The motive for this paper is not to wallow in the bad news (of which there is plenty) but to do something positive about it – in particular to pray, especially for Revival.

Every day I thank God “for the good things in the church: where there is faith in you, love for you, sincere worship, biblical teaching and true discipleship, unity and love, evangelism and outreach, prayer, spiritual and numerical growth.” It is important to realise that there is a lot of positive information about churches, especially when we remember that the media tends to focus on the negative news. Please bear this in mind as you read this paper which majors on the negative news. The reason for majoring on it is that much of it is very serious and damaging and we need to pray against the negatives and for the positives. And we particularly need to pray for revival – on a scale that happened in the 19th century Wesleyan Revival. Revival always begins with the church. I start with a positive.

The good effects of the Covid 19 crisis

One of the good effects is that many churches are using electronic communication to reach people during the lockdown and it seems they are reaching people who would not go to a church building (in normal circumstances). Obviously, it is important for Christians actually to meet together in fellowship, including for Communion. But if it is a choice between an individual having no contact with the church or being in contact via electronic media then, of course, the latter is preferable. In an age dominated by electronic communication it is important that the church uses electronic means in evangelism and teaching the Christian Faith, and in enabling people to experience Christian worship. It is likely that this increased use of the media will continue after the crisis, which is a good prospect.

Sometimes virtual reality is used, perhaps via a headset, which produces a 3D image, creating a completely immersive experience of an online church community. Then there is chatbot, an Artificial Intelligence device which can answer thousands of questions about the faith.

There was a huge increase in downloading of Bible Apps in the early days of the lockdown. One was installed almost two million times. Eden Bible Stores saw the sale of physical Bibles rise by 55%. American publisher LifeWay Christian Resources said sales were up 62% compared with last year.  Tyndale House Publishers recorded an increase too.

 

There has also been a massive increase in Google searches for “prayer” and “Christianity.” Since the lockdown people involved in online Alpha Courses have doubled in numbers.

Use of electronic communication prior to the crisis

Electronic communication was in increasing use before the Coronavirus crisis.

Wycliffe Bible Translators now have a Bible translation method – Mobilised Assistance Supporting Translation – which enables nationals, even in remote and dangerous countries, to translate the Bible into their own language. It uses computer tablets with translation software and high-speed printing. Instead of taking years translation of the New Testament can be done in months.

Church growth

Between 2007 and 2107 10% of Church of England parish churches have experienced significant growth in regular Sunday attendance. St George’s, Gateshead began in 2016 with 20 members and now has 200. 72 other new churches are growing in Co Durham.

Independent churches such as FIEC, Brethren, New Churches (e.g. Vineyard and New Frontiers) the Salvation Army and many immigrant churches have growing membership – an average of 2.4% between 2012 and 2019. However 10% of them grew at an average rate of 6.4%. They include Immigrant Churches, (mainly Black) Pentecostal Churches.

Dr Peter Brierley records that a group he calls Mainstream Anglican Evangelicals, grew from being 16% of all Evangelical Anglicans in 1990 to being 33% by 2010. Mainstream Evangelicals are also growing in other denominations.

Chelmsford Diocese plans to set up 101 new worshipping communities by 2025. Oxford Diocese plans to set up 750 new congregations (e.g. Fresh Expressions) for people untouched by traditional church. Stephen Hance, the new National Lead for Evangelism and Witness in the Church of England heads up a project to prepare 1000 new evangelists by 2025.

However, there is also bad news.

Church numerical decline

Church of England regular worshippers overall declined by 10% in the last decade. 39% of parishes reported a decline but 50% of parishes didn’t provided sufficient data. Membership of Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist churches is also declining. The number of Evangelical churchgoers (across all denominations) was 1.4 million in 1990 but is declining to an estimated 1.2 million by 2030.

A Gallup poll recorded that US church membership had declined from 70% to 50% since 1999.

Church spiritual failure

A LifeWay study found that only 15% of British regular churchgoers read the Bible every day. 45% read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40% only read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 20% say they never read the Bible.

A Scripture Union study of over 1,500 Christian ministries found that many of their leaders and volunteers set aside “no or minimal” time for prayer.

Church theological failure

Dr John Shepherd was appointed in January 2019 as interim director of the Anglican Centre in Rome. But the previous Easter he said in a sermon “The resurrection of Jesus ought not to be seen in physical terms, but as a new spiritual reality. It is important for Christians to be set free from the idea that the resurrection was an extraordinary physical event which restored to life Jesus’ original earthly body….Jesus’ early followers felt His presence after His death as strongly as if it were a physical presence and incorporated this sense of a resurrection experience into their gospel accounts. But they’re not historical records as we would expect history to be written today; they are symbolic images of the breaking through of the resurrection spirit into human lives.” He subsequently released a statement seeking to give the impression that he was orthodox, saying he believed in the empty tomb. But it is difficult to see how that squares with the above statement. Did someone steal the body?

The Resonate Christian research organisation discovered that whereas 90% of Methodists believed in heaven only 56% believed in hell.  This is strange since Jesus clearly taught about Hell and had more to say about it than anyone else in the New Testament.

St Matthew and St Luke’s Church, Darlington invited local Muslims to pray in the church and told them that a cross and a picture of Jesus as The Light of the World would be covered up.

