I have been a priest for 40 years and I am now witnessing something I have not seen before. There is no longer in English society that easy juxtaposition of the old and the new. Rather, there is a strident emphasis on doctrinal purity met by an equally intransigent and aggressive secularism.
The ongoing “debate” between Christians and secularists resembles an attritional slanging match, with not much give and take on either side. It is to Rowan’s credit that he conducted his recent public conversation with Richard Dawkins with such courtesy and lack of rancour. But there is an aggressive secularism abroad, and there are powerful voices in public life who wish to see Christianity expelled from the res publica.
The question, therefore, is what can the poor fellow who accepts the throne of Canterbury do about this? Almost certainly, the answer is very little. I am afraid that we are at one of those, thankfully rare, crisis moments in our history. The benign combination of ancient and modern will no longer suffice. The next leader of the Church of England must come down from that most uncomfortable fence and declare whether the institution is to be ruled according to the diversified mods or the old and traditionalist rockers.