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole. Loughner pleased guilty to a murderous rampage in Tucson in 2011 that left six people dead and thirteen wounded, including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Loughner entered a guilty plea in order to avoid the death penalty. He faced some of his victims and their relatives in court. The sentence was an exercise of human justice, but it also points to the need for God’s perfect justice, yet to come. The court could sentence Loughner to life in prison, but it could not exact a truly just sentence. Furthermore, the court could not restore life to the slain or full healing to his surviving victims.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times offers an important perspective on Mormonism in the aftermath of the 2012 election and the candidacy of Mitt Romney. In Stolberg’s view, Mormonism gained a great deal in the election, surviving the campaign with one of its members at the top of the ticket. She writes:

“Despite Mr. Romney’s loss to President Obama on Tuesday, the 2012 presidential campaign broke a barrier for Mormons across the United States, transforming the way they see themselves and the way Americans view their church, formally called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Joanna Brooks, a professor of English at San Diego State University, and a Mormon author, went so far as to claim, “We’ve just come through a general election in which Romney’s faith played virtually no public role.” That is likely an exaggeration, but the church did gain some degree of publicity and public acceptance.

A major issue for evangelicals now is maintaining a theological understanding of Mormonism and its rejection of orthodox Christianity.

Finally, I consider an important column in The New York Times by Jay Sterling Silver, a professor of law at St. Thomas University. Silver laments the deaths of two young boys in the rampaging floods caused by Hurricane Sandy and points to the horrifying reality that the boys’ mother could get no one to help her rescue her boys. Silver proposes a law requiring citizens in such a situation to provide assistance. “Can the law make us decent?,” he asks.

From a biblical perspective, I discuss the fact that the law can sometimes make us act decently, but it cannot make us decent.

All these and more are discussed in today’s edition of The Briefing. Listen here.

Links to all articles cited also provided.