Monday, September 26, 2016

The Church of England now has no place for believers in the traditional family (Contribution)

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby during prayers following the Good Friday March of Witness through Sittingbourne in KentBeing a member of the Church of England is to belong to a strange club, or so it seems to me. 

All the rules have changed since I joined as an infant, or rather since my parents imposed their religion onto me (something which is now discouraged).

There is no escape from the new ethos of the place and even the flannely Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is zealous in his mission to drag us all, no matter how recalcitrant, into the modern, post-Christian age.

Like most persons of the liberal Left he is keen to eradicate the last vestiges of the evil Victorian age. 

Growing up in the 1960s I continually heard, particularly from the BBC, that the era of unparalleled prosperity which followed the Battle of Waterloo was in fact a shameful time of destructive imperialism, racism, misogyny, hypocrisy, poverty, ugly architecture, repression and stodgy food. 

Welby has now returned to that well-worn theme, this time seeking out perhaps the last bastion of the old ways.

In a sermon to the Mother’s Union in Winchester Cathedral, to celebrate 140 years of their support for motherhood, apple pie and Christian family life, he told them that gay marriage is now a reality "whether we like it or not." 

He argued in the Lords against gay marriage, but has now decided to settle with it. His message to the women was really all about accommodation of one kind or another. His intellectual tool was a crosier rather than a crowbar, but it had the same effect: to remind them that a Victorian golden age of traditional family values was only a sad "myth."

What are those Victorian family values? 

One can hardly remember, but if they were anything to do with the marriage of a man and a woman, and if the man had any particular authority in the home, they are best buried and forgotten. He didn’t need to say any of that but advised them to face up to the, "reality of divorce, cohabitation and gay marriage in the 21st century."

The Mother’s Union was founded by Mary Sumner, a rector’s wife, in 1876. In the rural parish where I grew up members who gathered in the church on a Wednesday morning were lower down the social scale than the women who joined the WI. My own mother fell between two cassocks on that one, being too well educated for the MU who were seen as stuffy and rather quaint, but she felt, not posh enough for the WI. 

Like many sensible women she avoided both and got up with her own version of Christian home life without their help.

But forty years on, the MU has surely become a more valuable group, at least in the UK. As rare and precious as white rhino, they somehow still manage to believe in the sanctity of Christian marriage and the home. 

As such they are perhaps the last bastion of traditional church thinking and, like Mensheviks after the October Revolution or a beast with an ivory horn, they surely can’t have long to go. 

It is rather sad, if only from a conservationist point of view, that this church mopping-up exercise by Welby has finally reached them, and on their own anniversary.

The Archbishop told them that Mary Sumner "acted out of concern not only for her own family but for a country in a terrible situation in which children were not nurtured, women were at risk, households were not stable and the church was not doing very much about it other than preaching."

The Anglo-Catholic church was highly active from the 1830s onwards. Their re-found religious priorities of striving for heaven through prayer, sacrament and the Christian virtues brought them into direct contact with the social and evangelistic problems of the industrial working class, the very people the current CofE would love to cultivate and fails to attract. 

Christian influence led to the abolition of slavery and large amounts of reforming legislation throughout the 19th century, but the facts of Christian history do not fit in well with the "Welby Accommodation."

In his sermon to the MU he singled out "preaching" by Victorian clerics as some kind of empty signalling. Fearing the charge of hypocrisy and worse, lack of inclusivity, Welby’s church no longer preaches anything that might be considered moral instruction. Its words encourage accommodation of the state, as it is, and left-wing social policy.

Justin Welby is of course a moderate man, displaying the kind of balance which was once considered the great virtue of Anglicanism. He voted to remain in the EU but said it was "absolutely outrageous" for people’s fears about immigration to be dismissed as racist. He spoke gently and some would say wisely about the recent Islamist murder of a French priest, tweeting in English and French:

For some of us stick-in-the-muds, tweeting was perhaps not the best way to respond to a situation which we insist on seeing as a looming crisis with Islam. We were reminded that his words followed those of a previous Archbishop who said we should learn to accept the parallel rule of Sharia Law. Moderation is not the virtue it once was because it now floats  in a sea of radicalism.

Although the current Archbishop pretends to moderation in all things, when he suggested to the Mother’s Union that, instead of aspiring to live up to Victorian "myths," they should get with the human rights act, I suspect he is not very moderate at all. He is leading a church which is rapidly and absurdly losing its way.

I realised the extent of this blind alley when I attended a debate in the University Church in Oxford two years ago, entitled, "the future of the church of England." I thought this would be about tackling the the drastic decline in church numbers, the number of UK Anglicans having fallen by two fifths from around 13 million church goers to about eight and a half million in the last ten year. 

This "Whither the Church" gathering turned out to be all about gay rights, or what was perceived to be the lack of them. In July 2015, it was revealed that the church had decided to spend over a quarter of a million pounds on retreats to discuss homosexuality using "conflict resolution experts." 

At the same time a church think-tank called Women and the Church (WATCH) decided that God is in fact a woman; has been all along. Forget the God of our fathers strong to save; the Almighty was now reconfigured into a cross between Harriet Harperson and Oprah Winfrey. 

Those are the movements currently articulated in the church, and the pews are ever emptier.

In its insistence on acceptance of all things at all times, the church is becoming invisible and abolishing itself. Recently working as a visitor with a hospital chaplaincy I found that exaggerated desire to please others had led them to remove the word chapel and replace it with "sanctuary." 

I was told that this was to include everyone including Muslims. On the wards, none of the patients knew what the Chaplaincy was, and the chaplains liked it like that.

To belong to the CofE now is to dwell among readers of the Guardian and well-meaning secular people. It’s a lonely place if you are a conservative. 

If you are obscurantist enough to belong to something called The Mother’s Union, you had perhaps better go off and  found your own church, because there is no place for you in this club here.

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