Is The Church Still Relevant?
In the ‘70s our church organist, a sweet, kindly and devout Anglican who’d been faultlessly abandoned by her husband, was flatly refused permission to remarry in church because she was divorced. The sense of injustice I felt as a Christian teenager at this callous prioritising of doctrine over decency is still palpable. Although I wasn’t aware of it then, this was the beginning of the end my own faith.
Too often the church has resounded with the voice of the naysayer, quixotically railing against modernity and the demise of repressive Victorian sexual prurience and hypocrisy. On swearing, nudity and sex on TV; the ‘blasphemy’ of Python, The Last Temptation and Springer The Opera; pre-marital sex and cohabitation, and on a thousand other petty prejudices it has railed and lost, and rightly lost.
The last 300 years have been pretty tough for Christianity, as science has challenged and ultimately collapsed centuries-old certainties. Perhaps it’s defensiveness, but it seems to me too many of the faithful have clung to bronze-age certitudes in matters of gender and sexual morality, as if mere rigidity could buttress them from secularity. It can’t. Rather, it becomes all too easy to caricature Christians as irrelevant cranks, obsessed by where one should put one’s genitalia: Loud, strident voices spewing pious bigotry, condemning love itself, if it shares the same gender; or promulgating banal misogyny, as if the want of a penis under purple robes could actually offend the Almighty!
Surely women bishops and gay marriages are coming soon, leaving all those shrill, judgemental Christian critics on the wrong side of history once more. But even as a committed humanist, I take no pleasure in this self-inflicted marginalisation. The church is at a crossroads. To offer progressive leadership, as it once did over civil-rights and the decriminalisation of homosexuality (yes, that’s really true), over apartheid and the dehumanising effects of 1980’s industrial decline; or to retreat to the security blanket of arcane dogma? But before it opts for the latter, a word of warning: Our sweet and kindly organist enjoyed a Register Office wedding, and never stepped foot in church again.
By: Steve Miller, The Christian Atheist
Author bio: The Christian Atheist is not only a committed non-believer, secularist and Chair of Cotswold Humanists; but also regularly attends a local High Anglican church and is interested in the Bible, theology and the history of Christianity. He believes that Christianity’s cultural legacy stills has value; more so if it is unencumbered by superstition and belief in the supernatural.
This short article was published in the Gloucestershire Echo on 31st December 2012 under the banner: The Great Debate – Is The Church Still Relevant?