They are at it again, I thought, when I read (and thank you C451) the Rev Marcus Walker’s stirring piece in The Critic on the Church of England. Not, I hasten to add, the good Reverend himself, who is a candle in the darkness, but the usual suspects.
After more than forty years presiding over a decline in parishes across the country, the Rev David John Keighley has come up with a cunning plan to reverse the decline – intensify the causes of it! I jest not, you can read it all here, though it would take a heart of stone not to alternate weeping and laughter. What does he want to do? There may be a familiar ring to it, so apologies to those suffering from PTSD on this: sell off many of the churches for housing (erm, I thought we’d been quietly doing that?); get rid of outdated doctrine and historic prejudices; (by which he seems to mean the idea of the bodily resurrection of Christ and the Virgin birth, and the miracles (erm, we’ve had forty years of doing that too – just saying); and he is convinced that:
the idea of God as some kindly, bearded patriarch sitting on high in Heaven, while the Devil resides below in Hell, is ill-suited to the modern, critical mind.
Golly, how original! Well it was back in the nineteenth century or so!
The good Rev appears to think that junking all of this will bring young people into the Church. Well I guess I am no longer “young” being in my late thirties, but this sort of stuff almost drove me out of the church when I was, and I can’t imagine it would bring anyone over the age of 70 into it!
The best antidote to this stuff is to read what Marcus Walker writes. It hits home. He rightly points out that:
If you find a priest crossing his fingers during the creed or wincing at the mention of the Virgin Birth it is likely he was ordained many decades ago and is now floating around the edge of retirement. It is also very likely that he is a he, as at the height of the modernist movement only men could be ordained in the Church of England.
That has certainly been my experience, and may well be part of why the Roman Catholic Church, which is full of such old men (including the Pope) has the same problem. What he writes next cheers me up and certainly reflects my own lived experience (as they say):
Younger priests just don’t have this affliction. They may be dripping wet, they may preach about Brexit or refugees, they may not know their way around the Prayer Book, but you really can’t say they don’t believe. The vision of the Church of England as primarily a social organisation is one which, while still live in the public imagination, simply does not match reality.
That is my experience. It boils down, as he says, to the fact that where, once upon a time there was a social cachet to being a member of the Church of England, that has quite vanished:
It has never been cool to go to church, but now it isn’t even really respectable. There is simply no market for a church which doesn’t really believe in God. If you’re going to take the social hit of admitting to being a Christian, you might as well actually be a Christian.
Quite so. It has been our younger priests who have been at the forefront of further efforts by the old men to go further down the modernist route – which is, as C451 once put it to me “a one way line to perdition”. More than not, it is often younger priests who oppose a continuation of the bankrupt policies of the past few decades:
And of the younger priests, it’s the gay ones who are often at the forefront of the battle to defend the creeds and Christian orthodoxy (if my more traditional readers can park, for a moment, their disbelief in the separation of questions of sexuality from orthodoxy). A study by the Dean of Virginia Theological Seminary showed that, across the American church, “our LGBT seminarians are not interested in a vacuous liberal theology that has no authority, no God, no Christ, and no sacraments”.
As Marcus Walker puts it:
Once again we see that if you’re going to embarrass yourself in front of your peers by being a Christian, you might as well actually find God in the process
This certainly matches my experience. The American “culture wars” is American, and I can’t speak for those experiencing it, but what I can testify to is that in the Church of England, not least among priests of my generation and younger, there is a real commitment to the Creeds. We don’t cross our fingers when reciting it, neither do we think that “science” has disproved God. I can’t quite get my head around a charitable explanation as to why a retired priest who believes that
the teachings of Jesus provides just one of many ways to experience ‘God’, and that progressive Christianity is focused on creating a community that is inclusive of all people, regardless of sexual identity and even if they are “questioning sceptics or agnostics”
stays in the Church. He imagines that the “product” behind the Church remains “woefully out of date”. I have bad news for him and those of his generation who think likewise – it is they who are out of date. Those of my readers who are of that generation are not, I know, of his persuasion, so take heart, the cause for which you have fought is alive and well and prospering, It may be that on some matters we look to you “unorthodox”, but when it comes to the Creeds and belief, we are Christians because we are. We stand here and can do no other because whatever the Rev David John might believe, we believe in God, the Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son … and all the rest of it.
So cheer yourself up by reading Marcus Walker!