Monday, December 10, 2012

Has the established C of E outlived its usefulness?

Poor old Church  of England; first it drops the ball on the issue of women bishops, as an unsatisfactory compromise measure liked by no-one fails to pass;  then, it issues a huffy response to the Government's push for full equal marriages for gays, the government including the ability to solemnize said marriages in churches willing to do so.  Political observers comment that the Government is probably done listening to the C of E, because after the debacle over women bishops, they seem to be completely out of touch with modern Britain.

Giles Fraser looks at the history of the Church of England, and how historically its media via helped paper over the differences between the "sides" and avoid another Civil War.
We saw ourselves as the world's natural compromisers. Unlike those of continental Europe, we prized ourselves on being uncomfortable with ideology and strong feelings. The big idea was the big tent. All are welcome as long as they leave behind passionate religious and political differences. That was the price of social togetherness. And that, indeed, was the value of established religion to the state. 
But this big tent idea of the Christian religion, enshrined in law, has been undone from two directions. From an increasingly secular society where religious differences are no longer a threat to wider civil society; and from a church that has given up on the project of national togetherness as it has been replaced by global Anglicanism – complete with aggressively homophobic Ugandan bishops and the like. The reason the failure of the female bishops measure feels like a historical watershed is that it marks the clear point where the church is no longer of any use to the state. Indeed, it has become a liability. If divorce was an easy option, we would now be divvying up our DVDs. 
There is also a wider lesson in all of this. For the failure of the C of E's big tent experiment is parallel to the failure of New Labour's big tent experiment with which it had so much in common. Chantal Mouffe rightly argues that the third way was a mistaken attempt to bypass the inherently conflictual nature of the political. Bland, suffocating unanimity cannot replace the reality of political differences. In theology as in politics, conflict is real. The important thing is not that we mustn't fight. That is inevitable. It's rather that we mustn't draw blood when doing so.
Meanwhile, today David Cameron, the Prime Minister, came out firmly in favor of same sex marriages in church (if said church is willing) .
Mr Cameron said: "I'm a massive supporter of marriage and I don't want gay people to be excluded from a great institution. 
"But let me be absolutely 100% clear: if there is any church or any synagogue or any mosque that doesn't want to have a gay marriage it will not, absolutely must not, be forced to hold it. 
"That is absolutely clear in the legislation...."