by Nicholas henderson (Editorial)
Are the pulpits of Anglican churches occupied by closet atheists? A new survey shows that many vicars do not belive in the Resurrection or Virgin Birth
The Times (England), Aug. 1, 2002
A survey by the Cost of Conscience pressure group seems to imply that many of the pulpits of the Church of England are filled with closet atheists. According to its recent survey of some 2,000 clergy, only three in ten women priests and six in ten male priests believe in the Virgin Birth; only half of women priests and seven in ten male priests believe in the physical Resurrection of Christ. Here they stand — the report suggests — not actually believing 75 per cent of what they preach each Sunday.
Cost of Conscience stands on the extreme, traditionalist wing of the Church of England and has often been accused of having an underlying agenda by which it might castigate the mainstream of the Church, not least in implying that women priests must not become bishops because of their tendency to stray from orthodoxy.
But clergy who do not hold to Cost of Conscience views are neither atheists nor people who have succumbed to the tides of secularisation; rather they stand for a credible faith for reasonable people.
The present generation are all ultimately children of the Enlightenment, exposed to modern science and the critical, inquiring approach. This makes for a curious, questioning generation of people, and demands that the Church has to acknowledge such a position in its presentation of the faith. For example, everyone agrees (as do the 39 Articles of the Church of England) that the Deuteronomic rules of the Bible cannot be obeyed simply at face value.
The Church must not throw up insurmountable barriers to people interested in Christianity, suggesting that unless they subscribe to everything they are not true believers — that all Christians, like Alice in Wonderland’s White Queen, must believe six impossible things before breakfast.
The current contentious doctrine of the Virgin Birth has been made a litmus test by traditionalists. This is unfair. Such a stance is similar to the Darwinian controversy of the 19th century, when conservative Christians feared that if one tenet of faith was struck down then the whole edifice would fall with it.
The Rev Nicholas Henderson is general secretary of the Modern Churchpeople’s Union and vicar of two West London parishes