Welby was a banker and oil executive before he became a priest in 1992, and has only been a bishop for a year. He replaces Rowan Williams, who spent the last ten years trying to keep the Anglican Church from falling to pieces, with limited success.
There are, essentially, two main issues dividing the Anglican Church. One is the ordination of female bishops, and the other is gay rights, specifically, whether the Church should support same-sex marriage and allow the ordination of openly gay bishops.
Welby feels like a compromise candidate. Welby strongly supports the ordination of female bishops in the Anglican Church, but holds to the Anglican Church’s controversial position against gay marriage in the United Kingdom.
Welby’s position on gay marriage feels more passive than his predecessor. He has chosen to be make his position clear but moderate, rather than coming out strongly against gay marriage. With gay marriage seemingly in Britain’s immediate future, Welby seems to have chosen the position that he feels will best hold his church together. By opposing gay marriage, he appeases his conservative base, but by not appearing too passionate about the issue, he doesn’t necessarily alienate moderate liberals.
Of course, as Britain is losing over a thousand Christians a day, trying to take a middle-of-the-road stance might just lead to further deterioration of the church. Refusing to take a strong stance, in some ways, just asserts the Anglican Church’s irrelevance. Perhaps the Anglican Church needs a leader who will radically alter it, politically and culturally. It does not, however, seem like Justin Welby will be that leader.