Monday, 27 January 2014

Last Rites for the Church of England?

BBC Radio 4 this evening broadcast “Last Rites for the Church of England?” in which Andrew Brown “asks if the Church of England has become fatally disconnected from society.” The half-hour programme will be broadcast again on Sunday 2 February at 2130.

But you can listen to the programme online here now. There is also a 13 MB downloadable podcast.

Posted by Peter Owen on Monday, 27 January 2014 at 10:13pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

The "diversity" argument forwarded by Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, is amoral. The church would not benefit from the "diversity" of tolerating racists, and it doesn't benefit from soft-soaping homophobia, either. Stevens is equally wet in his defense of the welfare state, conceding its founding ideals at the outset.

This is why dogmatists triumph, be they religious, or neo-liberal. They know what they believe, and fight for it. Moderates equivocate and fence-sit and get pushed aside.

If the march of the oppressors is ever to be stopped, the psychological reasons for this must be found. Personally, I suspect that it's tied to a combination of privilege and cowardice: these are abstract "issues" that will never affect a hand-wringing mandarin personally; and fence-sitting makes for a quiet life.

We must find a way to develop both clarity and courage in our convictions.

Posted by: James Byron on Monday, 27 January 2014 at 11:12pm GMT

The Church of Denmark is not thriving, just because Danish families pay Church tax! Denmark has not experienced the mass immigration which Sweden ( 25 per cent of the population)has and not disestablished its Church.This is folk religion in Denmark.

Islam is growing because of immigration. Particularly as the core Islamic population recruits brides from the Indian sub coontinent.

Holy Trinity does preach against homosexuality and regularly prays for the deliverence of gay people.

Brown does not show how the Church of England has completely caved in on heterosexual morality.

Divorced and re-married clergy ( plus laity ) are a hallmark of thriving Anglican alternatives like ACNA and CESA.

Of course you can have thriving Anglican Churches like Nigeria..where on paper the doctrine is upheld, but the private lived out experience is far from Biblical.

And look at the sad shameful example of Catholics... the Vatican has not caved in on contraception, but Spain and Italy have the lowest birth rates on earth!

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 7:22am GMT

If the theme of 'Life after death' is still valid in the Church of England, then perhaps the present situation might produce a slimmed down functional Body of Christ for the future - after what some people (including, apparently, Andrew Brown) have diagnosed as stagnation before demise.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 7:29am GMT

Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks
With compassion on this world.

Teresa of Avila's prayer for our model, the body of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament as food for our journey. We shall survive.

Posted by: Jill Armstead on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 8:23am GMT

The "diversity" argument forwarded by Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester does not even make sense. The program starts by showing that the views of most churchgoers are the same as those in society and that it is only the hierarchy that is stuck in the 1950s. There is no "society out there" and a completely separate church.
It would therefore be very easy to move at a much faster speed on all the contentious issues.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 9:27am GMT

Yes the church should always ape the culture around it. Jesus said blend in, don't be distinctive. That will be much more successful in spreading the faith. We only have to look across the pond to see that. Wise advice, Andrew Brown, thank you so much.

Posted by: James on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 11:51am GMT

RIW said "Divorced and re-married clergy (plus laity ) are a hallmark of thriving Anglican alternatives like ACNA and CESA." Again, the propaganda machines of right-wing homophobic groups have met their target. Since RIW agrees with their positions, small wonder he calls them "thriving". Even if ACNA/CESA put a positive spin on everything they do, and because they have only to go up as new bodies, would RIW please back up this assertion with facts?

Posted by: Adam Armstrong on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 3:35pm GMT

Thanks for the link to Andrew Brown's BBC radio piece on the C of E. I don't know anywhere near enough about your context there to comment upon the details of his program. However, I am intrigued by his use of the term "values gap" between the C of E and the general public presumably. The existence of a values gap between the church and the wider society is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, the church's critique of the so called free market and the social Darwinism it spawns, may be an indicator of faithfulness to the Gospel over and against widely accepted social attitudes. The issue is more about what accounts for the gap. In the case of the the "values gap" between a homophobic church and the wider society, and unlike the church's economic critique which has at least the possibility of being grounded in something intelligent, the values gap on the sexuality issues is based largely on dogmatism paired up with the most profound type of religious insularity and ignorance.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 4:19pm GMT

Rod Gillis -

i think by "values gap" he means that society perceives the church's stance on gender and sexual orientation in particular as immoral. When the church critiques society over greed, inequality etc, even when people don't agree, they recognise there is a moral thrust to the argument which one would expect from a church. When however the church becomes less moral than society that is when you have a values gap, and that is what is tearing at the church's credibility.

