Leading article: The Church of England needs to find its voice

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The Independent Culture
THE BISHOPS of Oxford and Southwark have argued that the Prince and Camilla Parker Bowles should not be subjected to any further indignities by being pressurised into marriage. Their forgiving nature may be applauded. But the opposition of other clerics to any hint that the Church might be softening its attitude on extra-marital relations is yet another worrying sign of decline.

It is not alone. Today we will hear individual bishops commenting on the Government's family policy initiative. But the opinions of the Church of England as a whole, to which we would once have looked for a lead, will remain unsure.

The Church of England has a noble tradition of "local option", by which different congregations choose to live and worship in the way that serves them best. This is necessary for any Church aspiring to be truly "national". But the Church's divisions now exceed healthy pluralism, becoming deep ideological divisions. These transcend the relatively minor issue of whether the heir will remarry.

Very few seem now to know where our national Church stands on anything. It is not just marriage on which churchmen are divided: homosexuality and women priests also cause bitter argument. We may be forgiven in feeling nostalgic for the days of Archbishop Runcie, when at least the Church found its voice on urban poverty, and bravely stood up to Thatcherite bullying.

You do not have to be a religious conservative to pine for a strong social voice to couterbalance the selfish amorality of too much public debate. The "Alpha" outreach programme, with its public relations gloss that attracts by the thousand people who have never been Christians, has shown what modern communications could do for religion. Is it too much to expect a similar strong voice and strategy from the Church of England as a whole?

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