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Archbishop of Canterbury Wants Government to 'Put Church-Run Food Banks Out of Business'

Archbishop in church robes giving a sermon behind a podium in a church

On Wednesday, the archbishop of Canterbury, who leads the Church of England and is the symbolic head of the global Anglican Church, said he "dreamed" of a time when governments would replace church charities. This arguably represents a weird trusting of the state over the charitable efforts of followers of Jesus Christ.

"Today I dream that governments, now and in the future, put church-run food banks out of business. I dream of empty night shelters," Justin Welby said in a speech celebrating the 150th anniversary of England's Trades Union Congress (TUC), a national labor union.

As if to underscore his point, the archbishop posted a short video of these exact remarks on Facebook, with the post title "Let's put food banks out of business." Justin Welby also wrote, "Today I said let’s put church-run food banks and night-shelters out of business."

From its inception, Christianity has championed private charity and generally looked with suspicion upon government replacements of personal efforts. Jesus did not put forth a political program. Instead, He urged His followers to help the poor and needy on their own, rather than enlisting the power of the state to do so.

Ironically, Justin Welby's "dream" has to some extent come to pass over the past 100 years, but it has been more tragedy than celebration. Writing in the early 1800s, the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville remarked that one of America's greatest strengths was its voluntary societies — private charities and mutual aid networks that would help people in need. This provided a social safety net that encouraged personal responsibility.

"Those in need looked first to family, kin, and neighbors for aid, including the landlord, who sometimes deferred the rent; the local butcher or grocer, who frequently carried them for a while by allowing bills to go unpaid; and the local saloonkeeper, who often came to their aid by providing loans and outright gifts, including free meals and, on occasion, temporary jobs," historian Walter Tratter wrote. "Next, the needy sought assistance from various agencies in the community — those of their own devising, such as churches or religious groups, social and fraternal associations, mutual aid societies, local ethnic groups, and trade unions."

Tragically, in the 20th century and under the influence of the progressive movement, government replaced this network of private charity, fostering entitlement and ballooning debt.

Justin Welby's "dream" has arguably gone too far, and needs to be reversed. But the ideology of socialism places more hope in the state than in private initiative, and even more hope in the state than in the church.

For a church leader to espouse this ideology is truly tragic. Yet Welby is doing just that.