A Muslim scholar was invited to preach at a Communion service in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford.  Yet Islam denies everything the Communion service stands for. After protests, an Oxford diocesan spokesperson said the scholar would preach following the Communion Service.

Church desecration

In 2019 Southwark Cathedral hosted the London Fashion Week which featured very scantily-clad women parading up the aisle. For example, two were wearing bikinis.

Gloucester Cathedral allowed Sky to film a drama majoring on witchcraft in which one character seeks to connect to her witch heritage and a second seeks a witch to tutor a third character.

On a lesser level but totally inappropriate, Norwich Cathedral incorporated a huge helter-skelter on top of which the Bishop of Lynn preached a sermon before sliding down in his robes and mitre. In his sermon he said “God wants to be attractive to us… for us to enjoy ourselves, each other and the world around us and this glorious helter-skelter is about just that. Enjoying ourselves is a good thing to do and God will be revelling in it with us and all those people who have found fun and joy and laughter here.” Now I’m certainly not against fun and laughter but simply entertaining people who are not yet believers is not appropriate for the church.

Rochester Cathedral installed a miniature golf course and Peterborough Cathedral hosted “creative yoga” under a giant model of the planet Earth, titled “Gaia.” Gaia was, of course, the mother goddess who presided over the earth.

The Archbishop of Canterbury commented: “The first thing I want is for people not to be bored. I want them to have fun … If you can’t have fun in a cathedral, you don’t know what fun is.”

Church sexual abuse

Sexual abuse within the church has done enormous damage to the church’s reputation and the cause of the Gospel. There is a great deal of very damning evidence. For example, as I normally do, I read the Church of England Daily Media Digest (summary of secular news items related to the church) on January 14th 2020. Every item in the Digest was about serious crime amongst leaders in the Church of England:

  • Coverage of the documentary on BBC 2 the previous evening of the Bishop Peter Ball case. This was a shocking two-part documentary about the extensive and blatant sexual abuse carried out over years by a previous Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, for which he was imprisoned. He was convicted of abusing 17 teenagers and young men – one of whom took his own life. The present Bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek said “I am utterly ashamed that a so called Bishop in the Church of England committed such horrific abuse.” There was serious criticism of how the church dealt with the situation. Peter Hancock, the Church of England lead safeguarding bishop said “It is a matter of great shame and regret that the Church did not act to address the behaviour of Peter Ball at the time and that survivors were left to fight tirelessly for justice.”
  • Report of an 81-year-old former priest convicted of sex offences from the 70s and 80s in Chichester Diocese.

 

The other two items were non-sexual but very serious:

  • Coverage of a Channel 4 documentary about a former deputy church warden jailed for 36 years for murder.
  • Coverage of the discipline of a priest who had pocketed £6000 from sham weddings

Other serious matters were reported in the media during 2019:

  • “Warwickshire vicar Christopher Goble admits child porn charges”
  • “19 abuse allegations against former Bishop of Chester who died in 1987”
  • “Clergy and staff from Lincoln Diocese were referred to police in 2015 after church leaders had allegedly ‘turned a blind eye’ to claims of child abuse, an investigation has revealed.”

There were reports of sexual abuse in other denominations in 2019-2020. Here are some headlines:

  • ‘Feared’ pastor convicted of rapes which left some child victims pregnant” [This was the same day as the above Media Digest].
  • Dozens of Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing 166 children
  • Birmingham [Roman Catholic] Archdiocese let children be abused and harboured paedophile priests ‘to protect its own reputation’
  • Jesus Army will ‘cease to exist’ [because of sexual abuse].

All of this will have done enormous damage to the church and the Gospel. Little wonder a recent Ipsos Mori survey found that only 62% of people say they trust clergy to tell the truth. That compares with 69% in 2016 and 85% in 1983.

The homosexual issue

The Church of England bishops’ 2016 report

The Church of England bishops produced a report in 2016 entitled “Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations.” It was a typical Anglican document where the bishops wanted to avoid undermining the traditional view of sexual relations whilst giving maximum freedom to clergy to deviate from it without deviating from it! (No, that is not a typing mistake but a brief description of what the report says). It said there was little support for changing the traditional teaching but they wanted to “affirm the place of lesbian and gay people in the life of the Church.” If clergy are approached by couples wanting to enter a civil partnership “it would not be right to produce an authorised public liturgy” for the purpose. But “in contrast, forms of service may be “Commended” by the House [of Bishops] without Synodical approval [by the General Synod].” But “clergy may not use forms of service which are contrary to, or indicate any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter.” If the reader is confused that is a very sensible reaction! This is Anglican waffle at its worst. But there’s more.

The bishops went on to say “the House of Bishops has affirmed that stable, faithful homosexual relationships can ‘embody crucial social virtues’ of fidelity and mutuality. One challenge is therefore to explore how that affirmation in the case of both celibate and non-celibate [emphasis mine] relationships might be more fully articulated in our theological ethics and better communicated in our pastoral and missional practice, while maintaining the current doctrine of the Church of England on marriage and relationships. …. To maintain an unambiguous position on doctrine in this matter while enabling a generous freedom for pastoral practice that does not directly and publicly undermine it is entirely consistent with our traditions and is a perfectly coherent approach to take.” 

