Who cares if the Church of England tears itself apart this weekend? Its million active members in Britain are barely ahead of the Roman Catholics, from whose church it separated five centuries ago, and the 930,000 practising Muslims. Only 15% of babies are now baptised into the Church of England and few of them are likely to graduate to church membership.
Schism is the occupational disease of religion. If, through the defection of ecclesiastical conservatives, West Indians and Africans, there are soon to be two Anglican churches in place of one, most Britons will just not notice. But their established church remains a substantial national institution, custodian of British values even to the many who do not patronise it. When it suffers an attack of episcopal knife crime, a message goes out that “the centre cannot hold”.
The cause of the conflict, the gender and sexual orientation of bishops, is as arcane as the Pelagian heresy. It is sadly ironic that the church should be headed at this time by an archbishop, Rowan Williams, whose personality seems more ideally cast for martyrdom than leadership. His saintly pain at the refusal of the contending parties to hear his lofty platitudes has become a national agony.