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LONDON: Church faces implosion and life underground, says senior adviser

Church faces implosion and life underground, says senior adviser

By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
THE LONDON TIMES

12/10/2004

A SENIOR adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury has issued an apocalyptic warning about the future of the Church of England, forecasting that Christianity in Britain will be driven underground and that the Church will fragment.

In a private document presented this week to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Dr Rowan Williams and Dr David Hope, Jayne Ozanne suggested that a time of great persecution was coming.

She gave warning that the outlook for the established Church was not good and that the Church would continue to implode and self-destruct over gay clergy and other matters. She says that its future will be one of an underground movement comparable to resistance movements during the Second World War.

Her paper, leaked to The Times, was delivered as a parting shot to the meeting at Lambeth Palace on Tuesday of the Archbishops’ Council, of which she has been one of 19 members.

The council is the Church’s policymaking body, set up in 1999 to decide on its strategy. It meets behind closed doors. Such a breaking of ranks by one of its members has not happened before. Ms Ozanne’s critique, while not intended for public consumption, is indicative of the divisions within the Church, which now reach from its grassroots to the pinnacle of the hierarchy.

Although couched in the language of extremes, her warnings are being taken seriously by council members, in particular by evangelicals, who are dismayed by the progress of liberal secular values among the leadership of the Church in the West.

In her paper she says: “It has been nearly six years since I was invited by Archbishops George and David to serve on the first Archbishops’ Council. Much has happened since then, both to move the Church forward and also, I fear, to hold it back.” Arguing that it is her duty to “speak about some of the white elephants in the room that few of us like to admit are there,” she acknowledges that this causes discomfort.

Ms Ozanne continues: “I remain convinced that the only way for the Church to survive the storms that are currently besetting it is to embrace the hard truth with honesty and humility.” Questioning whether Church leaders really believe any more in a God who can move mountains or in a God who can raise the dead, she warns that the Church seems to have forgotten how to meet the cost of being Christian.

“Sacrificial giving is not a concept that we in the West have either embraced or understood. We are too comfortable and, as a result, too compromised. I see a time of great persecution coming, which will drive Christianity all but underground in the West. I believe that this will primarily take the form of a social and economic persecution, where Christians will be ridiculed for their faith and pressurised into making it a purely private matter.”

While the established Church will self-destruct, “fragmenting into various divisions over a range of internal issues”, she predicts that a new “Church in England” will take root, consisting of non- denominational cell groups throughout the country.

Neither archbishop was willing to comment but one senior council member, who was not prepared to be named, said: “She goes to a particular (evangelical) church in London and her perception is governed by that tradition. She really ought to get out more and see the Church at large.”

Ms Ozanne was backed by Philip Giddings, a political scientist and lecturer at Reading University, who was instrumental in setting up Anglican Mainstream, an evangelical lobby group that campaigned successfully against the appointment of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading. Dr John describes himself as a celibate homosexual.

Dr Giddings, one of the Church’s most senior laymen, said: “This was a personal reflection from Jayne and it needs to be taken seriously. I think it a real possibility that Christians face the kind of persecution she predicts and the established Church faces some real challenges, which we need to address. Those of us in leadership positions need to take very seriously what she has warned about.”

Dr Giddings said that Ms Ozanne’s paper should be seen in the context of the divisions between the orthodox and liberal wings of the Church worldwide. “What she says reflects the reality that there is an ongoing division within the Anglican Communion and the Church of England in particular on matters of authority and the relevance and authority of Holy Scripture.”

Peter Crumpler, for the Archbishops’ Council, said: “Jayne Ozanne is setting out her personal view. The Church of England encourages a lively exchange of views.” He added: “We face challenges in an increasingly secular age. We are facing the future with realism.”

END

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