Mark Coles discusses the need for modernisation in the Anglican Church
As news broke that the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams is standing down as leader of the Anglican Church, the whole issue of the church in modern life came to the front of my mind. Williams is leaving with the Church still in open warfare over the issue of gay clergy. The traditionalist wing does not want them, and the more liberal wing is less hostile to the concept with Williams staking his reputation on an Anglican Covenant to try and unite the factions. However the whole issue just shows how the Church holds itself in higher esteem than the masses it is set up and meant to serve.
Williams argued for his Covenant on the grounds that failure to adopt it would lead to a “piece-by-piece dissolution” of the Church. This may seem to strike fear into him, but it has to be thought, how a less secular society would actually be to live in. You do not need to sit in a ticket booth to realise that less people are coming through the church turnstiles every Sunday, which goes to show that in our society where religion is not forced upon citizens, it is their own free will to shun religion and become more secular. Therefore it seems a large power grab to try and retain the old powers of the Church when everyone attended, in a time when congregations and therefore direct influence are falling.
The fundamentalist argument over gay clergy further goes to highlight this problem. The church is up in internal arms about it, yet in my experience, the general public are either blissfully unaware of such a heinous problem, or simply do not care enough to even casually discuss it. It seems to me, clearly obvious that if the Church wishes to retain the power and influence it used to have then it will have to modernise with the times, so people will vote with their feet. The issue of homosexuality is no longer a huge issue in people’s thoughts anymore, and what one does in their private life will have no bearing on the sermons they produce, or their effectiveness as a minister of faith.
This general disinterest seems not to of been noticed by the Church and does more to push us towards a more secular society than to a faith based one. In today’s age of instant communication, 24 hours news, media outlet liberalisation, people see no need to turn to the church anymore for advice, and often realise that clergy are in fact no better men than the rest of us mere mortals. It is right that religious views be taken into consideration when producing and drafting legislation, but to have Bishops in the House Of Lords strike down legislation on moral issues, when they have barely more legitimacy than the bedevilled hereditary peers, shows how the power of the Church is inflated compared to its importance in everyday life, which is clearly shrinking.
Therefore, it seems odd to an outsider why this is such a big issue. In today’s society, many do not take the teachings of the Bible literally, as times and attitudes have changed so drastically. So instead of what one would have thought the role of the Church would be (helping the needy/offering someone to turn to in tough times) we have arrived at a situation almost like Prime Ministers Questions. There are two sides mudslinging and trying to point score, rather than solve the substantive issues that a body like the church has been set up and funded to do. It is for these reasons that, unless the Church reappraises its position in modern society and engages with the 21st Century, Dr Williams’ efforts will end up in vain and the Church will end up going back, not forward in both people’s lives and minds.