26 NOVEMBER 2012
WHY THE ANGLICAN CHURCH SHOULD BE DISESTABLISHED
When I began this blog just a few months ago, I told myself that if I wanted to become a popular author, there were two subjects I should studiously avoid. One was politics and the other was religion. Last week I broached the first when I talked about Tax Avoidance – this week I’m going to broach the second. I should know better, but when there’s something on your mind ...
I have long been a critic of the Christian church in this country. To me it seems to grow more and more outdated with every utterance and less amenable to the people it is intended to serve. Its popularity has drastically declined and as it has tried to combat this trend by increased interference in secular affairs, it has moved further and further away from any truly religious purpose. It is beset by the problems of modernity and in its attempts to solve them, has become exclusively inward facing.
At the meeting of The General Synod of The Church of England last week there was an opportunity to redress that perception. By voting for the introduction of women bishops, the CoE could have brought itself into the 20th (if not quite the 21st) century and made the kind of progress it has been urged to. Along with most everyone else, I fully expected it to do so and was truly astounded when it did not. The old saying about ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’ immediately came to mind as in one fell swoop, they succeeded in making themselves completely irrelevant to the needs of our modern life.
Why should I care, you may ask? After all, I am an atheist and thereby potentially unaffected. My beliefs (or lack of them) are in part due to my scientific leanings at school and university. I inhabited a real world governed by proven rules, none of which admitted of the possibility of another dimension. Added to which, my personal upbringing was founded on self-reliance – if anything went wrong in my life, I was the one who had to put it right and I never looked to deity for assistance.
In some ways I regret this stance and I sometimes find myself envious of those who can turn to religion in times of need. Through my own beliefs I am denied the comfort, strength and faith in human nature that those who do believe can draw on at such times. Knowing the power of healing this can provide, I am keen to maintain the existence of a strong church as a force for good as I can only imagine it will lead to greater social stability. This can be a cruel world and it’s important that we should have something else to turn to other than the rampant materialism that threatens to engulf us.
But the Anglican Church has singularly failed us in this regard. Those within its bounds would argue differently, I’m sure. But they are few and for every one of those who can ignore the church’s deficiencies purely through their love of Christ, there are hundreds of thousands of unredeemed souls who cannot and thereby go unserved. And while the CoE continues its internal wrangling, it is this majority, this bulk of Britain, that turn away, like me, and are denied. In this way, the moral and spiritual health of our Nation as a whole is impaired and that’s something we should all be concerned about.
My friends in ‘the church’ tell me there are reasons why women should not be bishops. They cite theological problems – a bishop must ‘stand in the place of God’ and how can a woman do that when God is a man? (There’s obviously a problem with that too, but let’s not over-complicate matters). They say that by comparison to its past history, the church has moved quickly on such matters. And yet it’s 19 years since the ordination of women priests – 37 since the church was granted exemption from the requirements of the Equality Act – and the situation has still not been dealt with.
These arguments may well hold water but they are not understood by, nor do they impress, the vast majority of the British public. It’s akin to British Rail telling us that they can’t run trains because there are leaves on the line. Technically speaking, that may be true, but they they’re there every year and we expect the problem to be cleared to provide us with a service.
The Government is clearly frustrated. With a few minor exceptions, they take the same practical view that I do – a strong church helps make us a strong nation. The question arises as to whether they should interfere. On the question of taking control of the CoE and pushing through change, I say not. The Anglican Church, like the BBC, must remain independent of direct political influence and if they choose to vote for the turkey’s equivalent of Christmas, let them. What I say is that by doing so they no longer deserve to be the appointed church of the Nation. Let us ‘disestablish’ them and find a church that better serves the needs of the British people.
My friends in ‘the church’ tell me this would cause a constitutional crisis. Maybe so, but we’ve dealt with those before. In 1534 Henry VIII did it so that he could marry the woman he wanted. It seems to me that we could do it now for a far more important reason. The Anglican Church is no longer ‘fit for purpose’. Look to it ma’am, and do your duty!