As investigations show more churches are closing and more people are turning away from Christianity, Dr Jim McConalogue argues the Church has no one but itself to blame.  

A recent Telegraph investigation this month into Church of England data found that more than 400 churches have closed in a decade. The data showed that 940 of its churches were shut between 1987 and 2019 – 423 of them were closed between 2010 and 2019. Across the Church's 42 dioceses, it marks a drop of 6 per cent fewer churches.

The flight from faith is being further marked by the number of people describing themselves as Christian falling to only just over half the population (51 per cent), the lowest level recorded. In general, of those in their twenties, 53.4 per cent say they have no religion; for those in their sixties, it is about 27.1 per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics.

There will be many explanations for the decline of the Church in the modern age but the complete departure from the Church's central purpose and moral message risks making it unrecognisable to the grassroot members who once supported it.

Last year, a team of researchers – including myself – investigated the scale of clergy support for radical progressive activist agendas throughout the 42 dioceses, which had some remarkable findings.

Over eight in ten of the dioceses appoint clergy who advocate radical racial justice claims or express concerns for 'institutional' or 'systemic' racism. Just under 90 per cent of those racial justice activist claims – all described in our report – came within the first six months of the UK racial justice campaigns in May 2020, following the national Black Lives Matters protests in the United States. Similarly, just over seven in ten of the dioceses appoint clergy who promote climate activism and ecological warnings, including calls for the recognition of a climate emergency.

The common denominator has been a widespread acquiescence by the clergy setting aside ordinary human values and the Church's moral message in favour of the adoption of questionable, unevidenced narratives deployed by the so-called progressive movements of the day.

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The unqualified reception of unchallenged ideas is not specific to the Church even though it has a unique impact on their members – it continues to be symptomatic of what is happening throughout civil society. It depends upon telling reasonable citizens they must comply with those narratives in order to survive and thrive.

In our workplaces, local authorities, universities, broadcast media, the arts, the police, and all those entities that were once described as the 'little platoons' in regular society are failing to check or provide leadership to novel activists with often ill-conceived but popular campaigns that lack evidence.

The leadership is frequently out of touch with the grassroots membership and with society. Their guiding narratives are derived from radicalised groups who speak only (if at all) for a very small minority in society. The notion of a 'civic society' is being eroded from the top and the members do not understand the words and meaning that are supposed to connect with its core message.

This impact has only been made worse during the pandemic, particularly with church closures accelerating in response to the spread of COVID-19. The closures alarmed parishioners who saw the Church as their lifeline and has been compounded by the deterioration in leadership attitudes, destroying its credibility with an unquestioned adoption of undesirable ideas that serve neither society nor the Church.

One Anglican Bishop – Bishop of Rochester from 1994 until 2009 and once considered for Archbishop of Canterbury – who previously argued the Church is now preoccupied with "jumping on faddish bandwagons" rather than saving rural and town parishes, took the step last year of converting to Catholicism.

The new faux morality is now well entrenched in our public and religious institutions but a different and resilient approach by the Archbishop of Canterbury could well yield different results to stem the decline of the English parishes.

The resolution to the Church's moral panic may more likely be found in its own faith, in being thoughtful and less fearful – and not in the faulty mantras of identity-based progressive movements. The Church must look beyond superficially appealing to 'slicker models of evangelistic marketing' and instead recognising the place of the faithful, as Giles Fraser has argued. It is those faithful people who attend church to say their prayers who are at the centre of each of the parishes.

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