One of the oddest of the divisions in the Christian tribe scattered below Mt. Nebo is that between so-called liberals and conservatives, and the refusal to learn from other tribes and their experience,
Among Catholics the liberal members of the tribe want women priests, less control from the Vatican, birth control and same sex marriage. These things, they seem to be saying, will make the Church more relevant and help arrest its decline. Yet, literally across the road in many towns, there are churches which already do these things and where the decline in attendance has not been arrested.
My own old Church in Wales was beginning to see a fall away, but because it is in a large urban area where some churches were close in the 1990s, it still had a sizeable congregation, even if some had to travel twenty miles by car to get there. The recent report into its condition made for grim reading. I hope and I pray that these changes will succeed, because I love my old Church and I love Wales, and I want its ministry to prosper; but the need for them does not suggest that the liberalisation measures of the last 30 years have succeeded.
Then there is the fact, sad though it is, that having failed to arrest the decline of the church in the West, many Anglican reforms have been divisive in parts of the world where the Church is growing, such as Nigeria. It is awfully easy to dismiss Nigerian Christians as primitive fundamentalists (it must be because it is so common), but they simply hold to a set of beliefs which, fifty years ago, were the norm in this country. Their leaders say that such reforms would not be welcome in their countries – and who is to say who is right?
I am not saying that liberalisation in the Anglican Church has led to decline, that would be wrong and far too simplistic. But I am saying it has not arrested that decline, and wondering why liberal Catholics do not see that it will not do so in their own church? Are they really so blinded by their own preferences that they cannot admit that there is no evidence anywhere that their introduction has helped promote the Faith?
Much more relevant to ‘decline’ in the West is, perhaps, the failure of so many of us to witness to Christ in our lives. I have no doubt that liberal Catholics sincerely want what they want, but they happen to be in a Church which disagrees at a fundamental level with most of that. In most walks of life when you don;t like the rules of a club you either don’t join it or leave it.
Such quarrels and such divisions do nothing to help anyone think that Christianity has anything to offer them. How many actual new Christians come into the Catholic Church, as opposed to Christians from other denominations who come to the conclusion that the Church is to be found there? How many more would there be without the tribal squabbling?