This report was submitted for consideration by the General Synod in February 2017 but the synod refused even to “take note” of it. In other words, it totally dismissed it.

The Church of England bishops’ 2019 report

In December 2019 the House of Bishops produced a pastoral statement “Civil Partnerships – for same sex and opposite sex couples.” This was a largely good statement which clearly stated a traditional biblical understanding on the homosexual issue. It said

“The introduction of same sex marriage, through the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, has not changed the church’s teaching on marriage or same sex relationships. A major study of this and other areas of human sexuality is underway (the Living in Love and Faith project). This work, which is expected to be completed in 2020, will then inform further deliberations of the House of Bishops. In the context, however, of the introduction of opposite sex as well as same sex civil partnerships, the teaching of the church on marriage remains unchanged … There is no theological consensus about same sex unions. Therefore, we as a body cannot support the authorisation of such rites’…. While clergy are fully entitled to argue, in the Living in Love and Faith process and elsewhere, for a change in that teaching, they are not entitled to claim the liberty to set it aside. With opposite sex civil partnerships, and with those for same sex couples, the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics remains unchanged. For Christians, marriage – that is the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows – remains the proper context for sexual activity.”

There followed a huge outcry against this biblical statement. Prominent Anglicans produced an open letter which said “The Church of England has this week become a laughingstock to a nation that believes it is obsessed with sex. More importantly this statement has significantly damaged the mission of the Church and it has broken the trust of those it seeks to serve… it seems our trust has been misplaced and we feel badly let down.”

In response the bishops of Gloucester, Worcester and Reading said they were upset at the hurt caused by the statement (although the first two were involved in producing it). Other bishops responded less than positively. Then the Archbishops of Canterbury and York apologised “We are very sorry and recognise the division and hurt this has caused.”

The Evangelical Group on General Synod divides over homosexuality

19 members of the group voted against a statement that marriage is “between one man and one woman” and that unmarried people should be committed to sexual abstinence. Some resigned from the group. 83 voted in favour.

The Lambeth Conference divided over homosexuality

Some senior overseas archbishops will not attend the Lambeth conference because of the presence of pro-homosexual bishops. In 2008 the Lambeth Conference excluded homosexual bishops (in sexual relationships) but they will be included in the next conference. However they may not bring their same-sex partners. The Bishop of Liverpool decided not to bring his (female) wife in protest. People in same-sex sexual relationships have been appointed bishops in Wales, Canada, the USA and New Zealand. The new Archbishop of York, Stephen Cotterell, has said that we need “to look again at those [biblical] texts [on homosexuality] to see what they are actually saying to our situation, for what we know now is not what was known then.” (He is mistaken in thinking this). He added that the biblical texts are merely “part of our story and our inheritance.” He believes it is acceptable to have a communion service for same-sex civil partnerships.

Other denominations

David Hull, chair of Methodist Evangelicals Together, commented on the Methodist Conference resolution supporting same-sex marriage which is likely to be finally approved at the next conference. When asked if he thought people will leave the denomination if the resolution is approved he replied: “I’m urging people not to leave just yet. I’m urging people to stay and to make the case for remaining faithful as long as we can. I don’t believe in division within the body of Christ but I do believe that we need to stand firmly on biblical teaching and so what I will be doing is, when asked the question, whether I continue to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the Methodist Church, if it changes I will have to say no at that point.” But other evangelical Methodists have said they will remain in the church. (You can see my papers about the Methodist statements on same sex marriage at Critique of Methodist study guide on same sex-marriage report and more extensively in Critique of Methodist report on homosexual relationships).

St Silas, Glasgow and Westhill Community Church, Aberdeen have voted to leave the Scottish Episcopal Church over its acceptance of homosexual practice.

Churches Together in England is facing serious division because a woman in a same-sex marriage has been appointed one of its presidents.

On the other hand, William Love, Bishop of Albany in the US Episcopal Church is being disciplined by the denomination for not permitting same-sex marriages in his diocese.

Gender issues

In July 2017 the Church of England General Synod voted to welcome and affirm transgender people. Trans people with gender recognition are already able to marry in Anglican churches and they can offer themselves for ordained ministry. In 2018 the bishops produced a document on pastoral guidance as to “how to use the rite of Affirmation of Baptismal Faith in the context of gender transition.” It said that “elements including water and oil can be used with the prayers and makes clear that trans people should be addressed publicly by their chosen name.” Then “As a central part of the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith the minister lays their hands on the candidate or candidates, addresses them by name, and prays for them.”

However there was a strong reaction against this guidance. Several senior clergy say they would refuse to conduct such services. They included the Bishop of Wakefield and the Bishop of Maidstone who said the Church of England needed to consider the theological basis for the “unconditional affirmation of trans people”. The Bishop of Blackburn who chaired the committee which produced the guidance eventually said that it “both highly divisive and theologically and pastorally questionable.”

One clergyman said “The Church of England would be declaring liturgically on behalf of God its acceptance of the claim that someone who is biologically male is in fact female or that someone who is biologically female is in fact male.”

Later an open letter signed by over 1600 clergy and lay leaders called for the advice to be reconsidered because it was an apparent “rejection of physical differentiation between male and female” which as well as being an “almost universal biological reality” is also “the basis of the Church’s understanding of Christian marriage.” They also said it was a misuse of the Baptismal liturgy.

