DURING a debate on the
"crises" facing the worldwide Church, broadcast on Radio 4 on
Tuesday, which covered dwindling congregations, arguments over the
ordination of women, and the cover-up of sexual abuse, Christian
speakers expressed hope for the future.
Co-ordinated by the think
tank Theos, Christianity at a Crossroads? was chaired by
the presenter John Humphrys at Methodist Central Hall on Monday
The Vicar of St
Martin-in-the-Fields, the Revd Dr Sam Wells, argued that "to wake
up one morning and discover that people in the church sin isn't
news. It's very, very sad, and certainly to be repented of, and the
level of the issues that [the panel] has been talking about call
for international and widespread demonstrations of repentance; but
. . . it's in the nature of the Christian faith to understand the
past through the lens of the forgiveness of sins."
He had "a hope for the
future. . . I believe that the human crisis is not so much
mortality or human limitation: I think it's isolation; and I think
the gift of the gospel is to overcome our profound human isolation
with God, with one another, and with the creation."
He suggested that the Church
had an opportunity to "rediscover what it means to be David", who
had "just the five smooth stones to play with", as opposed to "the
David who became Goliath - this hulking, overweight bloated figure
that had lost its soul and lost its identity". Matthew Parris, the
Times colomnist and former MP, who was on the panel as an
"unbeliever", said: "I don't think the sins of some of those who
promulgate it are an argument against the Christian message."
The novelist Sarah Dunant,
also an "unbeliever", said that the Churches could have "a real
role to play if we are going to redefine the debate of what it is
like to be human", but that, "until they put their own houses in
order in terms of basic human rights, they are just not eligible to
lead by example".
Speaking of attitudes
towards women, homosexuality, and celibacy, she said that, "even
though we may have the most inspired, engaged, and humble new
leaders for the Church, they will not be able to do their jobs
unless they take action in order to address those things."
Dr Anna Rowlands, a Roman
Catholic lecturer in theology and ministry at King's College,
London, said: "One of the earliest Christian heresies is the idea
that the Church is called only to be a community of the absolutely
pure. . . We will continue to be a community of sin. . . We do
need, however, to learn very deep lessons from the abuse
There was, she said,
"genuine hope for a Church which can reclaim a sense of being able
to talk about hope at all. I think at times we are quite a
depressive society, and we find it easier to give up than to cast
something at a real hope. I want from both the Pope and the new
Archbishop of Canterbury a sense in which we can, with great
humility . . . find a language around hope."
The Church had its crises,
Ms Dunant said, but "we have a bigger crisis in the outside world,
where your sense and my sense of morality has gone way astray."
Mr Parris said: "If the Church in Europe in the 21st century was
inhabited by a strong abiding sense of the divine presence of the
truth of the Gospels, of the immaculate conception, the death, the
resurrection of Christ; then all these things would be relatively
unimportant. . . The sin, and the fuss about the sin, is in some
way a symptom of the loss of that underlying sense of the divine
presence, and that unquestioning belief in Christian truth."