Posted by: sjh on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 6:23pm GMT

"The existence of a values gap between the church and the wider society is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, the church's critique of the so called free market and the social Darwinism it spawns,"

That's somewhat missing the point. Free market ideology, red in tooth and claw, is not a value widespread, or deeply embedded, in the population at large: it's the intellectual framework of theoreticians in certain political parties. It has an effect on the way we live because those theoreticians have some influence on politicians, but people do not, at least in sufficient quantity to affect the demographics of a mass church, have "I am a free market theoretician" at the core of their being. Almost no one is going to stand up and walk out of the room if you suggest that the Chicago School of monetarism has proven to be wrong in the long term, or when you propose that markets cannot operate without regulation to avoid the rise of monopolies and monopsonies, or indeed that markets have to be tempered with values: Ayn Rand is hardly respectable these days. It would be like storming out of a dinner party because you disagree with your host's position on P vs NP (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P_versus_NP_problem): no one cares that deeply, no matter how important it might appear intellectually.

By contrast, a lot of people, sufficient to seriously impact on the viability of a mass church, do wake up in the morning and orient their life around not being a hate-filled bigot. So if you stand up at a lectern and suggest that discriminating against people on the grounds of their sexuality is a good idea, people will walk out. And a lot more people will never be in the room with you in the first place. People don't see the need to engage intellectually with this sort of stuff, any more than they will debate anti-Semitism as though it's something worth considering.

Speaking out against excessive market liberalisation is hardly counter-cultural; vast numbers agree with you, and those that disagree with you are happy to engage in reasoned debate. Speaking out in favour of discrimination is rather more counter-cultural: people will just think you're vile and refuse to associate with you.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 6:35pm GMT

I thought the radio programme was all over the place, a one man's meandering of thoughts with a few interviews. There are two issues: one is European and British specifically patterns of 'stay away' and 'arms-length' secularisation, and then the connected gap in beliefs, but a Church can always become even more sectarian and disconnected for numerical growth among the diminishing support base and this always seems more 'clear' than being broad based and more connected but then seemingly indistinct.

Posted by: Pluralist on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 6:52pm GMT

I read this piece today, "5 churchy phrases that are scaring off millennials" and I'm pondering a connection between it and all this:

http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2013/11/07/5-churchy-phrases-that-are-scaring-off-millennials/25149

I get that James was being sarcastic as all heck and arguing against being "of the world" -- the Shakers took that to the extremes, too, James, let's ask them how they made out with that...

Posted by: Randal Oulton on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 7:07pm GMT

My point is that ACNA is immoral ( with clergy and leadership heavily mired in divorce and re-marriage), and yet they claim to be growing. They claim 100,000 adherents..whether that is true or not. CESA congregations are also thriving in South Africa, but so are the Mormons! Numbers prove nothing as regards truth.

Posted by: robert Ian williams on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 7:11pm GMT

Rod,
I thought the "values gap" was not so much between church and society but with most church going Anglicans and the policy making hierarchy.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 8:19pm GMT

"Teresa of Avila's prayer for our model, the body of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament as food for our journey. We shall survive.

Posted by: Jill Armstead

Thanks you, Jill, for this important reminder of the power of Christ in the Eucharist to vitalise the Body of Christ. St. Teresa of Avila knew a thing or two about opposing the intransigence of the Church in her day.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 8:58pm GMT

Interested Observer says it very well indeed. Opposing market-worship is a position with widespread support; endorsing homophobia because a 2,000 collection of texts says so isn't.

This "following culture" argument used to defend homophobia is baloney. Homophobia is unpopular because it's wrong, not wrong because it's unpopular. Numbers are irrelevant.

Tim Stevens' wretched argument in favor of slow change for its own sake exemplifies all that's wrong with the thinking of patrician and disconnected leaders. Who the hell is he to set the timetable for gay people's freedom?

Posted by: James Byron on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 11:47pm GMT

Liz Oldfield refers (almost at the end of the broadcast) to the Church being almost completely moribund in the eighteenth century. She makes a reference to their being 'only 20 people in St Paul's on Christmas Day'.

Hmm. Perhaps the numbers were so small because: (i) cathedrals were often quite moribund; (ii) St Paul's had no parish (save St Faith under St Paul's); and (iii) most communicants would have been in their own parish churches.

I simply do not buy into the hoary old chestnut that the Church was at death's door in much of the country; this is history out of Lytton Strachey, which the clergy 'subscribed with a sigh and a smile' to the Articles, rode to hounds and were sunk in port or claret. I have read too many visitation returns to the contrary. The eighteenth century was still an age where the sermons of fashionable preachers were the most popular form of literature, and the most widely published, and the parish church was the very heart of the community in its civil as well as ecclesiastical aspects.

