BY THE year 2035, the Church of England needs fully to embrace
the diversity of modern life and society in the United Kingdom.
I would say that this is desirable for any faith that is more
than a sect or faction. For the Established Church of this country,
however, it is more than desirable - it is essential. The Church of
England will risk losing the status and privileges of establishment
unless it can demonstrate that it deserves them by relating to all
of British society, in all of its diversity.
This has five substantive implications. In each, the Church has
already been changing for some years, but the change needs to go
faster, and become more comprehensive.
First, the Church of England needs, in its own conduct and
behaviour, to reflect its positive recognition of the value and
importance of diversity. The barren and depressing debates about
the place of women in the Church, the rights of gay people, and
other similar matters need firmly to have become history.
Since I am not a theist, I am unqualified to offer theological
comment; but, second, it seems to me that the Church of England
needs to move beyond particular doctrinal standpoints which
ultimately result from its Tudor foundation.
Over nearly 500 years, doctrinal conflicts have both defined
difference with other Churches and spawned conflict within the
Church. Whatever their historical justification, the Church now
needs to focus on what unites, far more than what divides.
THIRD, this means that the Church has to become not only the
defender of its own faith, but a far broader-based defender of
respect for faith - all faiths - throughout our national life. This
means working even harder to develop functioning and working
relationships both with other faiths and with all those individuals
and groups who have their own faiths, without adhering rigidly to
any collective church doctrine.
And, fourth, the Church needs to understand how best to express
these values in its broad relationship to the rest of society, in
areas such as the constitutional position of the Church, its
influence in education and welfare, and its promotion of strong and
cohesive local communities.
The Church of England's fifth challenge is how to exist in an
even more diverse and complicated world, in which many of its
component national Churches have quite different parts to play in
their own societies, and so, unsurprisingly, have different
approaches to these problems. A difficult process of dialogue and
devolution is the only way to make progress here, and avoid
The Church has already been moving - usually slowly - in each of
these areas, but change needs to be accelerated dramatically if the
centrality of the Church of England to our society is to be
demonstrated, and establishment justified.
This is all a huge challenge, but if the Church does not
succeed, it will make itself less and less relevant to society, and
this will, in turn, place in question the very idea of an
Charles Clarke is a former Home Secretary and is currently a
visiting professor at the School of Political, Social and
International Studies at the University of East Anglia.