Fifty-nine per cent of British people describe themselves as Christians, so the census informed us a couple of weeks ago; twelve per cent down from ten years ago. There was, of course, great delight from a couple of secularist organisations. But if I were a member of the British Humanist Association, I might want to pause before I became too excited. It remains true that three quarters of the public still want to identify themselves as having a religious faith of some kind. And what the census doesn’t and probably can’t measure is exactly how those who don’t identify as religious think about religion. Do they never give it a thought? Do they wish they could believe something? Do they see it as a problem or as a resource in society? In the deeply painful aftermath of the Synod’s vote last month, what was startling was how many people who certainly wouldn’t have said yes to the census question turned out to have a sort of investment in the Church, a desire to see the Church looking credible and a real sense of loss when—as they saw it—the Church failed to sort its business out.
BBC Radio broadcast, 22nd December 2012
Archbishop's Thought for the Day: Archbishop Rowan Williams gave his Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4. Reflecting on the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the Archbishop said "the good news of Christmas is that an atmosphere of fear and hostility isn’t the natural climate for human beings, and it can be changed."
The full text of the Archbishop's message follows...
The execution of Charles I. 'The Church of England found its purpose in life following the English civil war as a project of national togetherness'. Photograph: Hulton Getty
Giles Fraser, The Guardian, Friday 7th December
The difference between the politics of the church and the real world of party politics is that in the church people are nice to each other in public and nasty to each other in private, whereas in real politics it's often the other way round. But the church is so dysfunctional that it prefers the rhetoric of unity to its reality. Thus those debating female bishops in General Synod fell over backwards to couch their speeches in terms of generosity. But outside observers saw something very different – a snake pit of seething animosities. And outside observers were basically right.
Lord Carey, who first opened the priesthood to women, spoke of his ‘anger’ and ‘distress’ at the General Synod’s failure to allow women into the episcopate despite overwhelming support.
He was commenting after the Church of England’s representative in Parliament, Sir Tony Baldry, warned that it was in danger of being seen as a ‘sect’ and claimed that it had hamstrung its own attempts to resist the plans for gay marriage.
Lord Carey, who is also a leading opponent of the plans to redefine marriage, disagreed that the church had lost clout on the issue but said there was a real sense of betrayal.
Photo: Getty Images
The Church of England’s vote against women bishops does a disservice to half the population.
Yesterday was a sad and shameful day for the Church of England and therefore for the country of which it is the established religion. It took 12 years of deliberation and prayer for the Church to arrive at its decision on appointing women as bishops, and yet it got that decision dreadfully wrong.
For years to come yesterday’s vote will be felt in the pews and the institutions of the Church as a terrible moral and political failure. The disappointment felt keenly by those on the inside who wanted change will be felt keenly too by those not involved with the Church but who nonetheless see it as a leader for reform and justice.
Thursday 8 November 2012
The appointment of Justin Welby as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury will be formally announced today. The Times welcomes it. Though Bishop Welby’s episcopal experience is brief (he was appointed Bishop of Durham less than a year ago), his personal and intellectual qualities make him an outstanding choice as the spiritual leader of 77 million Anglicans worldwide.
The tasks facing Bishop Welby are legion. There have long been differing strands of Anglicanism. Since the earliest days of independent Anglican ministry, part of its identity has been to maintain the strengths and validity of its evangelical, catholic and liberal traditions. But the Church in the 21st century has distinctive challenges.
Shifts in mores and the decline of religious observance in the developed world have put the Church on the defensive, intellectually and institutionally. The question of how to respond in an age of scepticism and pluralism has created deep and possibly intractable divisions in the worldwide Anglican Communion. The difficulty of the task may explain the unusually protracted deliberations of the Crown Nominations Commission in making a recommendation to the Prime Minister.
The choice of Bishop Welby, however — first reported, as was the resignation of Dr Rowan Williams, by Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent of The Times — meets two essential criteria. His spiritual leadership offers hope of holding the disparate national Churches together within a single Communion. And it does so without sacrificing intellectual integrity or diminishing the theological principles of the Anglican tradition.
Bishop Welby comes from the evangelical wing of the Church of England, which emphasises the role of scriptural authority. This is not to be confused with fundamentalism: it is more a modernist application of biblical orthodoxy.
Bishop Welby was baptised as an adult and came to his ministry in his maturity, after he and his wife suffered the tragedy of the death of a young child. He is unusual as a Christian leader in having come to faith through the Alpha course, a form of evangelism pioneered by Holy Trinity, Brompton, an evangelical church in London. He has thought and prayed about the dilemmas of faith when it is assailed by secular culture and articulate advocates of atheism. It is a strength to the Church that he can explain and advocate its theological axioms from a position of discovery rather than unquestioning authority.
In this respect, the new Archbishop may prove a worthy successor to Dr Williams, an outstanding theological scholar and gracious debater but with a tendency to obscurity. Bishop Welby has a more demotic approach; his experience encompasses commerce more than the academic seminar. And, having castigated social irresponsibility among bankers, he is accustomed to speaking in the public square.
Where Bishop Welby will find his talents for leadership peculiarly exercised is in bridging the gulf of opinion among Anglicans on matters sacred and secular. The Times supports the consecration of women bishops and the ordination of gay priests, and — in wider society — the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples. Liberals within the Church have long maintained that Anglicanism finds strength in a disinclination to be bound by a single confessional formulation, or to regard Scripture alone as the criterion of doctrine.
The Church, in our opinion, needs to accommodate itself, even at the price of internal dissent, to the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of sex and sexuality. Whatever Bishop Welby’s stands on this and other matters, they will be closely reasoned. His leadership will enhance public debate. He has a right and a responsibility to defend the Established Church and enrich the role it plays in the nation’s affairs. We wish him well.
Andrew Brown, The Guardian, 6th November 2012
If Christianity dies in England, it will die first in the countryside. This may seem paradoxical. When we think of English Christianity, we think of medieval churches standing at the heart of quiet villages. Surely the most traditional parts of the land would cling to traditional ways such as Christianity? But the traditions have largely died, and the churches with them.
The women-bishops debate says much about the nature of the Church, argues Rowan Williams
No one is likely to underrate the significance of the debate on women bishops in the General Synod next month. It will shape the character of the Church of England for generations - and I’m not talking only about the decision we shall take, but about the way in which we discuss it and deal with the outcome of it.