The Numbers Game



Average Sunday attendance figures in the Church of England are now a third of what they were in the 1960s – The Daily Telegraph.

Numerical decline, paradoxically, proves to be grist to the mill of both liberals and conservatives in the wearily protracted skirmish, which is being played out in the churches of Western Europe and the Americas, between the forces of the Enlightenment and those of historic Christianity.

Attendances are slipping, say the Liberals, because the Church is dangerously out of step with the ambient culture; it must change to be heard. Numbers are in decline, say the Traditionalists, because the faith has been so diluted that it is no longer a distinctive voice in the public square.

How to tell who is right? Like arguments about global warming, the facts themselves (even were they undisputed) could never prove conclusive.

No matter; attendance figures are largely irrelevant. Two conflicted ethical a priori positions cannot be reconciled by mere demographics. This is not an election.  If push came to shove, neither party would be prepared simply to adopt the majority position. Traditionalists – to take the presenting issue – believe that marriage is sacrosanct and that sexual activity outside it (heterosexual or otherwise) is sinful. Liberals believe that sin is in the refusal to condone and embrace the sexual choices of others; in being ‘discriminatory’ and without compassion.

In a war between rights and duties, who can win? The protagonists, it would appear, are condemned to slugging it out, like predators in the primeval jungle. Neither side can land a fatal blow. Like the conflict between Islam and ‘Western Values’, this one is perennial (and not unrelated).

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