Yesterday official census figures were published showing the proportion of English people claiming no religious affiliation has risen over the last ten years from 15% to 25%, and the proportion of Christians has dropped from 72% to 59% over the same period.
And that was the same day the Government announced it wasn’t going to force the Church of England or Wales to conduct same-sex marriages, even though the majority of people in the country have no problem with it, and even though, for that matter, the majority of MPs are OK about it too.
The Church is entitled to hold strong beliefs about this if it chooses, but it’s showing itself to be increasingly out of touch with society – just as it did two weeks ago over the issue of women bishops. If its principles are more important to it than its popularity, then fine. But the bigger problem, it seems to me, is that this dissonance of opinion creates a distinction that people are beginning to notice – and that’s the distinction between faith and morality. The two used to go hand in hand – but if the Church espouses principles the majority of people now thinks are not in keeping with what’s right and fair, it soon won’t be regarded any longer as a moral arbiter. And when that day comes, the Church’s relevance, and not just its popularity, will dwindle even faster than it has thus far.
In the interests of its own survival, the Church should reconsider its position on sexuality and gender issues. It’s no coincidence that the word pragmatism begins with the letters PR.