Here’s a story that reminds us we never have to question who we are. Or, I should say, Whose we are.
By any reasonable standard, Justin Welby’s life story is a compelling one. Born into what he describes as a “dysfunctional family” with two alcoholic parents, he overcame those obstacles to become a successful executive in the oil industry.
Then, at age 33, he left it all behind to follow God’s calling to become a priest in the Church of England. This “second act” culminated three years ago when he was named the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Until recently, he had no reason to doubt that Gavin Welby, who died in 1977, was his father. His parents’ marriage had ended when he was only three years old, and after the divorce young Justin was placed in his father’s custody—although like many Englishmen of his age and social class, he spent most of his childhood away at boarding schools, including the legendary Eton.
But there were those who had their doubts about the identity of Justin’s father. They noticed the strong resemblance between young Justin Welby and Sir Anthony Montague Brown, Winston Churchill’s private secretary. What’s more, Welby’s mother worked alongside Brown up until her marriage to Gavin Welby in 1955.
So, to put this matter to rest once and for all, rather recently the Archbishop agreed to a DNA test, and the results shocked both him and his mother. Anthony Montague Brown, not Gavin Welby, was the Archbishop’s father. Justin Welby was the result of a brief affair his mother had with Brown just before she eloped with Gavin Welby.
If that were all there is to the story, I wouldn’t be talking about it. What makes the story worthy of your attention was the Archbishop’s response.
While calling the DNA results “a complete surprise,” Welby added that, “There is no existential crisis and no resentment against anyone . . . My identity is founded in who I am in Christ.”
The Archbishop pointed out that he and his wife, Caroline, had experienced “far worse,” including the death of their seven-month-old daughter in 1983. He called that tragedy “a very dark time” for him and Caroline, which, he said, “in a strange way . . . actually brought us closer to God.”
The reaction to Welby’s response to the revelation was overwhelmingly positive.
Julian Fellowes, creator of “Downtown Abbey,” said that Welby had bolstered his “street cred” with the British public. He said that “it’s good to see a spiritual leader tested spiritually and meet the challenge as eloquently as he has. He is an example to us all.”
He’s an example to us on this side of the pond, too. Think about it. We live in a culture that is obsessed with identity. Whether that identity is racial, ethnic, political, sexual or lifestyle choice, they are all an attempt to answer the question “who am I?”
As Welby reminded us, for the Christian the answer is “who I am in Christ.” As Paul told the Colossians, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). As he told the Corinthians, “we no longer regard anyone from a worldly point of view.” That’s because, as he tells his readers, we are new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).
This is the Gospel! This is the good news! Jesus offers a world badly in need of deliverance from the dead-end of self-actualization a secure answer to the question “who am I?”
God has a “second act” for us all that will bring us through even the darkest, world-rocking times—just as it did Archbishop Welby.
— by Eric Metaxas
Metaxas is the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org). Copyright© 2016 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.