I have long kept an eye on Europe and the state of the church there. I was educated in Leuven Belgium and saw first hand an aged church in decline. We used to say that when we were old men we would be able to say "I know that priest in Holland." It was gallows humor. I am now that old man I once fantasized I would become. The decline of 25% (to just under 4.3 million) of the Catholic population there is signficant. There are more than one priests in that nation, but far fewer than in 1984 when I was ordained.
England's Christian population is also in stark decline. According to an article, much of the Christian population was artificially inflated by Polish and African imigrants. The bottom line fewer (and older ) Christians and increasing (and younger) Muslim populations.
Along with that there is the disturbing concern for Roman Catholics (and by extension I would think traditional Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical Anglicans) about gay "marriage" legislation in Great Britain. It all circles around lawsuits about discrimination. If you want to see the originals go to the links, or read the exerpts with my comments to follow.
From The Telegraph
Prof Christopher McCrudden said that there are serious questions over whether the 120-year-old legal basis on which 8,500 Catholic weddings a year are performed can even “survive” the passage of the bill currently before Parliament.... Catholic bishops may have to reconsider whether priests can carry on performing weddings, in effect, on behalf of the state.... proposed protections for churches against legal challenges under human rights or equalities laws for refusing to marry gay couples completely overlook the position of Catholics and other denominations.
It suggests that only a minority of people will describe themselves as Christians within the next decade, for first time. Meanwhile almost one in 10 under 25s in Britain is now a Muslim.The proportion of young people who describe themselves as even nominal Christians has dropped below half for the first time.While almost half of British Muslims are under the age of 25, almost a quarter of Christians are over 65.
So here is what I think. We are in a time of decline and shrinkage in the western church. This may be God's pruning as I am not sure how robust the Christian faith is in times of affluence and worldly acceptance. Is it not the case that nominal Christians have dominated the church in times of abundance? I look at my own paltry Christian life style and my comfort with "Christian-lite" forms of discipleship and wonder how deep it really is. As we age into this new period for the church it is my hope and prayer that the next generation, literally my kids and their peers, will find a way to deep love and faith as a small and not unpopular Spiritual movement.
The unpopularity will be manifest, in part, because of gay "marriage." My opinion has been consistent. I am against being mean to gay people. I am convinced that the word "marriage" is misapplied to homosexual relationships. The error in language betrays deeper errors in Biblical exegesis, philosophical reflection and the confusion of theology and sacramentology (which are based on truth) with pastoral care (based on mercy) and politics (based on power and voting). However, in my own studies of the issues, begun with robust focus a decade ago, I sensed a power behind the pro-homosexual movement that gave me greater concern. I was not interested in the debates at first. I felt sorry for the gay guys growing up and my compassion was my biggest motivator. The Biblical mandate did not seem any more forceful than the mandate not to lust, covet or speak maliciously (all wide spread). I guess you could say I was reluctant to give voice to anything which added my words to the often hurtful and judgmental (even hateful) things I heard regularly from my conservative Christian neighbors.
Something changed, however, as I entered the world of this debate because of my role in the Episcopal church as a deputy to national convention. I saw how closely connected the movement was to more sinister movements. I have documented the early partnership of man-boy love and gay rights. What is more distressing is the quick movement from "anti-discrimination against homosexuals" to "tolerance of all manner of sexual expression" to "intolerance toward anyone who is not unboard" to "Crush the homo-phobes (ie. any religious group which does not bless what we are doing)." I use the word demonic intentionally. Satan is at work in this. It is a direct attack on the church and a full assault on traditional Christian faith. This is obviously not, as some Christian Progressives naively seem to believe, something that people of faith can peacefully disagree about. I wish it were. I have taken my stand and I honestly believe it is true. It is obviously consistent with what the church has understood God's revelation to teach. In my own Episcopal Church I am seriously marginalized and in the days ahead under direct threat to lose my standing as a priest. What is more chilling, however, is what is taking place in the broader civil culture. The rapid cultural and political changes have provided endless examples of good people losing jobs and being brought before judges for their faith. There seems to be increasing energy to hunt down and prosecute those who are not "on board."
I am hopeful this whole mess is somehow part of God's plan of salvation. He reveals Light and Darkness in our human conflicts. In the end, once you pull back the veil, it is all about angelic and demonic armies at war for the souls of humans prior to the final Great Battle when Jesus arrives. He wins. So there is reason to rejoice! I also know that I am old and tired and not looking forward to the struggle ahead. My only hope is this: God is the source of strength...