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On Monday, June 20, 2022, the Telegraph’s columnist Tim Stanley went back in time to explain how the rot set in the Church of England.

This happened early in the Queen’s reign. While she has nothing to do with the appointment of Archbishops of Canterbury, as the Prime Minister has this privileged responsibility, the decay is nearly 70 years old.

When I moved here decades ago, everyone said that the Church of England is the Tory (Conservative) Party at prayer.

Even at that time, our church — as did many other Anglican congregations in England — had non-liturgical services, disproving that trope.

The early morning service I attend probably could be described as mostly Conservative. Even then, I’m not sure, and, as only a handful of us are there week after week we are, therefore, hardly representative. The more widely attended mid-morning service certainly could be described as having adherents in the Liberal Democrats and Labour.

Stanley’s article, ‘How the Church of England became the Labour Party at prayer’, discusses two Archbishops of Canterbury, the Right Revds Geoffrey Fisher and Michael Ramsey.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Geoffrey Fisher

Geoffrey Fisher was the Archbishop of Canterbury when the Queen acceded the throne.

Like many Anglican clergy, he was a bit of an oxymoron.

On the one hand:

Fisher, a former headmaster, is rumoured to have talked Princess Margaret out of marrying a divorcee …

On the other hand:

in his diary, long ago in 1957, [Conservative Prime Minister] Harold Macmillan wrote that he dreaded his meetings with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher. “I try to talk to him about religion, but he seems to be quite uninterested and reverts all the time to politics.”

Then there was the strange middle ground. Fisher:

opined of the nuclear bomb that “the very worst” it could do “is to sweep a vast number of people from this world into the next, into which they must all go anyway.” Yet he was also against Suez and the premium bond, the latter a lottery cooked up by Macmillan that Fisher regarded as ungodly.

The premium bond is great. It is one of the best investments that one can make these days. I ‘win’ at least one bond worth £25 nearly every month. I don’t need to lift a finger; the draw takes place automatically. This is a much better appreciation in capital than a standard savings account will provide these days.

Fisher got shirty with Macmillan when it came time to select his successor:

Macmillan was as mischievous when it came to clerical appointments. He suggested to Fisher that the best choice for his successor at Canterbury might be Michael Ramsey, the liberal-minded Archbishop of York. “Dr Ramsey is a theologian, a scholar and a man of prayer,” Fisher is supposed to have said. “Therefore he is entirely unsuitable as Archbishop of Canterbury.” He knew this, he explained, because he had been his headmaster. “Well, you may have been Dr Ramsey’s headmaster,” retorted Macmillan, “but you are not mine” – and, one likes to imagine, picked Ramsey for the job in a fit of obstinacy, ushering in the Swinging Sixties.

Michael Ramsey

Again, we have a contradiction in terms if Ramsey was indeed ‘a theologian, a scholar and a man of prayer’, because it was during his tenure, according to Tim Stanley, that the C of E embraced the prevailing culture of the Swinging Sixties:

Under Fisher, the mission was to confirm an ancient Christian identity, but by 1960, it was obvious that England was changing fast. Rather than resist, Ramsey&Co sought to negotiate a new role as the nation’s conscience, not to block legislation, such as on divorce or abortion, but to shape it (so compassionate and forensic was Ramsey’s contribution to parliamentary debate on the legalisation of homosexual acts that one peer accused him of turning Hansard into pornography).

As clerics became dynamic commentators on the state of the nation, it might have seemed as if the gamble were paying off. But they were running on the fumes of the Fifties. It was Fisher-style conservatism that gave them the air of authority that they leant to causes that, in turn, made them sound not like they were trying to transform the world but allowing the world to transform them, that they had become dedicated disciples of fashion. Once, when asked what he thought about a trend for girls in London to walk about topless, Ramsey said, “We must just accept the fact that young people express themselves in new methods of dress that may seem queer to the older among us.”

Political shifts also took place during this time. Ramsey became Archbishop of Canterbury under a Conservative Prime Minister. In the middle of his tenure, Labour’s Harold Wilson took the helm. Edward ‘Ted’ Heath, a wet Conservative, succeeded him.

Harold Wilson ran into problems over immigration legislation with Ramsey:

One of the new archbishop’s interests was immigration. Ramsey called the Conservatives’ 1962 bill, which for the first time limited arrivals from the Commonwealth, “deplorable”. Labour, keen to co-opt the church, made him chair of a committee on race relations, though in 1968 Harold Wilson limited Asian immigration from Kenya and Ramsey condemned that bill, too.

Present day

Over the past seven decades, it has been easier for Archbishops of Canterbury to visit war zones in other parts of the world, but, as Tim Stanley points out, it is often the local vicar who encounters the impact of displaced persons:

Archbishops of Canterbury are part of a global communion: they have visited warzones and dictatorships and seen the horrors that compel people to flee, and when these unfortunates turn up in Britain, it is often the parish clergy who encounter them first. A vicar friend walked into his church one day to discover a Nigerian exile had broken into the children’s creche and was sound asleep in the Wendy house.

Immigration is a bigger issue than ever, especially as the Government is adamant over its plan to send illegals to Rwanda for processing, despite the fact that the June 14 charter flight lost all of its 37 passengers to legal challenges:

Its hierarchy has completely become the Labour Party at prayer … and so, in a bid to find relevance among those who don’t believe in God, the CofE frequently finds itself alienating those who do. It has probably irritated a few Rwandans along the way.

It is still hard for me to believe that most Anglicans voted for Brexit, but I stand corrected. Maybe they no longer go to church? Stanley says:

the one part of the population that has remained steadfastly loyal to the church is Conservative voters (two-thirds of English Anglicans voted for Brexit) …

Most importantly, while most, though not all, C of E clergy are clearly on the Left, they are attempting to court God-fearing Africans, who do not share their social views:

Archbishop Laurent Mbanda, head of the Rwandan Anglicans, has said he supports asylum seekers being sent to his country: he is also one of three African church leaders boycotting the upcoming Lambeth conference over the CofE’s tolerance of homosexuality. Here is the final twist. The Church that bent over backwards to ally with the post-colonial world has, in the process, embraced a liberal theology that now puts it at odds with much of the post-colonial world.

How Anglican clergy will reconcile that conundrum is anyone’s guess.

Would that the clergy concentrate on our souls and the promise of salvation instead.

Perhaps we need more African bishops serving in England. They know what the point of the Church is — and it isn’t politics.

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