Yes, there is a degree of disconnect. Having worshiped in a great many churches I have been struck by two things: (a) the weekend timetables of most people have changed, but the churches have not tailored their service times to accommodate them (especially the young); and (b) there is almost never any cold calling (once a staple of ministry) - often for perfectly good reasons, but its absence means that the parish church seldom comes into the consciousness of most people. Also, I wish that certain church people would stop talking about churchy things, and would just concentrate on the more critical business of being hail-fellow-well-met in their own communities (which is much the most critical part of ministry).

Posted by: J Drever on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 at 12:48am GMT

@ sjh, I couldn't agree more. @Erika, I understood the values gap to be both alienating the average person in the pew from the hierarchy as well as reducing credibility between the church and those in the wider society.

However, @ interested observer, I think it's you who missed my point.Catholic social teaching, whether presented officially by the R.C. church, or in a more eclectic and borrowed way by Anglicans, is an example of a gap in which the church is correct to advance a perspective that is at odds with the lived values of the wider society. Talk to Roman Catholics about the degree to which Catholic social teaching is ignored or not even on the radar in most western democratic countries, including for church goers. I think, as well, that you overstate the reasonableness with which people are prepared to accept, as a moral question,critical reflection on how they make and spend their money. In moral theology, a "value" can be either a positive or a negative. Organized religion is quite capable of holding both types at the same time.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 at 4:27am GMT

Rod, yes, but you asked whether a value gap between the church and society was a bad thing in principle.

If your average person in the pew, who is also an average member of society, is alienated from the values of the hierarchy, then we can no longer really speak of a value gap between "church" and society. The most we could say is that there is a value gap between the few at the top of the church and the rest of the country.

Which means that we can no longer frame the question in terms of "secular" vs "Christian" morals, in terms of being countercultural etc.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 at 5:39pm GMT

@ Erika,The voice over lead into the program tagged the issue as the "disconnect" between the C of E and the wider society. Brown ends his piece by linking the future viability of the church to its doctrine and teachings. Throughout he links the views of a (the tiny number) of churchgoers believe opinions in the wider society. At about thirteen minutes in, Brown claims Anglicans are more right wing than their leaders on the welfare state. Hence my assertion ( not a question) that a values gap is not necessarily bad in itself. There are other relevant questions to be asked, such as what values, how are they grounded, who is empowered or disempowered when, for example, the poor are lifted up and the rich are sent away empty. When Canadian Church leaders, in a very different social context than England and the C of E, have spoken out on justice issues, the rejoinder from vested interests has often been "I'll bet we can find lots of people who go to your church who don't agree with that". Prophetic moments are not often populist moments. Notwithstanding,the church has some very legitimate significant problems with credibility. No argument there.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 12:31am GMT

Rod, you're right, Andrew Brown did that. I felt it was not a very credible link. For a start, it depends on which issues we are talking about. When it comes to the topics where the church is really tearing itself apart and where it is at complete odds with society, gay people and women bishops, those in the pews share the liberal views of society.
That does not mean they may not be more conservative on other issues.

So it is really not very meaningful to then continue to speak of "the church", suddenly referring to the hierarchy and official policies for the rest of the program.

And where Brown links the future of the church to its doctrine and teaching he is no longer referring to the church's attitude on benefits (there is no official teaching on benefits) but back to the 2 big stumbling blocks - and there, the value gap is between society plus most of those who attend church and the hierarchy again.

So "the church" that has to sort out its doctrines is actually "just" the top layer. The rest of us have already comfortably moved on.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 9:03am GMT

@Erika, in stating that the top layer has to sort out doctrines while the rest of us have comfortably moved on, you collapse a rather more complicated situation prematurely. Depending on the issue, the controversy WITHIN the church on certain issues, raises the question about whether the "rest of us " have moved on or whether some of us have moved on. There is also the further question as to the extent church members have moved on by comparison with their leaders. Example, many people attend church and participate but disagree with their church's conservative social positions. They still stay and work for change. These folks have become, not drop outs, but, dissidents within. So,have they "moved on" in the same sense that folks on the rolls who never attend have moved on? One must also be careful about making a categorical distinction between lay persons who have moved on and leaders who have not. There are also leaders who disagree with their church's official positions,and have manifested this position variously. I stated in my original post that I do not feel competent to comment on the nuances of the English scene. I wanted to simply point toward an underlying global problem with Brown's rather flattened out analysis. Reading the posts here, I suspect that many posters have difficulty stepping out of the established church context which is the focus of Brown's radio piece. In Canada, the church is at odds with the wider society on a variety of issues, sexuality, social justice, race relationships, even basic belief. There is no established church that has to balance being prophetic with the burden of being the church by law established. However, I will grant that the right of same sex couples to marry in Canada has put our marginal Anglican Church here in an increasingly uncomfortable position. By the way, parish clergy, who are leaders,presbyters, are among the discomforted on this one.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 3:09pm GMT