In 2019 my wife wrote to the two archbishops asking if they could make a statement publicly disapproving of children being encouraged to consider changing sex, but she received waffly replies.

Conclusion

It is encouraging that there is an increasing amount of electronic communication by churches, including in evangelism. More people want Bibles and there is some church growth.

However there is serious numerical decline and serious spiritual weakness (many Christians not praying or reading the Bible very much). There is serious theological error – interfaith compromise, lack of belief in fundamental truths such as the resurrection, lack of belief in hell. Then there are the serious moral errors – very serious sexual abuse (including by clergy), widespread undermining of the traditional biblical teaching on sexual relations, and inappropriate action about the transgender issue.

The church desperately needs a major revival which will revitalize spirituality and promote holiness.

Tony Higton

Christianity is growing around the world and some churches in Britain are growing. But one of the main motives for praying for Revival in Britain is the widespread decline of the church numerically, spiritually and morally.

Church attendance

Church attendance in Britain is declining but what does that tell us about religious belief? Dr Peter Brierley, an expert on religious statistics, pointed out recently that in 2000 72% of British people said they believed in God and 5% attended church. In 2015 the figures were 60% and 4% respectively and he estimated that, at this rate, in 2020 they would be 50% and 3% respectively. So, despite the decline in church attendance, many of those who have left the church still have religious beliefs. Some may be genuine Christians but disenchanted with the church. Some may be nominally Christian. Some may believe in God as creator. Some may be adherents of other religions.

Steve Aisthorpe, Mission Development Worker for the Church of Scotland, published a book in 2016 called “The Invisible Church.” He did a survey of people who no longer attend church and reported that, of the 2000+ people who leave churches each week, the majority remain committed to their faith. He added that many meet up with others informally or online.

The important question is how much Christian belief amongst those who have left the church is purely nominal and not a saving faith.

Digital religion

It is interesting that smart phones and social media are playing an increasing role in Christianity. The Rev Pete Phillips is director of the Codec Research Centre for Digital Theology at Durham University. He has said “A new kind of mutated Christianity for a digital age is appearing. One that follows many of the ethics of the secular world.” It is focused more on the charitable and moral side of the Bible – the underlying tenets of religion, rather than the notion that the Universe was created by an all-seeing, all-powerful leader. This very individualistic approach means that people can pick and choose what doctrine they believe and avoid doctrines they don’t like. Phillips wrote “Millennials prefer this generalised picture of God rather than an interventionist God, and they prefer God to Jesus, because he’s non-specific. He stands behind them and allows them to get on with their own lives rather than Jesus, who comes in and interferes with everything.” But this pick-and-mix religion is hardly Christianity. True Christians who have left the church are missing out on Christianity as essentially corporate, as the New Testament makes clear. For example, at the heart of the faith is meeting together for Communion.

Unbelief amongst those claiming to be Christians

A Com Res survey in 2017 found that 28% of people who identified as Christians (including 5% of those who identified as “active” Christians) did not believe in the resurrection. Yet a third of people who identified as non-Christians believed in the resurrection. 10% of “active” Christians didn’t believe in life after death.

A 2017 YouGov poll about the importance of the 10 Commandments found that less than one third of Christians believe in preserving Sunday as a day of rest, only 38% were against using the Lord’s name in vain and only 43% disapproved of the worshipping of idols.

So, again, although there are people claiming to be Christians who don’t attend church, their beliefs sometimes conflict with Christianity.

Then there was the 2017 Christian Greenbelt Festival which invited participants to “Experience dhikr (remembrance), meditation, and poetry, and witness the sacred movement of the whirling dervishes. Participants can learn basic universal Sufi chants that are rhythmic, healing and a unique form of mystical worship.” I am thoroughly in favour of interfaith dialogue and respect but such worship in a Christian context is unbiblical and conflicts with the fundamental belief that Jesus is the only way of salvation.

Also in 2017 there was a controversial reading from the Quran at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral Epiphany Service in Glasgow. A Muslim law student went beyond the reading included in the order of service and added verses explicitly denying Jesus was the son of God. The dean, Kelvin Holdsworth, commented “This same Quranic reading has been given before in services and no outcry has happened. Is it because this is in a cathedral run by a gay man?” Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali commented “Christians should know what their fellow citizens believe and this can include reading the Qur’an for themselves, whether in the original or in translation. This is not, however, the same thing as having it read in Church in the context of public worship. It is particularly insensitive to have this passage read in Church on the Feast of the Epiphany when we celebrate not only Christ’s manifestation to the gentiles but also his baptism and the divine declaration, ‘You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.’”

Distrust in the church and clergy

A survey in December 2016 by nfpsynergy found that 56% of the British population had very little or not much trust in the church. An Ipsos/Mori poll found that 25% of people did not trust clergy or priests. 69% said they did trust them compared with 93% trusting nurses, 91% doctors and 88% teachers.

