Following my previous post, I am running a series on why I left the Anglican communion.
For me, there is no Church with a capital C. It’s why I write ‘the church of England’. Yes, I am aware of grammatical rules. But the Church is God’s people, and I’ve come to realise that some of those are not Christians. But at its narrowest, the Church is those who follow the teachings of and have a personal relationship with Jesus. Still pretty broad.
The Church is not Anglicans/Episcopalians, Catholics, the Orthodox or the Reformed churches. Note how many churches call themselves the singular Church! But the Church is never the official church of a country, the one entwined with state. These are flavours of Christianity; they are not able to claim to be The Church, implying that they alone are God’s people and others are not, or that they get to speak for God and represent other Christians on any level.
There are other groups who think of themselves as only God’s truly chosen (also wrong), but they are not that sort of Church – not the sort of whom the Queen is the head and the Prime Minister picks its bishops; not the sort whose leaders sit in the upper house of parliament; who have their own legal system, as outdated and unjust as the secular one. To formally complain, you must ask permission from the local bishop!
The Anglican church does not represent the Christian faith, and certainly not those of faith.
Reading more about the history of the Anglican church, I become ever angrier.
Until recently, I didn’t realise that there were two prongs to the Reformation: we generally only hear of one, the Magisterial branch. This is the tine who made a pretty-similar-to-the- church-you-protested-about chain which still remains. In England, it put church and state together; it retained the hierarchy of its predecessor; it enforced a set service which is still used. It continued to be landowning, state steering, elitist and controlling, with long histories of single families or institutions having the right to offer parish jobs to those it wished, without reference to their spirituality and suitability. It turfed the Catholics out of their buildings and commandeered them, and then began persecuting everyone who was not of their ilk. It barred all but its own from study and offices for over two centuries and it still has succeeded in keeping other faiths out of the house of lords and off the throne of Britain. (Capitals deliberately avoided).
The other prong was the Radical reformation: those who wanted to go further than the magisterial in altering the church, who disapproved of the hierarchy, riches and rituals, who believed they should be like the early church of the Bible before it became an international chain. They too suffered persecution. Dissenters of the radical tine whom we recognise today are Baptists, Quakers, and those who became Congregationalists and Unitarians. I am proudly from the latter, although my nonconformity goes further.
The Anglican church speaks of ‘tradition’ in support of itself, but like all establishment faiths, its past is coloured by control and exclusion. It was Anglicans who killed those who wouldn’t accept Henry VIII as its head, who punished those who didn’t attend their church, who burst in on other believers’ services to arrest and beat them, who ejected 2000 men from office at once for not accepting its tenets, who imprisoned and tortured and debarred, who extracted tithes of income and produce from everyone for centuries, regardless of where (or if) they worshipped.
Not all these are in the past. There is still elitism and nepotism. Whereas tithing for the whole neighbourhood has thankfully stopped, there is great pressure on congregants under the parish share system whereby a centrally determined quota has to be paid. The local parish church is the one eternally fundraising – even though nonconformist buildings are also often large and old now, and other faith groups have sometimes huge edifices. I’ve been invited to snowdrop walks, fetes, concerts, talks, seasonal services – all to raise money for the parish church. Often the parish church is more concerned about a practical need – a cracked window, falling tower, new heating, kitchen, even just moving the furniture around… and not something which the wider community benefits from… It’s all accoutrements.
I’ve even heard of parish churches having the cheek to ask that local traders donate to their fundraising efforts. Yet the church may not engage with or assist local residents and traders. I will have a separate section on pastoral care, but suffice to say that it’s often not resourced or well executed. The nearest to providing for the community is the church clock.
The church’s teachings have crept into wider culture for centuries.They were part of bringing in and perpetuating capitalism and slavery, and traded in fear.
Of course it is also fair to say that established churches (like others) were part of abolishing slavery. Most churches now are concerned for the environment – they recycle, and some even show sympathy for Extinction Rebellion. They’ll serve Fair Trade products and support causes from leprosy to water aid to poverty and homelessness.
Yet I’ve found that Anglican churches can be conformists in other aspects of social justice.
They can be policy driven and of a fix-it mentality. They don’t ask if providing clean water is part of literally tapping a community into the system and making this essential resource into a commodity controlled by someone else. I’m not sure if they ask enough questions about why people are on the streets, on drugs and drink, and how coming off all these isn’t again about resocialising these ‘unfortunates’ into the system. Just as water companies profit from pipelines, drugs companies profit from the prescribed drugs – in both senses – that those taking illegal drugs must use to come off the other sort. And being rehoused leads to taxes and rent being paid. Note that “3rd world” waterless communities and those living on the streets and imbibing illicit substances – and no I don’t imply those last two go together – are outside the mainstream capitalist system. So is well meant assistance really doing something more sinister?
I don’t know of any non Anglican churches in this country which install CCTV. I’ve seen snotty parking notices in a range of church car parks, included camera controlled fines extorted by parking firms – see my views on that here. But I’ve only seen wheelclamping threats in a parish church. Wht not just say – “parking for church users only please”?
Following another terror threat, Canterbury cathedral’s precinct was patrolled by armed guards. I told a minister who said, “Wow, they must have felt that was necessary”. I didn’t, as I shared here – and with the dean of the cathedral. After the Manchester arena bombing in 2017, its cathedral did bag searches on those attending services the next day. I was appalled.
Anglicans can be traditional about health. The evangelical end supports faith healing more, although it is wary of some alternative healthcare because of its new age or Eastern roots, and so can reject it – when actually faith and energy healing are similar. I’ve found that the higher end of the church focusses more on allopathic medicine and are great NHS supporters. Of course, many people have received good care from it and are understandably grateful. But Anglicans often uphold fellow institutions rather than critique them.
Coronavirus procedures swiftly appeared on Anglican websites. I’ve written my thoughts and concerns about that disease and our handling of it here and will again in my next post. But I will say that I’m glad that they kept meeting, when so much else was cancelled. (I was furious when I heard C of E policies, especially around Easter, where ministers were threatened for even entering a church alone!). And I saw a great poster today outside a church which made me smile – Mother Julian’s All Shall Be Well.
They don’t do everything wrong. And some of the individuals in them – including its ministers – comprise some lovely, genuine people who do good in the world, and whose faith and searchings are sincere. It’s the chain that I mind, although also the people who uphold the chain… and during this viral period, I continue to be shocked by clergy behaviours. I waited before saying that, hoping that the first sentence of this paragraph would be proven true for all I know.
I hope one day soon it’ll be possible to delete the latter half of the paragraph above.
Next, I will argue against the chain from the Good Book.