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Thursday, 13 December 2012

Liars or in denial?


There have been some interesting responses to the publication of the 2011 census data relating to religion in this country, particularly regarding the drop in the number of people claiming to be Christians. My favourite is this from the Ven Jan McFarlane, Archdeacon of Norwich, in response to the revelation that Norwich is the most godless city in England.  Her description of religious life in Norwich as she sees it suggests that either she is wilfully blind or the good people of Norwich are liars when it comes to filling in census forms. Although the 'religion' question is voluntary it is an offence to supply false information. I have seen no evidence to suggest that citizens of Norwich are less trustworthy than others in the United Kingdom but according to the Archdeacon they are "doing their churchgoing differently" whatever that means.  

In her interview she reminded me of Geraldine Granger trying to convince me that despite the evidence to the contrary everything was rosy. All became clear after a little investigatory work which revealed that, like the Prime Minister, the Archdeacon is a communications person, the Director of Communications for the Diocese of Norwich no less. All the more surprising then that I missed her contribution to Archbishop Rowan's notorious Enough Waiting campaign in what must rank as the most disingenuous performance of the many broadcast especially with the benefit of hindsight.

Next in line and always keen to grab a headline even if it undermines the position of the Church of England is the Archbishop of Wales. Based in Llandaff in deepest penitential purple - but only on the map - Dr Morgan's response to Wales coming second to Norwich in godlessness showed the same sense of denial in comparing the declining membership of the church with the decline of the TUC. There is no surprise that TUC membership has declined after the decimation of Welsh industry which has left many young people on his patch with no hope of work but the Archbishop has only himself to blame for the decline in church membershipenthusiastically aided by a single-minded bench of bishops which leaves no room for an alternative strategy. Dr Morgan claims that 'relatively speaking' the church is still 'quite strong' and believes that further decline is 'by no means inevitable'. Strange then that he had to set up a Review to manage the decline of the Church in Wales while safeguarding the cosy position of all seven bishops in a Province only the size of the Diocese of Oxford.

But there is worse to come for the Archbishop and other senior management staff in the 'modern institution' the Anglican Church is being converted into. Commenting on the decline in Christianity, Professor Richard Dawkins congratulated the people of Wales for coming out ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom, apparently giving little if any thought for those who have nothing as he encourages them to consider 'why they are here'! As bad as the figures are on face value, they are even worse based on what Professor Dawkins had to say about a Mori poll his Foundation commissioned in the census week. When asked why people ticked the 'Christian' box, they said that it was because they think of themselves as 'a good person' so the decline in Christianity is even worse than it appears. I wonder if that is what the Ven Jan McFarlane had in mind when she said that the people of Norwich were doing their churchgoing differently? I can think of many Christians in that category, going to church regularly once a year to sing a few carols. No wonder churches are closing for lack of support.

Had the position been reversed with census figures showing a dramatic increase in churchgoing, advocates of change would be shouting from the rooftops that it was all due to the ordination of women but with the figures as they are and put in an even worse light by Professor Dawkins' poll, they are simply met with denial using one excuse after another. Before the figures were published the Archbishop of Canterbury dismissed the expected fall saying that it was 'a common “cliché” that religion is in decline' drawing attention to a recent study showing a dramatic rise in the number of people visiting cathedrals for prayer or reflection as much as the architecture. With cathedral sightseeing fees of up to £15 per head I am not in the least surprised that people opt to go in free for prayer and reflection during one of the services.

All the evidence suggests that the Church of England and the Church in Wales are heading for disaster while other religions continue to grow but they refuse to provide a life boat for those who can see what is coming. Judging from the response by the House of Bishops to the lost Synod vote nothing is about to change. Their agenda is summed up in this paragraph: "The House expressed its ongoing gratitude and appreciation for the ministry of ordained women in the Church of England, and its sadness that recent events should have left so many feeling undermined and undervalued. Effective response to this situation is a priority on which all are strongly agreed." Having acknowledged the deadly sin of 'profound and widespread sense of anger' ...felt by so many in the Church of England and beyond, and agreed that the present situation was unsustainable for all, whatever their convictions, the House of Bishops will have an additional meeting in February and expects to settle at its May meeting the elements of a new legislative package to come to Synod in July. Note the absence of regret for the beleaguered minority left feeling undermined and undervalued after daring to vote according to conscience as instructed by Archbishop Rowan before the vote was taken.

The statement continues: For any such proposals to command assent, the House believes that they will need (i) greater simplicity, (ii) a clear embodiment of the principle articulated by the 1998 Lambeth Conference "that those who dissent from as well as those who assent to, the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate are both loyal Anglicans", (iii) a broadly-based measure of agreement about the shape of the legislation in advance of the beginning of the actual legislative process. These concerns will be the focus of the working group in the months ahead. Forgive me if I am wrong but listening to the Venerable Jan 
McFarlane after the hysteria that followed the lost vote, I venture to suggest this may be interpreted as (i) a single clause, (ii) 'loyal Anglicans' can go to hell, and (iii) anything they can get away with since WATCH are in the driving seat. As indicated in my previous post there is only one safe way forward to counter this. Orthodox Anglicans must insist that provision is first made for traditionalists in any legislation. The House of Bishops, WATCH and their supporters imply that intention but without any guarantee and we know what to make of past promises. If they are sincere, what have they to fear? 

The statements referred to above indicate that the Anglican Church is in denial and doomed to failure without a period of deep reflection. This is the response of the Church in Wales to the state of Christianity in Wales: The figures show that Christianity "is no longer the default setting it once was for many people in Wales...Today we find people go to church because they want to, not because they feel they have to or because it's the place to see and be seen...It should also be borne in mind that statistics can't show the whole picture in matters of faith...The past few months, for example, have seen people in different parts of Wales turn to churches in their thousands following various tragic events: in Machynlleth, in Ely, in St Asaph...People find God when life gets tough and it is the Church's privilege to be there for them whenever and wherever we may be needed."

We are rapidly reaching a situation that when life gets tough there will be no churches for people to go to. After they have been converted to mosques not even Jedi Knights will be able to help them. Britain will miss Christianity when its gone




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