One of the worst factors which has damaged the church is, of course, sexual abuse by clergy. This has seriously affected the Church of England. But more recently the Roman Catholic Church has been the focus of concern. In Ireland sexual abuse has seriously damaged the Catholic Church. Twenty years ago 90% of the population were regular attenders at mass. Now the figure is about 18%. In America, after a two-year investigation, Jos Shapiro, Attorney General of Pennsylvania discovered 1000 victims but said there are likely to be many more. He added that in some cases, “the cover up stretched all the way up to the Vatican” and that bishops “protected their institution at all costs”. His colleagues believe that, even today, bishops are working hard to protect themselves. All of this has done enormous damage to the church and to the cause of the gospel.

On a different level, the apparently uncritical support of American Evangelicals for Donald Trump has undermined their credibility and some are dropping the description “Evangelical” accordingly. In fact, there is a support group on Facebook called “Exvangelical”! Inevitably people in Britain will conclude that British Evangelicals are Trump supporters too, which is not helpful.

The situation in the Church of England

There are good things going on in the Church of England, for example various initiatives reaching out to local communities such as the new Advance 2020 initiative. The organisers hope it will mean “the gospel being taken to the nation on an unprecedented scale.” One of the organisers said “We’re dreaming of seeing the United Kingdom come back to relationship with Jesus.” Evangelistic initiatives like this are very good and should be fully supported. But we have to face up to experience. They have very limited effects and tend to influence only the minority of churches already into evangelism. Also we are dealing with a population which is very resistant to the gospel. It is very important to do evangelism but it will only scratch the surface. We need more. We need revival.

There are also prayer initiatives such as “Thy Kingdom Come” – an international, ecumenical call to 10 days of prayer around Pentecost which grew out of an initiative of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in 2016. It involves over 50 denominations in 85 countries. There is a lot of faithful work going on in parishes, although the overburdening of the reduced number of clergy is a growing problem (however a growing number of younger people want to become ordained). And some churches are growing. At its best the Church of England has a lot to offer.

However it is facing enormous problems. There is serious numerical decline in many churches and many have small elderly congregations which doesn’t bode well for the future. The number of people identifying with the Church of England has more than halved (from 31% to 14%) in the last 15 years according to a recent British Social Attitudes survey. One Christian commentator said: “The Church [of England] is becoming less and less embedded in the public consciousness as representative of their own spiritual identity. It has become strange.”

Controversy over sexuality

The main issue it is struggling with is controversy over sexuality. There has been extensive bad publicity over sexual abuse by clergy and even one bishop. The Church of England has been facing 3,300 allegations of sexual abuse. It has been made worse by the fact that the issue has not been handled well by some bishops – a fact which has hit the headlines.

The other prominent aspect of the sexuality controversy in the C of E is the issue of homosexual practice, gay marriage etc. Officially the church is committed to the biblical view that sex is a gift of God to be enjoyed only within the context of heterosexual marriage. Anglican Canon Law states: “the Church of England affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is a union permanent and life-long, of one man with one woman…”

However, in an interview in October 2017, the Archbishop of Canterbury was asked “Is gay sex sinful?” He replied: “Because I don’t do blanket condemnation and I haven’t got a good answer to the question. I’ll be really honest about that. I know I haven’t got a good answer to the question. Inherently, within myself, the things that seem to me to be absolutely central are around faithfulness, stability of relationships and loving relationships.” In just a few words the archbishop seriously undermined the biblical stance of the Church of England.

In addition Canon Giles Goddard, chair of the Human Sexuality Group of the Church of England’s General Synod, said the church could not maintain its traditional position. He wrote an open letter on behalf of 240 of the 483 synod members, saying: “Marriage between a man and a woman is the majority stance of the Anglican Communion, but just because so many people say something does not mean it is right.”

A recent British Social Attitudes survey found that 73% of Anglicans don’t think premarital sex is wrong, and 55% don’t think gay sex is wrong. 62% of Roman Catholics support same-sex relationships. In 1985 only 9% of Christians in Britain supported same-sex relationships.

Confusion in the House of Bishops and General Synod

There is huge controversy over the issue in the General Synod which has a strong pro-gay lobby led by such people as Jayne Ozanne, an Evangelical who recently ‘came out’ as a lesbian.

Hereford Diocesan Synod passed a motion calling for “official prayers and a dedication service for gay couples after their civil partnership or marriage.” This has not been discussed in General Synod but it does not take much imagination to see that the church is moving towards such a position.

One of the problems is the confusing messages coming particularly from the House of Bishops. On the one hand they say they are maintaining the biblical teaching on marriage. On the other they appear to be moving towards accepting homosexual practice.

A 2017 report from the House of Bishops supported the official definition of marriage but also backed a greater role for practising homosexuals in the Church. The archbishops have promised “radical new Christian inclusion” in the church. The bishops were accused of “looking both ways” in sexuality.  The house is working on a report on sexuality to be presented in 2020.

In August 2018 Ely Cathedral flew the “Pride flag” to support the local pro-gay organisation held its first festival. The bishop defended this and said it did not represent a shift away from traditional church teaching on sexuality and gender. But the festival was not just supporting the correct idea that homosexuals should be treated with full respect as people. It was affirming that homosexual practice is acceptable.

On the 50th Anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in the UK the archbishops made a public statement which included the words “Sin is not a characteristic of a particular group of people. Sin is the same for all of us. And the challenge to take onto ourselves the obligation to be yoked with Christ, to bear the load he gives us, is the same for all of us.” This statement is true but anyone who follows events in the Church of England knows that the intended implication is that the church should therefore tolerate homosexual practice. The correct implication is that the church should not accept any unbiblical behaviour – in any of us – but urge repentance on everyone. This is certainly not the message the church is giving.

