It’s not often now that the Church of England (CoE) hits the big headlines in mainstream media. Two news items – one on the historic physical child abuse known to the Church hierarchy for many years but only just revealed to the general public, and the other on the debate on the status of LGBTI believers, have both briefly hit the headlines recently. But both stories faded away very quickly, with little comment from outside the church itself.
The first issue is horrific and at the very least should result in prosecutions, not only of those directly involved, but potentially those aware for years of criminal offences who failed to report them – the very governance of the CoE. The second issue makes you wonder what decade the Church is operating in – the 1940s or 1950s? Any other major organisation with open discrimination against people’s sexuality would be challenged in the courts in high-profile cases. But in the CoE just a few dedicated Christian LGBTI groups seem to be pursuing this.
My point is – who really cares now about what happens inside the CoE? Even ‘big’ stories about their actions and their policies barely register in the media, and few outside the church seem minded to pursue them. The church never seems to comment on social policy anymore, or if it does, no-one cares much what it says. Even the CoE’s early involvement in food banks has been overshadowed now by corporate enterprises. World attention on religion is most definitely focussed elsewhere.
The CoE is still guilty of many crimes of morality, but in terms of influence I would suggest it’s largely an anachronism, an out-dated organisation run by elderly white men with a dwindling congregation of predominantly elderly parishioners. It is destined to fade away, I think, particularly in the UK, even if it maintains more influence in other parts of the globe. It’s still a scandal against democracy that Bishops sit in the House of Lords, but they are a small number in an unelected second house now packed with Tory appointees – the whole thing a bastion of privilege and cronyism in which the Bishops are just a little part of a very big problem. The Church still owns some enviable real estate. But did you know there is an organisation, the Friends of Friendless Churches, looking after a growing number of historic buildings that the CoE can not be bothered to conserve, let alone revive as vibrant centres of worship? What more poignant symbol of decline is there than churches disused and falling down.
Who could have predicted that the once great force of Anglicanism would die with a whimper rather than a bang, focussed on fighting internal battles which no-one outside of its walls really notices? How should Humanists respond? Can we look forward to the demise of the CoE without putting much effort in to help that process? I think so, and there will be little need for dancing on that grave, after what looks to be a slow but largely painless fading away. So maybe Humanists can now look elsewhere to fight more current and important challenges to enlightened secularism.