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The Church of England is becoming a church in England

21 November 2012

9:22 AM

21 November 2012

9:22 AM

This morning’s newspapers (and indeed the airwaves) are full of apocalyptic predictions about the future of the Church of England. The failure of the General Synod to ordain women bishops has surprised plenty of bishops, many of whom express their ‘deep sadness’ about the affair to the (£) Times’ Ruth Gledhill. Yet the threat of schism on this issue is not wholly surprising, not least because the Anglican Church has rarely taken happily to reform. From the storms over Matthew Parker’s 39 Articles to this latest controversy, the C of E’s evolution has often been fractious.

However, as a relatively faithful parishioner of the CofE, this affair does surprise me in one respect. The Church of England has contrived to defend “tradition” on this occasion when arguably it should not have done so, while at other times it has “modernised” when it clearly should not have done so. To adapt Edward Gibbon’s famous remark about the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, institutions that behave in this manner risk collapsing under the weight of their own stupendous contradictions.


Women bishops are a totemic issue and doubtless there are some theological arguments against their introduction. (Although that prompts the question: why have women clergy at all?) Yet the inescapable fact is that a huge majority of the British people (74 per cent according to a Com Res poll) believe that women should be ordained as bishops. 132 members of the Synod voted in favour of women bishops and 74 voted against; close (6 more votes in favour would have tipped the balance), but not close enough for the church to avoid being described, perhaps justifiably, as ‘out of touch’.

Should the national church reflect the views of the nation? This seemingly fashionable question is deeply historical, reaching far beyond the debate about women bishops. The CofE’s recent marginalisation of the Book of Common Prayer and the King James’ Version are, in my admittedly worthless opinion, among the greatest acts of cultural vandalism ever to be self-inflicted by an institution. Cranmer’s prayer book and the KJV are the Church of England, and perhaps represent its most valuable contribution to the life of God’s Church as a whole. More importantly, those books place the Anglican Church very near the centre of Britain’s historical story. It is not possible for them to be irrelevant in modern Britain because they helped to form modern Britain. The liturgy and theology of Anglicanism may be recognisably Catholic; but their creation and development is emphatically not Catholic. Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch provides an infinitely more scholarly sketch of this narrative than I could, in this review of Eamonn Duffy’s recent book Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition.

There is a human tendency to identify those moments in the past which came to define a nation. The Glorious Revolution is a popular choice, together with the formation of the Bank of England, Trafalgar and the Battle of Britain. As Roger Scruton and Simon Jenkins both argued in a recent issue of the Spectator, the Church of England’s vast history clearly merits inclusion on such a list.

It surprises me somewhat, in this era when national self-confidence is, to an extent, being reasserted, a trend seen at the Olympics and in the cross-party enthusiasm for refashioning our relationship with Europe (and therefore the rest of world, too), that the national church is, well, so trivial. Secularisation, it seems to me, does not amount to an adequate explanation because the Church of England has always been about rather more than God.

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Show comments
  • Canon.

    My worthless opinion.The Church of England committed two wrongs,it was wrong in the first place according to Scripture to ordain woman to the Priesthood,but now, having done that, it is now wrong to refuse to consecrate them Bishops.

  • Brave Catholic

    Women Priests, Women Bishops, heck was Christ even a man? I’m sure the CofE will vote on it in a decade or two.

  • David Webb

    You said: “Although that prompts the question: why have women clergy at all?”
    Well, the answer is that women shouldn’t be priests either.

    You said: “Yet the inescapable fact is that a huge majority of the British people (74 per cent according to a Com Res poll) believe that women should be ordained as bishops”.
    Well, ‘the majority of the British people’ is not how religious doctrine is arrived it. The British people are an almost wholly unchurched and irreligious people. Your point is about as irrelevant as it could be. I expect the majority of British people also think that Muslim mosques should promote homosexuality and abortion and that women should become Muslim imams.

