The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, could become the "John Birt of the Church of England" by trying to squeeze it into the mould of a managed, product-driven organisation, a leading sociologist of religion said yesterday.
Professor Richard Roberts, of the University of Lancaster, told a conference on "harmful religion" at King's College, London, that the Turnbull Commission's proposals for a radical reform of the Church of England's structure, which Dr Carey hopes the Synod will approve next year, would destroy the morale of the working clergy. He added that the proposals would produce a "harmful religion, grounded in deprofessionalisation and the 'McDonaldisation' of religion, seeking ever greater uniformity, predictability, and control".
The Turnbull Commission proposed that the Church of England be run in future by a National Council headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and with a majority of its members appointed by him. The plan has already been denounced by traditionalists as producing a "Carey's curia" in which power would be centralised.
Prof Roberts said that the commission's report showed the bishops of the Church, as they have traditionally done, absorbing the values of the ruling elite of society and mistaking these for the Christian gospel. Since the elite of modern society is now managerial, he said, bishops would deliver the gospel as a product. "This is an evangelical take-over of the Church of England," Prof Roberts said.
However, this ideology was already outdated. "The Church of England today is at the stage that British Leyland was at in the 1970s. This sort of change didn't work for British Leyland and it won't work for the Church of England...
"The subordinate staff in the organisation (the parish and sector clergy) may well rapidly adapt to satisfying the performance indicators regardless of real outcomes, as has already happened in higher education and the health service."
These criticisms will resonate with large sections of the Church, one close observer of the commission's work said yesterday. Dr Carey's plans to transform the Church into a modern and manageable organisation have already suffered one recent setback with the rejection of proposals to abolish the "freehold" which gives about two-thirds of the parish clergy jobs to which they have a legal title.
The new General Synod will consider the Turnbull reforms when it meets at the end of this month. The legislation to implement the Commission's proposals will not now be drafted until after a debate on 29 November.