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Archbishop Welby on inequality

Thursday 29th January 2015

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby recently spoke on Wall Street as part of the ‘Creating the Common Good’ conference, as well as preaching at Trinity Wall Street. Below are some excerpts from his address at the conference and evensong homily.

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7024427953_f4059f2efa_zOn Inequality
Read the full sermon here.

There is a great temptation to deal with the issues of inequality either in terms of economics alone or in a polemical style in which one simply raves on about the bad effects of inequality as if that were to solve the question. I want to start, however, by trying to address this issue more theologically, with the question, ‘Does inequality really matter?’

So what if there’s inequality? There has always been inequality and there most certainly always will be inequality. This is not just a quick lapse into an approach much influenced by Darwin, that affirms the solutions for our society are about survival of the fittest and devil take the hindmost, if you’ll excuse the mix of disciplines in that sentence, but a genuine question in terms of a world deeply caught up in diversity, to the world’s great benefit.

Biblical theology of inequality, starting with Genesis

…at the heart of the Genesis story of the creation of human beings is the essential nature of the human being, both male and female, existing to know God intimately and to walk intimately with God. There is an equality of worship, in adoration of the presence of God; there is an equality of revelling and feasting in fellowship with God in the Garden. Equality is a gift in creation, it is the foundation of equality before the law, equality of voice in the public square, equality in righteousness. Walter Brueggemann makes a similar point in his commentary on Isaiah 59. The post exilic community in Israel is deeply flawed not by its lack of worship, of which there is plenty, but by its inequalities in justice, in voice, in inclusion of all who accept Torah, regardless of wealth and status.

The first point to make is thus that inequality contrasts with the basic equality that exists before God. That may well not make it wrong, but as I will come back to when looking at the issues of the use of power, it raises a significant question mark. Is it possible, where there is gross inequality, for equality in worship and fellowship to be maintained?

His conclusion

…Inequality is an issue because it stands against the equality of access to God in worship and fellowship which is found in the great passages of beginnings. It is a problem because it plays on the corruption of the human person, our sinfulness, to create power grabs, patrimonialism by the powerful, self-serving not foot-washing. It is a fundamental theological issue remediable by a human society that manages its limits, constrains its expression and opens the way to its own corrections. We have done it before.

And we end with hope, because it is an issue which is in the hands of God. And in his hands, with our repentance, it is an issue that is changing; it will change. The God who met us in Jesus, the God who raises Christ from the dead, changes everything. We are today not in a place of menace and danger; but because we are increasingly conscious of inequality, we are in a place of hope and opportunity, and we are in a place where the church, in the grace and the providence of God, holds within its hands the beauty of opportunity that can change our world, liberate the enslaved, create the conditions of human flourishing, bring in the common good.

Read the rest of Justin Welby’s biblical theology of inequality here.

On the common good and “seeking the good of the city” (Jeremiah 29:4-7)
Read the full sermon here.

We are to get involved. We are to get our hands dirty, to speak of policy and of implementation; not merely to deal with the macro but also with the micro, not merely to deal with the micro but also with the macro. The common good, truly interpreted in the light of the scripture, its horizons opened up by the radicality of the gospel, demands from us our own radicality that can only come from the overflowing of the Spirit of God within us. Within Jeremiah there is that prophecy of hope of a future. Jesus, speaking in Luke, takes the words we’ve heard, but also especially in Luke, has, in his words, the promise of the gift of the Spirit of God who will make possible the impossible revolution, the impossible revolution to be achieved without violence, to be achieved without hatred, to be achieved in blessing and loving and serving and transforming the society in which we live.

Image credit: Dirk Knight, via Flickr.

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