    The fact is the church has been taken over by people who are not remotely believing Christians – most priests do one hour’s work a week (despite the requirement under canon law to hold matins and evensong every day) – and for that one hour they get a nice house, a salary and good pension and a standing in the community, and a pulpit from which to fulminate against racism and lack of equality in the world and any other political causes they wish to introduce. Some of us have to do much more than one hour’s work a week.

  • William Blakes Ghost

    The Church of England is becoming a church in England
    Then it will be no different from a government and media and associated commentariate who, as course, generally vascillate and procrastinate over issues of little relevence to the vast majority of the country in some onanistic orgy of self-importance. Increasingly they also seem to be ‘In England but not part of England (to adapt Wet WIllie’s words).

    For example, is it really the business of a secular media and Parliament what goes on in the Church so long as it abides by common (sense) law? Is this internal matter for the Church being blown out of all proportion purely to allow the narcissistic egos in journalism and politics to once again force their self-important egotistically charged opinions on an increasingly disillusioned, apathetic and distrusting nation?

    Aside from that, the Church is part of the establishment. Increasingly that establishment is collectively in disgrace for a procession of scandals that demonstrate it’s corrupt nature. It doesn’t matter whether it is Parliament, Government, the Media, the Police, the FInancial Sector, The Judiciary, The Military or The Energy Sector (and there are the odd rumours about parts of the charity sector as well).The fact that one establishment faction is not behaving as, or is in trouble with, another establishment factio would like is now par for the course.

    I believe people are just sick and tired of the whole establishment freakshow.

    I don’t go to church. The business of converting sinners has always seemed to me as being a most pernicious form of social engineering. Better the rogue I say than a pious man.

    So I really don’t care whether women are bishops or not. I would only suggest the Church pick the most appropriate individuals for the job and that physical attributes in no way is a consideration in that. There again I am a meritocrat and consequently have contempt for the ‘wimmin’s movement’ (as opposed to the Pankhurst women’s movement whom I admire) and the rest of the parasitic equality fascists who believe that the only solution to bigotted bullying,prejudice and discrimination is more bigotted bullying, prejudice and discrimination (and some of the irrational and quite malevolent witch-hunts initiated by factions of the establishment over related matters lately have been shockingly disturbing in their nature).

    Consequently, when I hear of a crumbling pillar of the establishment indulging in internecine warfare over such an issue I literally switch off (the news that is) and just want it and them to go away much as I want Leveson just to go away and be fixed, the political parties self-centred gerrymandering of the poltical system to go away and instead real poltical reform to be offered and the constant nannying, interfering and social engineering by Government to go away and stay away.

    Furthermore, the increasing national confidence and national pride in the nation I would suggest is despite our shameful and corrupt establishment and not because of it and as such it does not surprise me one iota that the Church is not considered part of it. Just as the politicians, media and the rest of the parasite classes are not considered part of it. After all how can we be proud of fraud, expense manipulation, tax avoidance, price manipulations, offering and accepting bribes, hacking, invasion of privacy, misrepresentation (such as phrases like “refashioning our relationship with Europe”) and lying and in this case discrimination on the basis of physical attributes.

    In any case, what was it that made the Olympics? It was the volunteers, the spectators and the sportsmen and women. It was the people and it had little or nothing to do with the institutions of the establishment or their stooges.

    Bottom line, these days I think people would rather that most of our ‘pillars’ of the establishment were not identified with our nation for the simple reason individually and collectively these establishment factions are just too much of an embarrassment.

    PS And I really don’t know anyone who would suggest the creation of the Bank of England or any institution was or is a significant defining moment in this country’s history. Basically such defining moments are about people and their achievements NOT about the paraphenalia of the establishment.

    PPS Oh and I am also sick and tired of the establishment bandying around words like ‘modernisation’ and ‘progress’ when in reality, in large part, we are going backwards socially, politically and economically and have been for several decades. As and when we see some ‘modernisation’ and ‘progress’ (in ending the corrupt culture of the establishment would be good) then perhaps they could be used but until then (and I won’t be holding my breath) all the such words achieve is irritation.

