Linda Woodhead – why the wider liberal Anglican decline?

Linda Woodhead, Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University, delivered the Inclusive Church 2014 lecture at All Saints Pavement, York, yesterday evening. Linda recently made a notable contribution to the Church Times ‘Church Health Check’ series.

Linda’s lecture was excellent and provoked and a really good hour of stimulating and engaging questions. Inclusive Church will publish reports of the whole event in due course.

I made very brief notes on the parts of the lecture that analysed the decline liberalism and looked at modes of recovery.

Why the wider liberal Anglican decline?

The 60s and 70s were an invigorating period of optimism for the church in which radical liberal ideas were to fore. There has been a 30 year decline in confidence and energy. Why?

  1. Liberals are disembodied. Charismatic Pentecostals are energized and connect with bodies, as do those who engage with holistic body/mind practice.
  2. The persistence of paternalistic authority (which clearly we too readily tolerate). In charismatic evangelical churches there is far greater lay involvement (though as we have seen at St Mark’s Battersea Rise there can also be a high level of abusive paternalistic authority by clergy).
  3. Liberals are inward looking and churchy, concerned with getting people into church (especially the establishment). The language used in hymns and liturgy doesn’t make sense to people (and I say a huge Amen to that!).
  4. Liberals are narrowly focused and divided – they is no genuine pluralism in liberal movements and this has to be faced (As Director of CAE I take this criticism seriously). There is an illiberal liberalism which dissipates energies.

Local church recovery

  1. We need a huge dose of humility
  2. We need to look outwards and learn not to be a sect but a church.
  3. We need to learn to partner, with obligations on both sides to the liberal vision.
  4. We need to recognize we are one resource (amongst many) for people to draw on as Christians.
  5. We need to embrace liberalism and ALL liberal Anglicans.

The Church has to look at wider society and learn from what is happening outside the church bubble – looking at the vitality of alternative spiritualities.

Nationally, there has to be:

  1. Genuine pluralism
  2. Effective liberal mobilization
  3. Open debate and real research
  4. Creative reimagining of church structures
  5. Empowerment of all Anglicans
  6. Zero tolerance for false hope and bullying.

I know what the project for a vision of the future requires. How do we achieve it? Do we have the will to achieve it? This is why conservative evangelicals and pentecostals and charismatics are successful – they put energy into their vision and inspire people. There is still huge liberal attachment to old familiar patterns and habits. We want the freedom to reimagine the church as fully inclusive but many of those who belong to IC, CA and WATCH are attached to subsets of values which they often prioritise and which fail to energise and inspire

Join the discussion