This is the ninth in a series of blogs looking at the future of religion in Britain. To read the others click here
Will Christianity in this country die out in our lifetime? This is a real possibility.
The English have never been very interested in sky-pilots, as my Dad used to call the clergy. Religion plays a largely unconscious and certainly unstuffy part of their lives. The C of E was successful, according to one wag, because it knew how much religion the English would take – which wasn’t very much.
And yet all our efforts should be aimed at keeping the rumour of God alive in our country, knowing, of course, that we can only ever work with, rather than against, the grain of God’s will. To this end, three activities are essential.
The first is to support the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in their restatement of Christian beliefs in clear English. Having a leadership that confidently speaks its faith is crucial in any attempts to keep a movement alive. Rowan Williams’s contribution was to lead the intellectual debate. Now it is time to open up a second front. Indeed, its establishment-status gives the Church of England an invaluable platform from which to talk, by action, with the nation. Church schools and academies are one such example, and when voters want more church schools and academies, the electorate will stump up the cost.
The other two moves are about living out our faith and not simply living as ‘sky-pilots’.
The second crucial activity is the leadership which the Church has shown in the campaign to end modern slavery in this country. The next move must be a worldwide consumer boycott of goods and services tainted by slavery. The Church must now set up a fellowship that has this goal as its sole objective. Thereafter our aim should be to take the anti-slavery campaign into Commonwealth countries. The world-wide Anglican Church is largely the reverse side of the Commonwealth, with the Church of England following in the footsteps of the governments that built our empire.
The third victory that the Church should call its own is making live the issue of hunger in Britain. This ought to be its third point of action. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the patron of Feeding Britain – the body a cross-party group of MPs and peers are setting up. The establishment of such a body was one of the main recommendations in the unanimous report that was published in Parliament just before Christmas, Feeding Britain: A strategy for zero hunger in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We must now ensure that the Church continues to lead this campaign in a direction that immediately helps the hungry in this country, while simultaneously dealing with the causes of their hunger. Watch this space for what Feeding Britain will shortly be proposing.
It is a great irony that organised Christianity as we know it becomes weaker year after year. Yet if we want an effective lobby that can mobilise voters across parties, regions and interests, and one that can give the Government a fright, the only body that can do so is the Church.
We need our Archbishops to challenge the Anglican Communion to get real and stop being so precious about gender, and the sex of people who love each other, and start an Old Testament campaign to set the slaves free and feed the hungry. Stop the fixation on genitalia and get serious about human oppression must be our cry as a church. Both the Anglican and Roman Churches are led by alpha individuals. Working together on countering slavery and hunger is both a duty and a privilege. These are among the key points of action which will ensure that the rumour of God remains alive in our country.
Frank Field is MP for Birkenhead
Image from wikimedia, available in the public domain.