  • David Lindsay

    It has been since at least the middle of the nineteenth century, when the figures were first collated and half the population turned out to be Nonconformists, rising to enormous majorities in much of the North and the Midlands, as well as in parts of the West Country. Soon after that, the first large-scale migration from Ireland started.

  • the viceroy’s gin


    “…the Church of England has always been about rather more than God.”


    …which would explain why it’s dying, even as other churches continue to grow.

  • Kevin

    Liberalism is the political wing of the screaming wean.

    They need to get used to being told, “No!”.

  • Sarah

    Can’t wait until this cult of masculinity is confined to the history books.

    Which is now going to happen in my lifetime! Exciting times!! : )

    • TomTom

      Funny that – it is soppy feminism wrapped in sanctimonious self-pity and warped victimhood that is on the way out…….survival in a brutal new world is not assured

  • Dr Crackles

    If you believe Britain is on the verge of discovering its self-confidence you are deluded.

    • TomTom

      It is unravelling like much of Western society until Fascism emerges as the new Faith System of the Political Structure

  • TomTom

    It is an Erastian Church and should logically be part of the Home Office. In Denmark the State Church with a Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs and taxpayer funding of “The People’s Church”. It controls all cemeteries and has 79.6% Danes as members. It is probably time for the Church of England to be fully nationalised and have priests made Civil Servants with proper pensions and an obligation to act in accordance with Government policy.

    Then Protestants can create their own Presbyterian Church outside the remit of The State and have true independence from an Erastian State Church which “reflects society” and is full of social workers and soft-spoken self-effacing humanists peddling sentimentality and victimhood

    • dalai guevara

      Change should never happen. It is a deeply flawed ideology which led to the the crucifixion of a revolutionary.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        If humanity could hold your head under water for just a little while, it wouldn’t be lumbered with stupid posts like that one.

        • dalai guevara

          Stupid? I am merely demonstrating that ‘change’ is what Jesus was all about. Did you not get that or was that pond too deep for you?

          • the viceroy’s gin

            I get that you’re rock stupid, and like to type, and your ramblings on theology are about as useful as your power engineering diatribes.

            • dalai guevara

              I gather you are a man of principle and do not forget facts that stick.

              • the viceroy’s gin

                You gather disjointed, idiosyncratic fluffiness, and get it into type.

                • dalai guevara

                  Thanks, I spin for change – that is my destiny.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Meandering has no destiny. It’s sort of a hell… so you’re in the right discussion topic, apparently.

          • TomTom

            In fact He was not – he was for FAITH and a return to Torah

            • dalai guevara

              are you the last Pharisee?

              • TomTom

                The Pharisees were the educated and scriptually sound it was the Sadducees who cavorted with Rome and made money by controlling franchises in the Temple. The Pharisees survive but the Sadducees died out with the Temple in AD70….the Pharisees believed in Resurrection and the Sadducees did not….the Sadducees were the social elite and moneyed, the Pharisees were respected by the people for their integrity to scripture………… yes…..I may be the “last Pharisee” as you say……but I doubt I am alone

                • dalai guevara

                  We shall call upon you once a person of integrity, not money and elitist disposition, is required. Might be sooner than you think…

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  …and we shall call upon you when a person of maximum stupidity and verbosity and minimal rectitude is required. Might be never, if we’re lucky.

                • dalai guevara

                  This much it certain, no one asked you what you don’t know about CCGT or Jesus pushing for change.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  No, what’s certain is that you will blow off unceasingly about that and anything else rattling around in your vacuous skull.

                • dalai guevara

                  Better than trying to disguise the fact that you are a nuclear door salesman, or even worse (better), a war-for-oil-‘now watch that drive’-Dubya-groupie.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  No, not better, just louder and stupider.

                • dalai guevara

                  I swapped my Karcher for a Big Berta – see you around…

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Well, don’t hurt yourself with it.

