IN THE last week or so two emails from Church of England HQ have hit my Mum’s inbox. Could this be a promise of more support for her work as vicar of eight village churches without even a curate? Could it be a response to her query about legal protection if she refuses to marry a trans person to a member of the same sex? Of course not. Like 95 per cent of the communications from bishops and central Church authorities the emails reflected the Church’s new priorities – Net Zero and ‘Racial Justice’. It would appear that preaching the gospel of salvation in Christ is passé.
The first email was about the General Synod’s recent endorsement of a plan for the Church to reach net zero by 2030. Earlier this month the Synod met for the first time since the start of the pandemic that saw the Church lock its doors, yet apparently climate change was their top priority. In the second email the devil is, perhaps literally, in the detail. There is superficially encouraging talk of money being ‘invested in local ministry as part of diocesan strategies’. However ‘diocesan strategies’ include allocating £190million ‘to help the Church of England transition to net zero’ and ‘£20million on work to promote Racial Justice.’ The net zero target is depressingly self explanatory. ‘Racial justice’ is a woke candy floss phrase, enticing but unsubstantial and unhealthy. It means white people atoning for their inherent racism and promoting people to jobs based on skin colour not ability.
The policy of racial quotas follows a C of E Anti-Racism Taskforce report called From Lament to Action published last year. That taskforce declares its mission as flowing ‘not from identity politics but from our identity in Christ’. However all its recommendations revolve around racial quotas for every level of church employment. At least one candidate on every shortlist for every job in the church is now ‘expected’ to be of UKME/GMH backgrounds. (These letters are Church wokespeak for UK Majority Ethnic and Global Majority Heritage, which is non-white to the rest of us). This would prove extremely difficult in certain parts of England, especially many rural communities. Failure to include an appropriately non-white candidate requires ‘valid and publishable reasons’. Furthermore the report advocates ‘new approaches to shortlisting and interviewing which place a duty on the employer to improve participation on an “action or explain” basis rather than relying on “bland encouragements” for under-represented groups to apply’. I have no idea what ‘bland encouragements’ are or indeed what less bland encouragements would be like. The rather Stalinist sounding ‘action or explain’ is likewise baffling and also sinister. The Church’s quest for ‘racial justice’ has created a paranoid, toxic atmosphere of seeing racism everywhere and seeing a person in terms in their skin colour. As my mother has always been ‘skin colour blind’ she first described my dark brown Peruvian Dad to her parents as ‘handsome but short’. Yet such is the Church’s enforced racial hyperawareness that she felt uneasy about the backlash she might face for turning down a priest of Nigerian heritage for a job, despite his clearly lacking the necessary experience. Priests now fear woke Big Brother questioning their every decision.
While the church’s focus and indeed finances are directed towards a woke agenda, many under-resourced parish priests and their congregations are struggling. It is especially small rural parishes that are being abandoned, often despite having historic churches that need constant maintenance and are regarded as the heart of the village. Twenty years ago our North Buckinghamshire Newport Deanery of 22 churches employed eight full-time priests and two full-time curates. Now there are five full-time priests, one half-time priest and one curate. When the Bishop of Oxford recently visited he was asked about concerns regarding dwindling clergy numbers. He assured us there were ‘no plans’ for further cuts. This slippery politician phraseology also totally misses the point. The problem is that smaller parishes are struggling to pay the ‘parish share’ which enables them to have a number of clergy. Failure to pay means fewer vicars and therefore less spiritual support for ordinary people.
Recently another ridiculously woke pronouncement from a Church of England bishop hit the headlines. Dr Robert Innes, the Bishop in Europe, declared that there ‘is no official definition of a woman’. Bizarrely even Rev Angela Berners-Wilson, England’s first woman priest, said that the issue is ‘sensitive’ and ‘maybe we need to reexamine our boundaries’. Many in the Church hierarchy appear oblivious that for most people the ‘boundary’ between a man and a woman is clear and doesn’t need ‘re-examining’. Shortly after this nonsense was in the news, the Telford ‘grooming’ gang scandal was revealed. More than 1,000 girls raped and abused whilst police and authorities turned a blind eye and yet the bishops were woefully silent in condemnation. Little wonder that many people, especially faithful church-goers, are feeling increasingly alienated from such an institution.
The widespread disillusionment with the Church of England and ‘Woke Welby’ has been reflected in many of the comments made to many and varied articles on the TCW website. I emailed the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev Dr Steven Croft, to respond to these feelings from both those inside and outside the Church. Just in time for this article I received a very friendly reply. It is encouraging to see a senior bishop engaging with criticism of the Church but I’m afraid his response does little to dispel the gloom. On shutting churches during lockdown there was regret at closing them to clergy but ‘in other areas we were complying with the government’s own guidance’. It is quite surprising that Bishop Steven didn’t address the ‘minor’ issue of abandoning parishioners rather than clergy. Moreover should not the Church’s ‘guidance’ first and foremost come from Holy Scripture? He then continued to address net zero by saying he was concerned about a ‘very disturbing turn away from net zero commitments in the current leadership election’. There was no mention of the impact of these commitments on ordinary people, especially the poor, and he presented belief in a ‘climate crisis’ as though it is unchallengeable. Likewise he did not tackle the issue of identity politics or defining a woman. Indeed, whilst I’m grateful for his response, the bishop rather proved how detached the Church has become from many of its parishioners who hold views it appears to regard as a kind of heresy. But what the Church of England regards as the new ‘heresy’ has nothing to do with being unfaithful to scripture and God. The Gospel of Christ has been replaced by the Gospel of Woke, arguably making many in the Church’s hierarchy the real heretics.