The new report by the Woolf Institute on religion in British public life is predictable stuff. It says that some reforms are needed, so that Britain’s pluralistic, largely secular character is better expressed in law. It recommends that the law that demands religious worship in school assemblies should be scrapped, that faith schools should move away from selecting on the basis of religion, that the bishops in the House of Lords should be fewer and joined by other faith leaders, that the next coronation should reflect the religious, and non-religious, character of the nation. It reminds us that Anglican, and Christian, allegiance has fallen significantly (since 1983, the number of people calling themselves Anglican has fallen from 40 per cent to under 20, and those saying they are of no religion has risen to about 50 per cent).
The Church of England obviously needs to take such a report very seriously. Instead, its response has been predictably chippy. According to the Church Times, two spokespeople have complained that the report is unfair about church schools, whose high standards have nothing whatsoever to do with their ability to filter in a disproportionate amount of middle-class families. According to the Telegraph, the C of E complained the report had been ‘hijacked by humanists’, and had ‘fallen captive to liberal rationalism.’
These are head-in-the-sand responses. As many Anglicans know, there is a very strong case for the reforms the report urges (plenty of Anglicans contributed to the report). This is not a case of giving in to secularist pressure, but of helping the Church to speak to our culture, unencumbered by obstructive baggage. As Angus Ritchie says on the Theos site, ‘it is only when the Church has confidence in the future that it will stop clinging by its fingertips to privileges which are no longer appropriate.’ The Church’s communications department is simply not good enough – it emits timid, stale, knee-jerk statements when intelligent ones are needed.