As the supermarkets turn on the Jingle Bells, and the programme schedulers at the BBC wonder whether ‘The Bells of St Mary’s’ is due for another outing, readers of New Directions will be immersed in the solemnity of Advent and the contemplation of the Last Things.
The Feast of Christ the King has come and gone. Whilst others are intent on filling stockings, our minds are set on the separation of the sheep and the goats. Which brings us inescapably back to the Cost of Conscience survey ‘The Mind of Anglicans’.
As Christopher Idle also reminds us in this edition (‘Three Porch Ladies’ p6) the CofE is in the midst of a Christological crisis. We have, in Christmas, a festival which is signally failing to preach the dogma it celebrates, and a significant minority of clergy which is increasingly sceptical about the historical basis of that dogma.
Readers can look up the relevant statistics on the Trushare website http://ourworld.cs.com/francisgardom/wayin.htm. The upshot is that over a third of CofE congregations this Christmas will be being led in worship by ministers who do not believe that the Lord was Virgin born, and do not believe that he is the sole author and means of salvation.
Does this matter?
The brief answer is that, of course, it does. There will be congregations this Christmas who will get sounder doctrine from the hymns they sing (try NEH 23 for size) than from the homilies they hear. A third of our preachers will be ‘Dancing on the Edge’ rather than proclaiming the biblical centre. The dwindling number of children who attend our churches will grow up in the faith with no knowledge of its depth and richness. This tragedy spells further decline for the Church of England.
If the spiralling descent into insignificance which is painfully chronicled in ‘Hope for the Church’ (a volume which ironically comes from the very team which brought us the ‘Decade of Evangelism’!) is to be avoided a revolution is needed. There needs to be a radical change of policy on three fronts.
First, as Bob Jackson himself points out in ‘Hope for the Church’, we need a policy for senior appointments which gives priority to the promotion of effective and successful parish priests. A survey of the present bench demonstrates that the opposite has been the policy for many years. Our bishops, as some have frankly admitted, see their function as merely managing graceful decline.
Second, we need to take stock of our relations with the academy and our provision of theological training. What passes for theology in British universities bears little or no relationship to the Queen of Sciences. What generally passes for biblical scholarship is unwarrantedly sceptical and dated in its outlook and techniques. Residential training in sound orthodox theology, and with adequate priestly formation, should once more become our ideal.
Thirdly, we need to rationalize the parochial system to take account of present realities. Whole deaneries with, say, ten clergy and only four hundred communicants (which are not uncommon) are prodigally wasteful of resources both financial and human. No commercial enterprise would consider perpetuating such structures, which hinder mission not least by demoralizing the missionaries.
The fruits of such reform would take time to ripen. But they would be rich and beautiful: generations into the future falling to their knees in parish churches acknowledging, Christmas after Christmas, that ‘God was Man in Palestine/And lives today in bread and wine.’
The Miss World contest is past its sell by date. Only the housebound or socially inadequate would be tempted to spend a Saturday evening watching a series of air headed young women with pneumatic figures walk up and down in bikinis and speak unconvincingly of their commitments to green issues and world peace.
In Nigeria, however, Miss World has been the source of renewed religious violence. For Nigeria has been increasingly subject to the demands of militant Islam and, in the north, the imposition of Sharia law. In areas where that militancy has triumphed Christians have entered the Dhimmi – the technical name for that second class citizenship afforded to the “people of the Book”. The usual round of intimidation, violence and church burning followed. In a region where women are stoned to death for adultery, the flaunting of female flesh was a surefire recipe for conflict. Western cultural imperialism, in all it decadence, would be resisted. As the West is still, mistakenly, believed to be Christian the real Christians in Nigeria were, as usual, first in the firing line.
Two things need to be said here. The first is about our own society.
In the 1970s the Miss World contest was picketed by militant feminists. That unattractive brew of puritanism, iconoclasm, self hatred and a total lack of humour saw Miss World as offensive. The sad reality is that the political triumph of feminist philosophy, along with its ally liberal secularism, has made women far more into sexual objects than any seaside “beauty contest”.
Thirty years on we live with the results of that Pyrrhic victory .Had the Muslim protestor been able to spend the days he spent rioting comfortably seated in front of a British television, his worst fears would have been confirmed. Miss World would have seemed a relative vision of virginal virtue.
From pop to fashion to ‘soap operas’ frequent fornication is presented as the highest ambition of the young. Adultery appears as a normative hobby for the over 25’s and illegitimacy as standard. It is not necessary to subscribe to one of the twenty or so hard core pornography channels to see the glorification of human depravity. As Kaduna burned, British terrestrial viewers could choose between ‘tastefully filmed’ lesbian sex, heterosexual couples, encouraged to be intimate, reporting back on each other and a whole ‘research’ show (complete with explicit film) on peoples sexual habits. The more depraved the practices, the higher the marks awarded! Meanwhile, on the more intellectual channel, a well known Archbishop was torturing Scripture to justify sexual perversion.
All this, presumably, is what Muslims do not want in their country.
The second thing that needs to be said is this. The persecution of fellow Christians in any country is intolerable. But while it is wholly unjust for third world Christians to be tarred with the same brush as the libertarian West it will go on as long as the West is perceived to be too corrupt to survive, too comfortable to reform and too disinterested to act. If Western civilization cannot read the writing on the wall it will be unsaveable. If it does not repent it is doomed. Tragically, as long as our spiritual leaders are in hock to alien philosophies and temporal “wisdom” they cannot call the nation to repentance. This is not an academic matter. Others are dying from our folly. We need not imagine we will be left out of the judgement.