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Time to end the Church of “No”

Time to end the Church of “No”

This month the Church of England has suffered a one-two self-inflicted punch. First, the General Synod narrowly defeats women bishops, now the reaction to the proposal to marriage equality, which went from panic to stepping back from the ledge. This is not just an institutional battle. It has become the way that many people have come to know the Gospel. The preoccupation with women and sex is driving people away from the Church.

Jerome Taylor writes in The Independent:

New census data revealed this morning showed that just shy of 1,100 people in England and Wales ditch their Christian identity every day.

Meanwhile the only organisation that has a duty to marry British citizens will, the government announced this afternoon, be legally allowed to discriminate once more against gay men and women. Not a good day for the Church of England. If I were a Lords Spiritual right now, I’d be rather nervous about keeping my job. The established church has never looked so out of touch with the rest of Britain.

It must come as no surprise that the same decade which has resulted in four million fewer people calling themselves Christian has also been a period in which Christianity has been paralysed by polemical debates about genitals – mainly what type of genitals you have and what you do with them.

True, secularism has been consistently on the rise since the Second World War. But at times over the last ten years it has felt like Christianity – and the Church of England in particular – has rarely talked about anything other than sex in the form of women bishops and gays.

It leaves the Church of England facing a genuine crisis. The historical goodwill traditionally shown by the British public and political classes towards Anglicanism is beginning to run dry.

Thinking Anglicans points to an editorial in the Church Times which says that the time has come for the Church of England to stop being the “Church of No.”

However mollifying various sections of the Church have been in the past, Tuesday thus established the C of E as a gay-unfriendly institution: the Church that says “No.” Religion has been a key part of marriage for many, but this is not a given. The Church has the privilege of blessing the unions that people bring to it. Since the blessing it offers or withholds is God’s, it needs to be sure that its interpretation is sound and explicable. Many believe that it is not. The way of testing this in the C of E is through the amending of canons – a long and, on such a divisive issue, tortuous process. The Government proposes to leave Churches to make up their own minds. In the mean time, there are the twin concerns of public perception and mission. A greater enthusiasm for the blessing of same-sex partnerships in church would be one effective way of countering the negative impression given this week.


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Gary Paul Gilbert

“Religion is over” is a modernist cliché. It depends what one means by “religion” and “over.” “Religion” is a Latin notion and does not apply to every culture. The notion of an end of religion, like an end of history in Hegel, would suggest that eventually things will eventually be summed up or make sense, in itself a grand narrative claiming to rise above religion or history. The end of the notion of a grand narrative would require a suspension of the use of “the end of X.”

A simpler approach would be to say “So what!” Buddhism teaches that being is becoming.

Ethics is more important than ontology. A changed life ought to be the focus, as Ann says.

Gary Paul Gilbert

William R. MacKaye

Harriet Baber must be walking around with a pail over her head if she thinks no one has noticed the shift of the Episcopal Church and several other mainline churches on the appropriateness of same-sex relationships. To the contrary, it has been widely noticed. The media report news they believe their public is interested in. The churches’ shift to approval of ordained women and of same-sex relationship has been covered almost ad nauseam. Again, contrary to what she suggests, I believe studies show that religious observance, while on the decline, is highest among the college-educated.

Bob Patrick

Like many others, I too am tired of religion’s preoccupation with gender and sexuality. Let’s accept all people and move forward.

Ann Fontaine

Christ came for all of us– and will not be stopped because a few allegedly educated so-called elite think belief is stupid. The one I follow is not entertainment or an intellectual exercise. but someone who changes lives. Maybe if you can show how Christ has changed your life – your friends might want what you have found (or hopefully found).

Harriet Baber

Unfortunately it’s not going to work: no matter how loudly liberal churches yell about their good liberal views about sex, sex roles and gay rights, no one notices, or takes them seriously. The Episcopal Church has for decades publicized its liberal principles and, most recently supported same-sex unions and gay rights. No one noticed. …

The churches that are holding their own are those that appeal to a niche market: the socially conservative working class. But this is a short term strategy since that group is shrinking against the population. For now though they’re the only market on which churches can count: educated, upper middle class people are contemptuous of religion.

It’s depressing, but that’s the way it is. I’m one of those educated, upper middle class urban-coastal folk. In my social world Christianity isn’t even on the table any longer–at best it’s an interesting historical curiosity, like Ptolemaic astronomy and the theory of the Four Humors.

So, regrettably, religion is over. Not in our lifetimes, or in our children’s but easily within the next 200 years. It will linger on amongst disadvantaged, low-status groups–in the Global South and in affluent countries amongst immigrants and the lower classes. But when the immigrants assimilate, as they will, and the lower classes rise and the Global South improves, they will go secular too.

Let us enjoy religion while we can because soon it will be over. The End.

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