Uncritical emotional reactions

Another serious problem is the tendency of the church to act on a purely emotional level. Take for example the tragic case of 14-year old Lizzie Lowe who committed suicide because she did not believe she would be accepted as a Christian because she believed she was gay. Who could not be deeply distressed at such a tragedy? It shows the importance of the church making it clear that it accepts and respect homosexuals as people just as much as heterosexuals. But, sadly, in addition to this, her traumatised church has radically changed to accept homosexual practice. For example, it invited the first Didsbury [Gay] Pride event to take place in its grounds. It has also joined with 11 other neighbouring churches to become the first “inclusive” Deanery in the Church of England. The area Dean is gay.

The church must warmly welcome all human beings but it should not necessarily welcome their behaviour.

Increasing support for homosexual practice in other churches

The Scottish Episcopal Church decided in 2017 to approve same-sex marriages taking place in their churches. One third of its clergy have asked to be licensed to take them. However St Thomas’ Edinburgh has left the Episcopal Church because of the decision. The rector, David McCarthy, said “We have not done it easily. We have had many tears and many sleepless nights. It is a tragic necessity. But it is the Episcopal Church who are leaving us. They are leaving orthodoxy.”

A few months later, in a meeting of Anglican Primates in Canterbury, a decision was made to exclude the Scottish Episcopal Church from ecumenical and leadership roles in the Anglican Communion.

In September 2018 the head of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Mark Strange gave a presentation on same-sex marriage to the Church in Wales. Afterwards the governing body stated: “It is pastorally unsustainable for the Church to make no formal provision for those in same-gender relationships.”

Meanwhile the Presbyterian Church in Ireland decided against allowing same-sex marriages and not to allow those in same-sex relationships to be full members. This resulted in 232 senior members of the church writing to express their “profound sense of hurt, dismay and anger” at those decisions.

In May 2018 the Anglican Church in New Zealand voted in favour of blessing couples in same-sex relationships. But it does not permit same sex marriages to take place in churches.

Serious division

In view of all this, it is hardly surprising that the Church of England and the Anglican Communion are facing serious division (and will face more in the future). The Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) is a new organisation which seeks to establish Anglican Churches in England outside the Church of England. However it also supports Church of England churches which are seriously struggling with the way the Church of England is going. AMiE grew out of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) which involved archbishops, bishops, clergy and lay leaders. The first conference happened in 2008 and its aim was to take a “united stand against the moral compromise, doctrinal error and the collapse of biblical witness that were becoming prevalent in parts of the Anglican Communion.” The conference said that the Episcopal Church of the USA, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Scottish Episcopal Church had departed from the Christian faith (over the issue of homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage). They called on the Archbishop of Canterbury not to invite representatives of these churches to the Lambeth Conference in 2020 and said if he didn’t the archbishops in GAFCON would not attend.

AMiE has taken the very controversial step of arranging the consecration of an English clergyman as a bishop outside the structure of the Church of England. He is Andy Lines and is legally the Missionary Bishop to Europe of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which is outside the Anglican Communion. He has ordained people as Anglican clergy (again outside the Church of England). In addition Jonathan Pryke, a senior minister at Jesmond Parish Church, Newcastle, has been ordained bishop without Church of England authorisation.

If the Church of England approves of homosexual relationships and same-sex marriages the division is highly likely to spread.

What should be the attitude of biblical Christians to homosexual people?

As Christians and churches we should welcome sinners (there is no one else to welcome – we’re all sinners) but we should NOT welcome sin. So homosexual people should be warmly welcomed and respected as much as everyone else. But we should not welcome either their sins or anyone else’s, including our own. Jesus died bearing the penalty for their sins and ours. We all fall to temptation sometimes but if we repent, i.e. express sorrow and seek to mend our ways, God will forgive us. Christians should always forgive the penitent sinner. But if people persist in sin, we should treat them with love but we should in no way give them the impression we approve of their sin. Many people can fall to sexual temptation, which can be a powerful temptation for most of us, but we need to exercise self control. This is the conviction of “Living Out”, a Christian organisation run by same-sex attracted people committed to homosexual celibacy. It is run by three same-sex attracted Anglican Ministers who say “We experience same-sex attraction and yet are committed to what the Bible clearly says, and what the church has always taught, about marriage and sex. See http://www.livingout.org/

Tony Higton

“Britain is unusually irreligious” what the polls say

There is a lower proportion of religious people in Britain than in 58 other countries according to a 2015 poll.[1]

The number of Britons identifying as Christians has fallen by almost 5% between 2011 and 2016 according to a Lord Ashcroft poll. In August 2016 the percentage stood at 51.4%. The number self-identifying as having no religion has risen from 35.8% to 40.5% in the same period.[2] A YouGov poll put the percentage of Britons with no religion at 47%.[3] In January 2016 weekly Church of England attendance fell below one million for the first time.

