Theo Hobson Theo Hobson

The Church of England is on the brink of a crisis

A bishop said something significant at General Synod last week. I promise you. Something that might even herald a new era of straight-talking, from which revival might spring. We’ll get to this surprising utterance shortly. 

First, less surprisingly, the Archbishop of York opened proceedings with a predictable pudding of pious evasion. Unity is a sacred thing, and so the disunity of Christians is an unholy scandal, he said, quoting Pope Francis to this effect. This sounds like harmless ecumenical piety, but in the context it is pretty unhelpful. In fact it’s defeatist. In effect, he was saying that the Church of England is in the position of global Christianity. Its unity is not to be expected before Christ’s return.

The context is this. The Church of England has drifted into an Orwellian relationship with the concept of unity. Maybe next year the bishops will unveil the magic principle that can save the tradition: ‘Separation is Unity!’

To the outsider, the Church’s problem is that it’s divided over sexuality. But the problem goes deeper: it has lost the will to unity. Another institution such as a political party might split over an issue, but it will come to a decision, due to its will to remain a credible political force. It will do so by any means necessary – if its internal constitution is blocking reform, it must be changed. The Church has convinced itself that there is something nobly Christian about staying divided.

One problem is the Anglican Communion. The Church of England feels that it must remain in communion with all the different churches of the Communion – even at the cost of its own division. This smells like a suffering Messiah complex. Other churches might need to reach a decision on contentious issues, but we are different, special, we are willing to be crucified for the good of all.

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