  • eeore

    There is no schism.

    All that has happened is that one branch of the church has attempted to ride roughshod over another and failed.

  • Noa

    “..Secularisation…does not amount to an adequate
    explanation because the Church of England has always been about rather
    more than God…”
    How many in the Synod would vote frankly to confirm their belief in existence of God if they were asked?
    Do you think it would be 100%, 50% or less?

  • Tom Paine

    It seems to me the theological point was conceded when women priests were admitted 20 years ago (when the debate was all about the notion of priesthood itself). Women bishops are merely the extension of this, though the matter of apostolic succession and the fracturing of all hope of reconciliation with Rome does weigh more heavily in this case.

    Whether you agree with this or not, it does seem strange that a theological matter as deep as this one should change according to a popularity contest expressed in a vote.

    Nevertheless the bulk of the institutional forces C of E have left a substantial minority of their people behind – these are not trivial numbers here – and it seems Pope Benedict was quite prescient in his creation of a home for them.

    What’s notable in the liberal media (if unsurprising) is a rush to condem people of principle as simple bigots – a tactic also used to shut down debate on the redefinition of marriage. The desperate rush of trendy commentators to put their tuppenceworth in on the side of the modernisers is all too depressing.

    • Matt

      >it does seem strange that a theological matter as deep as this one should change according to a popularity contest expressed in a vote.

      Nope. Perfectly normal.

      What should they do – toss a coin perhaps?

      eg the First Council of Nicaea in 325AD had a voting setup.

  • Heartless etc.,

    This comes at the end of era. Trouble started way way back when the happy-clappy nutters started to pick the fabric of the Church to bits and the oh-so-clever financial fellas tried to play the stock market. Could anything more go wrong?

    Why of course! Mealy-mouthed mumbo-jumbo from ‘men’ in mitres aided by people affecting codswallop such as gushed by the Hero of the H2B.

    • telemachus

      What tripe both here and the apocalyptic media.

      The Church will continue to evolve cum Gay marraige, denial of women bishops, incense swinging, HTB tub thumping, Gene Robinson and many more.

      It is not a fossil but a living entity.

      • chancellor palpatine xiv

        Luke, join the power of the dark side!

        • Yoda the Tory

          telemachus-mad on the Dark side already is. Troll, spud-u-don’t like purveyor of much piss and wind, he.

          • Ned


      • TomTom

        Jesus is a fossil – he died 2000 years ago. All you propose is to turn him into a New Age Guru accepting any passing fad you approve of….it is called Idolatory

      • William Blakes Ghost

        There speaks our resident expert on tripe and old fossils!

        • telemachus

          Yes they are all around us
          The synod is fossilised
          There is now an on line petition to seek the resignation of the synod
          Leadership is required and to facilitate this dissolve the fossils and give the Archbishop Papal powers
          Only then can the Church move from the gender and sexuality irrelevancies to mission and caring

          • vix

            Now now stop winding them up.

            The Church of England is exactly that. About 10% of the so called Anglican church – 90% exists abroad. That rest has moved on. The funds will die out in the UK as they have less congregation and they continue to bungle their property wheeling and dealing a la 1980s. They wasted our contributions and stopped caring a long time ago. I have no time for the establishment with or without women or gays.

            As for an Anglican pope – no pot pourri.

    • EJ

      The C of E has become politicized and ruined by out-of-touch, hand-wringing, old Leftie do-good-ers – just like every other once-great institution in this imploding land. Against the onslaught of aggressive Islam it looks weak, apologetic, and self-hating. Before long it will be nothing more than a sad haven for terrified old people – while the minarets increase by the day and the call to prayer rings out across our towns and cities.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Apparently a post which should have been put up thirty years ago has turned up now. It’s done. Over. Irrelevant.

    As an aside, if you think national self-confidence is being re-asserted, it appears to me that rather too many policies seem to accept an inevitable decline, and just a little bit to welcome it.