Discerning readers of ADU, by which I mean all of you, will have been noticing around the internet traps that ++George Carey has recently said that Christianity (or just the C of E?) in England has just one generation of life left and then it's last one out turn off the lights.
Andrew Brown, who often writes what strikes me as 'nasty pieces of work', puts the boot into ++George. First, he says that George has been saying this for years, only previously it was a ploy to inspire the troops to greater evangelistic efforts, now it is "Like a hypochondriac told by the doctor that he really has got cancer, the former archbishop finds that the worries that have comforted him for years are suddenly, horribly frightening."
Secondly, Brown says it is largely Carey's fault. The sub-heading tells his accusatory thesis, "If the CofE is doomed, as former archbishop of Canterbury George Carey insists, it's down to the damage he did in office." Not nice, Andrew. Just nasty. The point of the body of Christ is that all are responsible for its health ... oh, wait, theology has nothing to do with anything when we want to be nasty.
If Brown could get away from the joy of putting the boot into Carey he might like to consider the complexity of British society, the pluralism of Western culture in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Broad churches such as the C of E are going to have complexities. Its archbishops are having (and have had) a heck of a job balancing competing demands to offer both balanced leadership to their diverse and often conflicted church and prophetic response to ever-changing society. Carey (and Williams who gets a kicking too) deserve sympathy not sarcasm.
The worst part of Brown's boot job is its complete failure to think through what kind of church the C of E might be now if from the early 1990s it had completely followed what general English culture had told it to do. I suggest it would be now be dead. Not one generation away from demise.
We are on much better grounds if we read A.N. Wilson in the Telegraph, helpfully brought to my attention by the much maligned (here) David Virtue. His whole article is a sobering if not shattering analysis of the state of faith in English culture. I do not think fluency in Kiwispeak is required before translating it into NZ church life. If you do nothing else today, read this article!
Here are the paragraphs that are the bare minimum required reading for people who love the God of Jesus Christ, his gospel, his body and that bit of it described as 'Anglican.' My bold.
"Evangelicals like [Carey] have had some success, mainly in suburban parishes, where congregations can be numbered in their hundreds. But these places, which appear to buck the trend, are in catchment areas of tens of thousands of people, none of whom would go near such an evangelical Church, with its outreach, Toddlers' Praise and speaking in tongues.
There are two simple reasons for this, and there is nothing anyone can say that will make these reasons go away.
The first is sex. Traditional Christianity taught that there is no permitted sexual act outside marriage. All but no one now - even Christians - really believes this. What used to be called "living in sin" is absolutely normal. Nearly all young people, gay or straight, when they reach a certain moment in their relationship, try living together. The Churches can either back down and say that for 2,000 years they have been talking nonsense about sex; or they can dig in their heels. Either way, the Church is diminished. [Editorial Note: we are in a cleft stick!]
The second reason is a much bigger thing. That is the decline of belief itself. Most people simply cannot subscribe to the traditional creeds. No number of Alpha courses can make people believe that God took human form of a Virgin, or rose from the dead. They simply can't swallow it. They see no reason, therefore, to listen to a Church that propounds these stories and then presumes to tell them how to behave in the bedroom.
When there was a tradition of church-going, there was more room for unbelief. When a young priest told Archbishop Michael Ramsey that he had lost his faith in God, Ramsey replied, after a long pause: "It doesn't matter - it doesn't matter." You can't imagine Lord Carey saying that.
Unbelief, and the change in sexual mores, affects not only the decline in Anglican congregations, but the entire history of the Western Church.
The "Francis effect" is said to be drawing back mass attendance in Italy. But the Pope's focus groups, asking what the faithful believe, will yield similar results as they would in the Church of England - people don't think it is sinful to live together, they don't think it is sinful to be gay, and they no longer really believe in the Incarnation.
This is dire news for institutional Christianity."
There is much to ponder here. Both for ourselves in mission in these islands (including the West Island across the ditch from here) and for ourselves working out how to do churchy stuff.
But there is also an angle to ponder in the light of GAFCON 2. Whatever we make of GAFCON, whether we think it gaffed or not in its diagnosis of Western culture, GAFCON represents Anglican Christianity convinced it will last a thousand years or more into the future. That Christianity is African dominated, conservative, sometimes extreme and always confident.
For Anglicans wringing our hands about how we engage with a culture of unbelief, let's acknowledge that if ++George Carey is right, when the lights go out on Christianity in his England, they will not go out in Africa. The surer guide to the future of Anglicanism lies with GAFCON than with the latest missive from the Anglican Communion office.