However, the polls do not all agree with one another. The 2016 British Social Attitudes Survey shows that the decline of religion in Britain has levelled out. They actually show the percentage is lower, but also shows that there was a 1% rise in Britons describing themselves as Christian (42% to 43%) and a 1% reduction in those claiming to have no religion (49% to 48%). It added that, according to its research, the proportion of Britons describing themselves as Christian is the same as seven years ago. However experts say that this is a temporary halt before the oldest and most religious generation dies out. The number of people claiming to be Church of England dropped from 22% in 2006 to 17% in 2015.

Whichever poll one looks at, the percentage of nominal Christians is very low, and polls of church attendance show a far lower percentage of the population.

Theresa May stirs up controversy over her Christian faith

In a recent interview, Theresa May was asked by a journalist how she dealt with the difficult decisions a prime minister has to make. She responded: “It’s about, ‘Are you doing the right thing?’ If you know you are doing the right thing, you have the confidence, the energy to go and deliver that right message … I suppose there is something in terms of faith. I am a practising member of the Church of England and so forth, that lies behind what I do.” Her father was a vicar. She attends church regularly.

Bob Morgan “a commentator on society and politics” wrote an article criticising the prime minister for speaking in favour of Christianity. The main significance of the article was to show his embarrassing ignorance of Christianity. It was entitled “Theresa May’s Christianity – Another Way Of Dividing The Country.”

Stephen Evans, Campaigns Director of the National Secular Society commented: “The Prime Minister would do well to remember that she governs on behalf of everyone, including those of minority faiths and of course the majority of citizens who are not religious. While it is fine for Theresa May to have a faith, what she mustn’t do is abuse her position to promote Christianity or impose her own religious values on others.”

Ignorance and uneasiness about Christianity

On the other hand, Baroness Warsi, who was Minister for Faith in a previous government, urged Theresa May to reinstate the post of faith minister which was quietly dropped after the last election. As a Muslim, she said that the decline of Christianity in Britain was having an adverse effect on other faith groups. “I said back in 2012 Europe needs to be sure about its own Christian heritage for me to be able to understand my minority faith and for that heritage to be accurately reflected. It was an argument I consistently made in government. It wasn’t particularly popular in an ever secular society – an ever secular government.”

Sadly, she added a comment showing the hostility towards religion in Whitehall circles. “When I was the minister for faith there was a great catchphrase, they used to call me the minister for fairies, goblins and imaginary friends.”

David Isaac, chairman of the Equalities and Human Right Commission, recently encouraged employers to allow Christmas parties and decoration, sending Christmas cards etc., rather than thinking this was offensive to people of other faiths. He said: “Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right and it shouldn’t be suppressed through fear of offending.”

An editorial in the Guardian laments the fact that people such as David Isaac (and Theresa May) feel they have to say that people should be able to speak freely about their faith and to celebrate it. It says it is a symptom “of a deep unease and confusion about the role of Christianity in British life.” It adds: “The nervousness over Christmas, or even over expressing religious belief, is an absurd expression of a real void at the heart of soulless technocracy [i.e. society controlled by technical experts].”[4]

UN moves to remove compulsory school worship

In June 2016 The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child produced a paper recommending that the government repeals the requirement for compulsory attendance by children at school worship at publicly funded schools. The Rev Nigel Genders, Chief Education Officer for the Church of England responded: “Children flourish when they can develop spiritually and emotionally as well as academically.  We believe time set aside daily to be still, contemplate life’s challenges and learn about faith in action is crucial. It is possible to opt out of collective worship but in our experience this very rarely happens not least because children themselves enjoy this time of the school day.” I am aware that some schools do not really hold public worship and others may not hold helpful worship. But it is sad if children have no experience of worship as part of their education. They are being deprived of an important aspect.

Paranormal activity

Sadly, although there has been decline in religious observance, there is widespread superstition in British society. The growing popularity of Hallowe’en shows this. A recent survey revealed that half of Britons clam they have experienced paranormal activity in their home. One third say they have been frightened by it and one in eight have moved out of a house because of this. One in six claim to have seen a ghost. 62% won’t buy a house near a graveyard.[5]

Atheist beliefs

It is interesting that some atheists believe in life after death.

A survey conducted in 2013 by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture found that 32% of atheist or agnostic Americans believe in life after death and 6% believe in bodily resurrection. (Also 79% of those who are spiritual but not religious also believe in life after death and 17% believe in bodily resurrection).[6]

Also Andrew Singleton, a sociologist of religion at Melbourne’s Deakin University in Australia, did a survey in 2015 and reported: “The analysis reveals that afterlife belief is varied, individualistic and mainly arrived at with little to no reference to orthodox religious teaching. People variously believe in heaven, reincarnation, life on another plane or something more abstract. Those who follow faithfully a religious tradition are largely ignorant of detailed theological doctrines about life after death and like other kinds of believers, exercise their own authority and judgment over matters of belief.”

He found that some believed in heaven, others that some aspect of their being survives death and others believed in reincarnation either as a human or other species.[7]

[1] http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21704836-britain-unusually-irreligious-and-becoming-more-so-calls-national-debate

[2] http://lordashcroftpolls.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/The-New-Blueprint-Full-data-tables-Sept-2016.pdf

[3] https://yougov.co.uk/news/2016/08/14/funding-farmers-lose-memory-personal-importance-re/

[4] Editorial: The Guardian view on Christianity in Britain – neither here nor there, Sunday 4 December 2016.