Rod,
when we talk about "society" we generally mean those 90+ % of Christians who no longer go to church. These people by and large have absolutely no idea what goes on inside a church. They would not know whether their local church was inclusive or conservative, they would not have a clue about liturgy, hymns, their view on women priests or on gay marriage.
What people "in society" know of the CoE today they know from the media.
And in the media we have a former Archbishop who consistently lambasts his successor and who is in the forefront of fighting against gay equality and who complains about Christians being persecuted in Britain.
We have the Christian Institute that fights expensive and high profile battles to defend the right of Christian people to tread gays as second class dirt.
Just over a year ago the country watched aghast when General Synod voted against women bishops (nuanced reports explained that it was about insufficient “protection”).
And last summer we had an Archbishop of Canterbury who apologised for the church's homophobia while proudly voting against civil marriage equality.
And Anglican Mainstream hog the papers by staging yet another conference complaining that they might no longer be allowed to try an cure gays and doesn't that show how persecuted they are. And Christians plaster adverts on London busses telling the world that there’s something amazing about being a cured gay person.

Yes, some congregations may have to change their views. But by and large, most don't actively discriminate against the gay couple in their midst. They might not approve but they keep their thoughts to themselves. Exceptions do exist, of course!
Only a tiny proportion of parishes opposes women priests and even then it's not usually the whole congregation.

When church gets it right it reverberates through society. You just need to look at the positive reception of Pope Francis’s message of simplicity and support for the outcast. And Justin Welby got it right with his payday loan campaign. People like to see a caring church that tries to live the gospel.

But no-one "in society" will know this because until the top lot changes their outlook and stops presenting the church as the last bastion of everything abhorrent, they won't even be tempted to come in and have a look.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 9:13am GMT

Erika, I don't think we are all that far apart on the "issues". I appreciate what you name about the English context, which I only know about in the most general of terms. Although, I think your context is driving your argument. That the church, Christianity, has some very big problems, not just with a "values gap" but with credibility in general is not really news. This state of affairs does not obviate the need for a critical appraisal of a rather one dimensional mantra which exhorts the church to change its values and doctrine in order to become more successful in society, which is what I understood Brown to be advocating--at least in his radio piece. I thought that Elizabeth Oldfield from Theos, as recorded in the program had a better grasp of the nuances of the issues as they were presented in the broadcast. Bottom line, I think one can be very frustrated, as I am, with the church's stance on sexuality and human rights while at the same time asking critical questions about the wider implications of Andrew Brown's somewhat stark proposition. One wonders, if the church were to reverse itself and become a beacon of human rights tomorrow, would its offer of being a worshiping, inclusive, justice making community change very much in the eyes of the world?

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 3:42pm GMT

Rod, yes, I am talking about the English context because Andrew Brown talked about a disconnect between the CoE and society.

Would churches attract more people if they became beacons of human rights? I don't know. I would hope so. People might at least be more interested to find out.
And if not? Then churches would still have the right focus and no longer a disconnect with society.

To some extent, the question sounds a little like that lovely cartoon that's been doing the rounds on Facebook where someone asks at a global warming conference: and if global warming turns out to be wrong we will have made the world a better place to live in for nothing!

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 7:12pm GMT

@Erika, yes he did. I said I don't feel informed enough to comment on the specifics of that; but the proposition i.e. change doctrine and policies in order to become more appealing to a wider society has implications. Notwithstanding the fact that some church policies are out to lunch and ought to be scrapped, Brown's assertion meets the test for "the end justifies the means". We have mainstream churches in Canada (not Anglican I have to say) that advertise themselves as "post-theist". The radical change in doctrine is problematic, but has not been very successful from a marketing point of view. Perhaps the C of E could find an inclusive niche, just as it does for Tories and patriarchal types, for pagans?

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 9:08pm GMT

Rod,
"the end justifies the means"
Would that not depend on what the end is? And what doctrines were supposed to be changed? People often use the terms doctrine and policy as if they were the same thing. I have not come across any doctrine that repels people so much that it is a stumbling block to faith. I have come across some explanations of doctrine that are repelling.

And "the end" is not some form of religion light but genuine faith. If our words and actions currently make it very hard to people to even explore the possibility of genuine faith then, yes ,means to change that are justified.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 3 February 2014 at 9:14am GMT
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