The CofE hierarchy care too much about what plays well in the liberal media - and its damaging our gospel witness, says Andy Bannister 


The Archbishop of Canterbury’s message to Muslims on Ramadan was devoid of any evangelistic challenge, says Andy Bannister

My family and I are denominational gypsies; every time we move house, we end up attending a different type of church. After our last relocation, we landed in the Church of England.

I am now a Reluctant Anglican. There are great things happening in some Church of England congregations. The church we attend in Swindon was planted in 2018 into a converted factory and over 200 people attend each Sunday, a third of whom have become Christians in the last six years. It’s a wonderful missional church to belong to - even if my kids first picked it because of the colourful plastic slide that takes young people (or older people with a good chiropractor on speed dial) between floors.

But there’s another slide in the Church of England that’s more problematic, caused by cowardice among the upper leadership, especially from the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, Justin Welby.

The writer Adrian Plass noticed that a previous Archbishop, Robert Runcie, had a name that anagrammed to “CE (BUT IN ERROR)”. While Justin Welby’s name has less comedy potential, the errors are even more abundant, not least the ham-fisted entanglements in progressive politics.

I realise that criticising the Church of England leadership is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel (having first drained said barrel and staple-gunned the fish to the sides). But those caveats aside, I have some concerns.

The first is that in almost every statement or press release that emerges from the central Church of England, the concern seems to be not evangelism, mission, or good theology - but what will play well on social media.

Then there’s the tendency of the Church of England hierarchy to automatically align with left wing talking points: for example, in 2022-23, bishops in the House of Lords voted against the government 276 times and with it just 5 times. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with voting against the government; but the problem is if you ignore the views of half the country - especially the working class bits of it - those people will conclude the Church is irrelevant to them.

Next there was the clumsy Healing, Repair and Justice report, endorsed by Justin, which called for the Church of England to apologise for missionary activity in Africa and to start “a fresh dialogue between African traditional belief systems and the Gospel…to enable all Africans, especially descendants of the enslaved, to discover the varied belief systems and spiritual practices of their forebears and their efficacy.”

The same subtle syncretism also bubbled up in the Archbishop’s notorious Ramadan video, in which Justin wittered on about the fact that that Lent and Ramadan overlapped this year. No invitation for Muslims to consider Jesus, just lots of affirmative noises about shared traditions of “spiritual reflection”.

I increasingly find myself watching Justin wondering if I’ve stumbled into an Anglican version of The Stepford Wives, with senior Anglican leaders having had a mind-swap with, as one friend put it, “The Guardian reading muesli eating brigade”. Now, I myself buy The Guardian and I love muesli but the point stands.

Nominal Christians are noting it too. In a recent piece, Nigel Farage of all people announced he’s given up attending his local Anglican church because of these issues. I know Nigel is deeply divisive and has all the subtlety of a caffeine-addled orangutan with a drum kit, but he still speaks for millions. His point is also echoed by those on the other side of the political fence, such as author Louise Perry, who wrote that “congregants don’t want to be preached to about politics…they want the full-fat version of faith.”

There’s nothing wrong with politics. If Jesus is Lord, then he’s Lord of everything: so of course our faith must affect our politics. But if we entirely collapse our faith into our politics, it ends badly. Not least, when the political pendulum swings you’re left high and dry - something that’s beginning to happen to the Church of England with the Cass Report and the hasty back-peddling on transgender issues as public figures suddenly rediscover that sex is in fact biological.

Perhaps there is a case here for disestablishment. After all, the argument used to be that the Church of England’s political role allows it to be prophetic salt and light in society. But what if the effect is now going the other way? Rather than the Church transform society, society has transformed the Church - and as Jesus said, if the salt becomes useless (literally “moronic” in the Greek), then it’s not even fit for your soggy chips (Matthew 5:13).

But as an evangelist, what concerns me most deeply is the damage done to gospel witness. I used to argue that the Church of England has a terrific missional advantage, in that many of my unchurched friends, if they consider church, automatically think of the Anglican church on the corner. But what if, when they wander into that church wanting a wedding, a funeral, or even just a moment of spiritual reflection, they’re greeted with politics and a total absence of Jesus. Like my friend who spent two hours at Canterbury Cathedral and came out bemused at the total lack of anything that explained “what this Christianity thing is all about”.

So, in closing - and in love and genuine concern - a challenge to Justin Welby. Don’t be afraid of the culture, don’t be worried about negative headlines in The Guardian, and don’t be afraid of preaching the gospel. And whatever you do, don’t get distracted by foolish ideas about the Church of England’s need to be a “State Church”, whatever that means. Instead, rediscover what it means to be a Church for the nation. We live in a spiritually hungry age and many people want Christian leaders to talk about faith, hope, and Jesus. If the Church of England doesn’t, don’t be surprised if people abandon it in droves.