If the Church of England continues to smother liberal Anglicans, it is heading for a split
Thursday February 16th, 2017
Michael Fabricant MP
Is it time for the Church of England to come out of the closet as a fully-fledged liberal institution and reject the less inclusive elements of Christianity? Apparently not. While the Church’s General Synod has voted not to ‘take note’ of the bishops’ decision that holy matrimony can only ever be between one man and one woman, they have thrown the whole matter back into the long grass for a few more years of indecision.
Now, I cannot claim to have seen the Light of the Lord. I am agnostic. I do not know whether there is a Supreme Being or not but I want the church to thrive.
There is much to admire about the Church of England. Compared to many Christian and other denominations it is liberal-minded and almost laid-back
I live by a beautiful and historic cathedral in Lichfield and I see for myself how its great tradition of music, community and worship is a valuable part of many people’s lives.
It can also be prescient. I took part in a 2015 General Election Hustings held in the Cathedral as well as a packed out debate on Brexit.
There is much to admire about the Church of England. Compared to many Christian and other denominations it is liberal-minded and almost laid-back.
Instead of preaching about sin and the wrath of God, the message is mostly one of love and tolerance – “love thy neighbour as thyself”. The same can be said for the Episcopal Church, the American constituent of the Anglican Communion, which ordains women and LGBT people.
The sense of community that churches bring should not be understated. For all the scoffing anti-religious sentiments that exist in modern Britain, it is worth remembering that they are a key driver of charity and of helping the least-fortunate in our society. You don’t need to be a Christian to recognise this.
Like most religious denominations however, there is a schism within the Anglican Communion. Supporters of traditional socially conservative values are finding themselves in conflict with those of more open and liberal ideals.
Gay marriage and abortion are the prime hot-button issues but others include sex before marriage and the role of women in the clergy. In Lichfield, some wealthy gay donors to the church feel themselves alienated by an attitude which forces gay vicars to be celibate and fails to recognise equal marriage.
The more “traditional” family values may not be something we all buy into, but one of the main tenants of a truly liberal society is that that liberalism can’t be forcefully imposed on the people from above. The UK, and more specifically the Church of England, are clearly places of diverse opinion. The question is: how do they all come together?
Now may be the right time for an amicable split within the Church
At present, the worldwide Anglican Communion is undergoing a demographic shift. As the average British churchgoer becomes older and older, much of the growth is coming from socially conservative African countries such as Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda.
With the UK and the US increasingly secular and accepting of gay marriage, the Communion is faced with a dilemma: embrace liberalism and risk alienating many Anglican communities from the developing world or court those same communities and become out-of-step with 21st Western liberal values.
Now may be the right time for an amicable split within the Church. Let the liberals and the conservatives go their own separate ways so that the bishops and vicars can spend less time squabbling over gay marriage or women bishops, and more time on the things that really matter.
Jesus Christ preached a message of love and peace, and sometimes that can be lost amongst the arguing. Simply opting for more of the same for the sake of unity amongst a diverse Communion – some of whose views differ little from ISIL – is a choice of quantity over quality.
“While Jews regard the Bible as a morality guide, Christians see the Bible as a comprehensive history”
Embracing liberal Christianity may actually halt the fall in the Church of England’s congregation numbers as well. Religiosity may be declining in the UK but it does not have to be this way. Perhaps if the Church’s teachings were more in-step with the population at large that would in turn lead to more churchgoers.
With atheist “churches” springing up around the country, it seems as if there is still a demand for communal gatherings with music and singing.
Some years ago, a bishop on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day said: “While Jews regard the Bible as a morality guide, Christians see the Bible as a comprehensive history”. This insistence by some Christians on taking the Bible literally rather than figuratively is frequently putting the Church at odds with modern-day Britain.
Some may argue that going down a liberal path would take the Anglican Communion too far away from the teachings of the Bible. They are probably right, but Christianity has already evolved a lot since the Bible was written.
For example, Deuteronomy 22:11 commands that “You shall not wear a material mixed of wool and linen together”, while Exodus 31:15 states that those who work on Sundays should be put to death. Even on something as heinous as slavery, the message is mixed. The Bible is a product of its time.
The social trends are stark. What counted for social liberalism 25 years ago now borders on conservative. In another 25 years the liberal attitudes of today will become the mainstream. These trends are only moving in one direction.
Perhaps the Church should take a tough line on its less progressive elements: get with the times or get out. The longer the Anglican Communion shies away from modern liberal values, the greater the chance that its British, American and Commonwealth Churches will become mere shells of their former selves. Liberal Christianity will suffer.
Surely the most important thing is that the core teachings of Jesus, based around love and charity, are heard by all? If some in the Communion want to break away and follow a more conservative version of Christianity so be it, but let the Church of England and the Anglican Communion fully embrace the 21st century. Its voice might then be heard by all and not just by a small minority in our land.