Dearly beloved, we have gathered in this place to bury a nice church who wanted to be nice to everybody. She ordained nice vicars to hold nice services with nice choirs (or happy bands) and preach nice sermons in nice churches. After the service, nice people in nice congregations would have a nice cup of weak tea with not-so-nice soggy biscuits and go home to a nice Sunday roast.
The Church of England had nice bishops who sat on nice cushions in the House of Lords and lived in nice palaces with nicely manicured gardens. Everyone was so very nice to each other. The nice bishops and nice vicars preached the gospel of niceness. No one was ever offended by this gospel, because the Church of England’s raison d’être was to offend nobody. Her greatest ambition was to be all things to all people. We lay her to rest in a nice coffin, lower her into a nice grave and cover her with nice flowers. Amen.
This week, the British Social Attitudes Survey pronounced the coroner’s verdict on the strange death of the Church of England. Only 3 per cent of adults under 24 are Anglican. In the 25-34 age group, only 5 per cent identify as Anglicans. Only 15 per cent of British adults call themselves Anglican. The decline is catastrophic. It is time to lay the C of E to rest.
When conducting an inquest on Lady C of E, the coroner might not limit himself to a sociological diagnosis. A materialist analysis cannot fully answer the question of why young men become jihadis and blow themselves up. Similarly, there are good sociological reasons for the death of the C of E but they need the support of a theological analysis.
Martin Parsons, in his forthcoming book Good for Society: Christian Values and Conservative Politics, argues that ‘one of the primary drivers of secularisation in the twentieth century was clearly the assumption by the state of roles previously undertaken by the church. Central to this was the increasing control of school education in Britain from 1870 and the emergence of Socialism across the world.’ Not surprisingly, New Zealand, the first English-speaking country to pursue socialism, is now the most secular, while Scotland, once one of the most widely Christian parts of the UK, has under Labour and the SNP become ‘both its most secular and most Socialist,’ observes Dr Parsons.
In other words, the church was doing three bags full of good deeds. It was going around being nice – feeding the poor, healing the sick and educating the illiterate. But was it clarifying to the curious its motivation for doing good? In most cases, no. The vicar was simply a glorified social worker. And when the state took over the good works that the church was doing, the church was made redundant. She had forged her identity on the anvil of good works and was now stripped of that identity. She simply did not know what to do.
Until the state under a Labour government began a new crusade – equality of outcomes. With a hey, and a ho, and a hey-nonny-no, the C of E jumped on the equality bandwagon. After all, it was committed to niceness and what could be nicer than campaigning for equality? The C of E replaced do-goodism with social justice. She willingly capitulated to the agenda of the state on fundamental issues of morality – abortion, homosexuality and marriage and in doing so lost her identity as the moral voice of the nation.
Instead of speaking truth to power in keeping with her esteemed pedigree of the biblical prophets, she turned herself into a ventriloquist’s dummy and squawked in the high-pitched tones of the Labour-socialist voice. Then, suddenly, when her equality agenda proclaimed that some people – women, ethnic minorities, gays, lesbians, transgendered – are more equal than the white cisgender male, she lost some of her niceness and became nasty towards some while stepping up to be extra nice to the new pantheon of victim groups. Her ecclesiastical schizophrenia confused the nation.
So when Tory politician Jacob Rees-Mogg confidently stated he was against abortion and gay marriage because of the teaching of the Catholic Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Wobbly Welby was parroting the dogma of equality of outcomes and calling for radical economic reform, i.e. stealing from the haves and doling it out to the have-nots.
When Sikh, Hindu and Pakistani Christian leaders responded to the abuse of teenage white girls in Muslim-dominated towns around England this week in a letter to The Times highlighting the fact that victims of grooming gangs ‘are almost always non-Muslim’ and the perpetrators ‘of largely Pakistani Muslim heritage’, not a single C of E bishop dared to say boo to the Muslim goose.
The coroner’s theological diagnosis is far more serious. The Church of England died of niceness because she substituted the religion of the cross for the cult of snowflakery. The original symbol of her identity, the cross, was grotesque. Like the electric chair, the noose or the guillotine, the cross was a symbol of the death penalty – the badge of criminality deserving gruesome public execution. The church survives only by worshipping a God and telling the story of a God who was crucified as a criminal by the greatest empire in the ancient world. This central narrative of the church’s identity is not nice. Understandably, Lady C of E desperately wanted to be nice.
So she bartered the badge of her identity, the cross, for the emblem of all that is malleable, cowardly, and vacillating – the snowflake. Snowflakes are very nice. Nobody is offended by a snowflake. You can take snowflakes and shape them into a snowball or a snowman. Sadly, a snowflake cannot bear strong sunlight. It melts and dies a shy death. Its life is limited by its superficiality.
The Scottish theologian P T Forsyth drove home the centrality of the cross when he wrote at the beginning of the last century: ‘The church rests on the cross of Christ. If you move faith from that centre, you have driven the nail into the church’s coffin. The church is then doomed to death, it is a matter of time when she shall expire.’
The church finds its identity solely in the cross of Christ. ‘A Christianity which does not measure itself in theology and practice by this criterion loses its identity and becomes confused with the surrounding world; it becomes the religious fulfilment of the prevailing social interests, or of the interests of those who dominate society. It becomes a chameleon which can no longer be distinguished from the leaves of the tree in which it sits,’ writes German theologian Jürgen Moltmann in his book The Crucified God.
No wonder people in Britain are turning to Islam; a fact conveniently ignored by the British Social Attitudes Survey. Douglas Murray confirms this in The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam. ‘For some years now I have been especially struck by numerous accounts I have heard first hand and also read from people who have chosen to convert to Islam . . . The fact that they chose Islam is a story in itself. Why do these young men and women (very often women) not reach out and find Christianity? Partly it is because most branches of European Christianity have lost the confidence to proselytise or even believe in their own message. For the Church of Sweden, the Church of England, the German Lutheran Church and many other branches of European Christianity, the message of the religion has become a form of Left-wing politics, diversity action and social welfare projects. Such churches argue for “open borders” yet are circumspect about quoting the texts they once preached as revealed.’
The C of E lost her identity in the fog of congeniality. She was so nice to everyone. There was only one teensy-weensy problem with her posture of rolling over like a dog, letting everyone tickle her tummy, and patting her on the head with the words ‘What a nice doggie.’ Human beings are not nice. Human beings will never be nice. The world is not a nice place. The world will never be a nice place.
Liberals and Leftists hate the conservative idea of the non-perfectibility of human nature. ‘Every day in every way I am progressively getting better and better,’ is their morning prayer as they look into the cracked mirror. Liberals and Leftists also swear by the grand mythical delusion of utopia. ‘By the power of the state, we can bring about the Fourth Reich of Heaven on Earth,’ is their quaintly demented slogan. Lamentably, as the C of E jettisoned the cross, she swallowed these myths of niceness. They stuck in her throat and killed her.
Church of England, Requiescat in Pace.
(Originally published in The Conservative Woman)