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Not much vesting in the vestry

05 February 2016

Or not: the vesture story in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph

Or not: the vesture story in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph

THERE are some stories that are timeless: boy meets girl, triumph over tragedy, or simply tragedy over triumph. There are some stories that are immortal and simply cannot die, such as the revelation, fresh every year, that the Pope is Catholic. And there are some stories that are zombies, and simply will not die, however often they are killed — “Robes for vicars may be surplice to requirements”, as The Times had it.

This is a story that could only be news to anyone who has stayed away from Evangelical services for the past 30 years. Oh, all right, that’s 98 per cent of the population then. Objection withdrawn.

The Times lead was: “The sight of a vicar celebrating communion in a hoodie or leading evening prayers in jeans would come as a shock to many churchgoers, but the Church of England is set to scrap its dress code to make traditional robes optional.” This was more precise than the Telegraph’s: “Vicars could be free to conduct services in track suits and hoodies under new proposals by the Church of England to be seen as ‘relevant’ in the modern world.”

The trouble with the greater technical accuracy of the Times lead is that it invites the retort that the sight of a vicar leading evening prayers would come as a shock almost everywhere, whatever he or she was wearing.


THEN there was the Jayne Ozanne poll on Anglican attitudes to same-sex marriage. The Guardian highlighted the informative part of the poll, which was the change in attitudes since the question was last asked on the same basis: “A poll conducted in the aftermath of the Canterbury meeting found 45% of people who define themselves as Church of England approve of same-sex marriage, compared with 37% who believe it is wrong. A similar survey three years ago found almost the reverse: 38% of Anglicans in favour and 47% opposed.”

PA went for the obvious headline: “Anglican churchgoers who support gay marriage outnumber those opposed to it for the first time, according to a new poll.

“The YouGov survey suggested 45% of Church of England followers felt same-sex marriage was right, against 37% who believed it wrong. Jayne Ozanne, a leading gay Evangelical Anglican and member of the General Synod, the Church of England’s ruling body, said the results showed the Church of England was ‘out of step’ with its members.”

The pushback to this, from Evangelicals who are opposed to same-sex marriage, concentrated on the idea that Ozanne had polled people who are not really Anglicans. There was no breakdown by attendance in her figures: a poll that did that would have been significantly more expensive. You need to poll a very large number of people to get a statistically reliable sample of weekly churchgoers.

None the less, one really does want to know how attitudes differ between self-identifying “Anglicans”, and self-reporting churchgoers. My guess is that they continue to track each other, with the regular churchgoers registering as more conservative, as they have done before. What matters is the direction of travel.

The Evangelicals presently in control of the Church do not, I think, suppose that the opinions of self-identifying Anglicans who do not go to church are of any interest whatever. Nor do they seem to believe that anyone ever leaves an Evangelical church: that is supposed to be something that happens only to liberals.

Even looking at the Church from a purely economic viewpoint, as if it were a business, both these propositions are shortsighted. The people who might come into church and become regular customers are almost certainly those now on the periphery. Even if you do not regard them now as real Anglicans, they are the only place from which a fresh supply of real Christians might be raised.


SOME years ago, Nick Spencer, of Theos, wrapped up a discussion on the decline of the New Atheists with the line “. . . and Richard Dawkins discovered Twitter”. Seldom has a joke had more point. Dawkins’s dislike of uppity women and of Muslims has led him into some extraordinarily coarse and stupid associations.

Last week, there was a minor flurry of outrage, and he was disinvited from a conference when he retweeted a link to a YouTube “satirical” cartoon, in which a named Canadian feminist was supposed to say “It’s not rape when a Muslim does it.” This was withdrawn when he discovered that she was a real person. Presumably he believes in imaginary feminists who say this.

Then he tried again, tweeting a link to a picture showing, on the one side, a scientist wearing a Hawaiian shirt with naked women on it, and, on the other, a woman being murdered by Islamic State. The caption was: “One of these pictures upsets feminists. The other shows the execution of a woman.”

Are the people who are repelled by Dawkins real atheists, or not?

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