I will admit to being a bit of a secularist. This may appall you; however, please permit me to explain myself with an example.
In Berlin, plans are afoot to build the "House of One", a single building which houses a church, a synagogue and a mosque. There is a central meeting place which everyone has to pass through in order to get to their respective place of worship. This does seem to me to be the model for how Society should be.
The fact of the matter is that, no matter how hard the Church tries, not everybody is going to be Christian: some are going to be Moslem, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, et c. In declaring myself to be Christian, I am necessarily saying that, while I believe that there is much in the way of goodness and truth in each of those religions and philosophies, I must also believe that they are deficient or just plain wrong in some way. That's not a disrespect, that's just logic. Nonetheless, if these folk are part of the society in which I find myself, then they are my neighbours, and I am bound by my own adherence to the Christian Faith to love them as myself. Loving them means giving them a place to thrive, even at the cost of their turning away from God. If God does that, then I am duty bound by Divine example to do the same, imperfect though I am.
I am happier with the House of One than I am with the worship room at Bluewater which can change its religious affiliation literally at the touch of a button. For that to happen, that single room becomes everything and nothing - it treats all religions equally and the affiliation is quite generic. That worship room has no actual care about which religion it is; it's a case of one room fits all. The House of One, if it is ever built, has permanent space for each of the religions involved. There isn't one bland room whose furnishings pop out of the woodwork to suit the whims of the worshipper. These rooms are to be permanent, hallowed, and identifiable for each of the religions involved.
This is very much how I would like the British Society to be. Like the House of One, there should be central community in which people must play an active part in caring and building together, each taking ownership of that society and ensuring that everyone is valued. Then there are designated separate places in which to practice one's religion (and yes, I do count atheism, apatheism and agnosticism as religions), each respected by the other. That is how I see a secular society since it acknowledges the realism that not everyone is Christian, and yet lives in hope that by ministering to everyone at the commandment of God, there is the opportunity for everyone to become Christian - not by brow-beating and polemics, but by mutual respect.
The trouble is, that many people think of the Bluewater model when they hear the word "secular". They see society as one single room in which no one has any religious identity. Consequently, many folk lack the desire to take an ownership in that society, try and cut themselves off and wall themselves in using religious privilege as an excuse. This is why the newspapers enjoy bringing to light stories of Christians being sued by gay rights activists, et c. There is dissonance as two groups with very different beliefs try to coexist.
If both groups therefore had some ownership of the common ground and a separate "room" in society to which they can repair for reaffirming their faith, then there is a chance that some rapprochement and consideration can be made. Both groups must recognise that the opposite viewpoint exists and is real and is unlikely to change no matter how "sinful" the other regards it. For the Christian, walking among sinners is a necessary task and inescapable given the fact that we are probably all sinners, though I simply cannot speak with any authority on the state of other people's souls.
Now this may sound like a ringing endorsement of the CofE's latest attempt to become a broad Church again by recognising the different and indeed opposing integrities. I do have to say that the speeches that I heard before the motion was passed were impassioned and, if genuine in their respect of other theologies, generous to their opponents. There was a sense of wanting to be family together.
This is all very well and I am pleased to see more charity and appreciation for each other being voiced by the Established Church. Certainly this is a very Christian attitude and shows that Christ is present in the hearts of many people in that Church.
Yet, even the CofE realises that it's set itself a very hard task - one that is almost quantum in its nature, given that women are going to be both bishops and not-bishops at the same time according to the totality of its membership. To aid itself, the CofE has developed five principles that it is using to ensure fairness and tolerance. These are:
- Now that legislation has been passed to enable women to
become bishops the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed
to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to
gender, and holds that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to
office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy
and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;
- Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must be
prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear
decision on the matter;
- Since it continues to share the historic episcopate with
other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and
those provinces of the Anglican Communion which continue to ordain
only men as priests or bishops, the Church of England acknowledges
that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a
broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole
Church of God;
- Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds
of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women
bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition
of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed
to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures;
- Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of England will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.