Active membership of the Church of England in Britain is in freefall.
The Church has just announced that average church attendance fell by a further 22,000 in 2014 to just 764,700; a fall of 7 percent in just 5 years. Regular weekly total attendance at church is now down to a megre 1.4 percent of the population and fell below 1 million to 980,000 for the first time ever. The C of E estimates that membership is declining by about 1 percent a year due to the deaths of its increasingly aged members alone, and this is at a time when the population is increasing faster than it has done since the late 1940s post-war baby boom.
Given the age profile of the CofE, the next few years will continue to have downward pressure as people die or become housebound and unable to attend church.This has prompted several calls for the government to accept that the basis on which Britain is still regarded as a religious, and predominantly Christian, nation - the last census - has now ceased to have any validity. Britain cannot now seriously be regarded as Christian even though the largest single denomination is nominally Christian. Even the 2011 census itself, which recorded 55 percent of the population self-identifying as Christian has been called into question by several polls showing that self-identification as Christian is not so much a religious identity as a cultural identity in a multicultural society, similar to how Jewish is a cultural identifier. The concept of the secular Christian is no stranger than the long-established concept of the secular Jew.
Rt Rev Graham James
For example, a recent YouGov poll showed that 63 percent of Britains say they are not religious and a poll last February found that only 55 percent of people who self-identify as Christian actually believe in God! This suggests that religious Christians, as opposed to secular Christians only comprise some 35% of the population of the UK with the other 65 percent either being non-religious or having some other faith than Christianity.
Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said:
Church of England attendance now appears to have fallen well below 2% of the population, and looks set to fall further given the preponderance of older churchgoers. This seriously calls into question its privileged access to political power and right to remain the established church. Indeed, it is inappropriate for there to be any established religion in a modern pluralistic society, far less one where the majority do not consider themselves to be religious.
Equating being non-believing with being anti-Christian, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury said that Britain now has an anti-Christian culture. In an address in which he appears not to have understood these figures, given to a meeting of Anglican leaders called to discuss the crisis and impending split over the issue of homosexuality and leaked through a Nigerian news agency, he said:
The culture has [sic] becoming anti-Christian, whether it is on matters of sexual morality, or the care for people at the beginning or the end of life. It is a struggle, but we are not losing... In this country [UK] many talk of the post-Christian society, but the Church of England educates more than a million children in our schools. We are involved in almost all the food banks as, for the first time since the 1930s, we have hunger in this country. We are still a major part of the glue that holds society together. A recent attempt to introduce assisted suicide was crushingly defeated in Parliament. We are exempted from the Same-Sex Marriage Act, showing that our voice is still heard against the prevailing wind of our society, and at much cost to ourselves, by the way. The Church of England is still a primary source of leadership for communities, to the dismay of the secularists.
Justin Welby, quoted in the Daily Telegraph
Which of course, misses the point entirely, or rather makes the secular case for us. It argues not for the maintenance of Anglican power and influence but for a diminution of it.
With such low and falling membership figures, the Anglican Church no longer has any automatic right to involve itself in the education of our children or to impose its own creed in matters such as end of life care. This is not 'the glue that holds society together' but part of the wedge driving it apart into rival religious camps. Faith schools can only increase division in society, as the recent report by the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life found. The Anglican Church would fight tooth and nail to keep the privilege of having access to our children to try to influence their religious beliefs; they do not run faith schools as a disinterested charity.
To boast that the Anglican Church played some part in the 'crushing defeat' of an assisted suicide bill in Parliament is tantamount to boasting that its power is much larger than it deserves, given its pitiful support in the population being governed and the overwhelming support for the defeated bill, with one poll finding that 82% of the population supported it. In this case they appear even not to have represented the views of a substantial proportion of their own lay members. This is not a Church which values and defends democracy but one with authoritarian, dictatorial tendencies which would like nothing better than a right of veto over our legislators, like the Supreme Leader in Iran has over the elected Iranian Parliament.
The Church appears to be pinning its hopes on a multi-billion pound reform and renewal campaign, although, given the recent finding that evangelism actually drives people away from the church nowadays because ostentatious professions of faith are simply embarrassing, this seems more like whistling in the dark. The church is going to do more of what has contributed to its catastrophic decline in recent years. And it has multi-billions of tax-free pounds to do it with.
The Bishop of Norwich, Graham James, said:
The 2014 figures are not in any way a surprise. Whilst the recent trend of the past decade continues, it has been anticipated and is being acted on radically. As part of a prayerful and considered response to these trends the Church is embarking upon the biggest renewal and reform process in over 150 years focusing our resources on prayer, evangelism, discipleship, vocations, leadership and training. We do not expect that trend to change imminently or immediately over the next few years due to demographics. We lose approximately one per cent of our churchgoers to death each year. Given the age profile of the CofE, the next few years will continue to have downward pressure as people die or become housebound and unable to attend church.
Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, quoted in the Daily Telegraph
It really is time now that the UK government stopped pretending it governs a Christian country not a secular one, and stopped giving support and privileges to unelected, undemocratic Anglican clerics. In other words, it's time the UK government disestablished the Anglican Church and implemented the recommendations and program for secularisation outlined in the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life. Britain is not a Christian Country any more. Secularism has won the hearts and minds of a people sickened by the abuses of arrogant clerics, the institutionalised misogyny, homophobia and the demonization of minorities and the infantile, brutal Bronze Age superstitions which underpin it.
It's over! Time now to move on.
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