What 500 letters of support tell us about the changing mood of churches
Professor Grace Davie (University of Exeter) and Dr Caroline Starkey (University of Leeds)
Respondents: Professor Adam Dinham (Goldsmiths) and Reverend Dr James Walters (LSE)
......... followed by Q and A with Nicholas Chamberlain (Bishop of Grantham)
On Friday 2nd September 2016, The Guardian published an online article entitled ‘Bishop of Grantham first C of E bishop to declare he is in a gay relationship’. The reason for the article was the threatened ‘outing’ of the Bishop by a Sunday newspaper. Within four days, 410 pieces of mail arrived in the Diocesan office, the vast majority of which expressed support for the Bishop’s position. Almost 100 more arrived in the next few weeks. Intrigued by this unsolicited and unexpectedly positive response, the Bishops of Lincoln and Grantham asked us to analyse this corpus of material and the positions of the authors. In this paper, we set this episode and the empirical data contained in the letters themselves within a context of continuing change in both society and the church – specifically the Church of England. We consider the reactions of the Church at ‘tipping points’ of social and cultural change as it seeks to balance its responsibilities as a guardian of ‘truth’ with the need to keep in touch with modern ways of living. The letters speak powerfully to the existence and (non-) resolution of these tensions. A key concept underpinning our analysis will be the notion of ‘vicarious religion’, which deals with the subtle but continuing relationships between the actively faithful and a wider body of more loosely attached adherents.
Image by Joanna Kosinska via Unsplash
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