Archbishop of Canterbury praised after DNA testing reveals skeletons in the family closet

by Tobin Perry, |
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby arrives at the Cathedral Church of Holy Trinity in Burundi's capital of Bujumbura in March of 2016. | REUTERS/Evrard Ngendakumana

LONDON (Christian Examiner) Christian and Jewish leaders around the world are applauding Archbishop Justin Welby's response to recent news that he is the biological son of Winston Churchill's former private secretary—rather than the son of a whisky salesman.

"I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes."

The Telegraph reports Welby discovered the truth about his paternity after a DNA test last month revealed he was the son of Anthony Browne, who served Churchill during his retirement.

A comparison between a swab of Welby's mouth and samples of Browne's hair showed a 99.9779 percent chance that Browne was the archbishop's father.

Though he says he was shocked by the discovery, it wasn't devastating news.

"I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes," said Welby, the spiritual leader of the 85-million-person global Anglican Communion.

Welby also said in the statement, "Although there are elements of sadness, and even tragedy in my father's (Gavin Welby's) case, this is a story of redemption and hope from a place of tumultuous difficulty and near despair in several lives. 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."

Rabbi Dr. Jonthan Romain, the minister at Maidenhead Synagogue in Berkshire, England, was among the first religious leaders to speak out in support of Welby.

"The news does not affect his personal identity in any way—he is who he has become—nor does it lessen his authority as Archbishop," Romain said.

Bishop Anba Angaelos, the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, praised the statement too, saying it indicated the "peace, love, forgiveness and resolve that we are not only all called to, but all endowed with if we but allow God's healing, reconciling and comforting presence in our lives."

In Welby's original statement he told readers he realized he was not alone in experiencing family turmoil. Soon after the disclosure, his mother admitted that she had slept with Browne after drinking too much alcohol one night. The incident happened shortly before her three-year marriage to Gavin Welby, a whisky salesman and German immigrant. His mother, Jane Williams, has been a recovering alcoholic since 1968, Far from being upset with his mother at the revelation, he praised her in the statement for her commitment to sobriety and recovery thanks to her Christian faith and Alcoholics Anonymous.

"My own experience is typical of many people. To find that one's father is other than imagined is not unusual," Welby wrote in the statement. "To be the child of families with great difficulties in relationships, with substance abuse or other matters, is far too normal."

It isn't the first time startling family revelations have been disclosed about Welby since he took the post. Just after being named archbishop, The Telegraph reported that Gavin Welby, believed at the time to be his biological father, had been married previously to an American. He also discovered his father had a sister he never knew about. Although the marriage of Gavin Welby and Jane Williams only lasted three years, Welby lived with his father after the divorce.

The news about Welby's paternity made an even bigger news splash within the tradition-bound Anglican Communion. Until the 1950s, illegitimate children could never become Anglican bishops—an historical fact that apparently his staff didn't realize. Before legal experts clarified the confusion, many worried that the revelation of Welby's biological father would invalidate all the acts of his service as bishop and archbishop, causing what some where calling a potential Anglican crisis.

Despite the drama in the past week, Welby appears ready to move on asking Anglicans to pray for the many around the world suffering through real and genuine pain.

Welby concluded his statement: "At the very outset of my inauguration service three years ago, Evangeline Kanagasooriam, a young member of the Canterbury Cathedral congregation, said: 'We greet you in the name of Christ. Who are you, and why do you request entry?' To which I responded: 'I am Justin, a servant of Jesus Christ, and I come as one seeking the grace of God to travel with you in His service together.' What has changed? Nothing!"