[5] http://www.express.co.uk/news/weird/724495/Haunted-British-homes-paranormal-activity-research

[6] http://relationshipsinamerica.com/religion/do-people-still-believe-in-life-after-death

[7] http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13576275.2015.1099521?journalCode=cmrt20&

Sughra Ahmed, chair of the Islamic Society of Great Britain, wrote in the Spectator that he might be expected to support the opinion that the next Coronation should not be a Christian ceremony. He wrote: “I support the idea of a Christian coronation. Only 19 per cent of people [in a recent ComRes poll] thought that a Christian coronation would alienate people of non-Christian faiths from the ceremony, while only 22 per cent of people from a religious minority agreed that it would alienate them. I believe that many British Muslims feel the same way as me. We, like others, respect the traditions of our country, and would not see it as alienating if that Christian tradition continued.” He added: “The idea of Christian traditions being at the heart of the coronation is an affirmative sign that religious traditions play an important role in our nation’s key ceremonies.” He does think that the ceremony could involve representatives of other faiths.

Recently, the US gave visas to Sunni, Shia and Yazidi delegates to advocate for persecuted Muslims and Yazidis but refused a visa to the only Christian delegate Sister Diana, a leading Iraqi Christian. Yet she had been granted a visa in 2012.

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, responded: “I hope that as it gets attention Secretary Kerry will reverse it. If he doesn’t, Congress has to investigate, and the person who made this decision ought to be fired.”

Eventually Sister Diana was given a visa.

In 2014 when the US Institute for Peace brought together the governors of Nigeria’s for a conference in the U.S., the State Department blocked the visa of the region’s only Christian governor, Jonah David Jang.

Yet, more Christians are being persecuted in the Middle East than ever and some people point out that the increase in persecution is not just because of ISIS but also as a result of the US-UK invasion of Iraq. This puts a solemn responsibility on the US (and the UK).

I am definitely not anti-Muslim but it is a cause of concern when Christians, whether in the US or the UK, seem to have to play second fiddle to Muslims. Persecuted Christians and Muslims should be treated equally, i.e. well.

As I said before, although I have serious problems with Islamic belief (which I shall return to in the future), I will publish significant positive news about Muslims when it arises. It is part of loving our Muslim neighbour. I want nothing to do with hateful attitudes towards Muslims.

Hamid Slimi, imam of a mosque in Mississauga, Canada, asked his congregation to donate towards the repairs of a nearby Roman Catholic Church which had been seriously damaged by a young Muslim suffering from schizophrenia. They gave $5000. The Catholic priest said Slimi was “a very, very gracious man.”

I have often said that I believe we should love and respect our Muslim neighbour whilst we disagree with his religion. So I will publish significant positive news about Muslims when it arises – and it just has.

I commented recently about the very serious implications for Christian freedom of the Belfast pastor being prosecuted for saying Islam was satanic (see http://christianteaching.org.uk/blog/oppression-of-christians/belfast-pastor-to-be-prosecuted-for-saying-islam-is-satanic/). It was therefore encouraging to read the comments on the matter by Dr Muhammed Al-Husseini, a Senior Fellow in Islamic Studies at the Westminster Institute. He said:

“Against the flaming backdrop of torched Christian churches, bloody executions and massacres of faith minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is … a matter of utmost concern that, in this country, we discharge our common duty steadfastly to defend the freedom of citizens to discuss, debate and critique religious ideas and beliefs – restricting only speech which incites to physical violence against others … In a free and democratic society, we enter into severe peril when we start to confuse what we perhaps ought or ought not to say, with what in law we are allowed to, or not allowed to say. While those of us who hold clerical office as Christian pastors and priests, Jewish rabbis or Muslim imams, should rightly have due care and regard to the leadership role we exercise when we make public speeches, nevertheless our foremost duty remains to express theological ideas in good conscience before God.”

He spoke of his “deep concern and opposition to the criminalising of theological disagreement, at a time when our society should in fact be fostering better quality disagreement.” He added: “I further undertake that if Pastor McConnell is convicted and sent to prison, I shall go to prison with him.”

This article contains an update to my main paper “Discrimination against British Christian” which is on our Christian Teaching Resources website at

http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/DiscriminationAgainstBritishChristians.pdf

UPDATE 2 March 10th 2015

Oppression of Christian schools

Because of an incident of extreme religious views being taught in a British school there is now an emphasis on schools encouraging knowledge of other religions and tolerance – what are called “British values.” This is a good thing but it has led to most unhelpful results. A Christian school has been told it must invite a Muslim imam to take collective worship. The government seems unaware that many Christians would be willing to accept an imam coming to talk about Islam and answer questions but would have conscientious objections to their children being obliged to be led in Muslim worship. The right of a Christian school not to have Muslim worship must be protected (just as a Muslim school must have the right to refuse to have Christian worship). Schools are being required to “promote” other religions. If this means to learn about them, that is acceptable. But if it means a Christian school has to promote another faith as equally true to Christianity, that is a gross infringement of religious freedom.

Oppression of Christian organisations and individuals

A recent survey by the Evangelical Alliance found that 53% of British Christians believed they thought that they could get into trouble for saying what they believe in a work or professional context.