Yesterday, for the third time this year, someone expressed to me genuine concern about involving the church in a project because they feared that dealing with a discriminatory organisation would compromise their moral integrity. The Church of England used to be the guardian of the nation’s morals, but is increasingly perceived as irrelevant, or even a threat to them. At first sight this is amazing, because the people I meet in church are usually kind, upright and morally aware. The nation’s moral instinct has changed, however. The church in its own bubble has become, at best, the guardian of the value system of the nation’s grandparents, and at worst a den of religious anoraks defined by defensiveness, esoteric logic and discrimination.
The collapse of empire may have led people to search for a new moral purpose in diversity not conformity. Neoliberal economics since Margaret Thatcher may have broken down networks and social tribes, regional identities and family ties. A new social and moral consensus has emerged. It is broadly Christian in the sense of “inspired by the teaching of Jesus” but disconnected from the institutional church.
This affects more than just the C of E. Evangelical bodies bemuse people who are innately suspicious of religious zeal and unpersuaded about the particularities involved. The Roman Catholic church seems corrupt and weird about sex.