Year 7 have been studying Christianity this term. Studying it as a religion among religions has brought realisations of how poor the Church of England has been in presenting its beliefs to the ninety-eight per cent of the population who do not attend its services on a Sunday morning. The images the churches present, the vocabulary they employ, the events run, do not engage with a post-Christian society.
The one dimension of church life where there seems a possibility of there being an interest among at least some younger people is the church’s involvement in campaigns for peace and justice. Year 7 students might be hard-pressed to name government ministers, but there is a particularly keen interest in environmental issues: many eleven and twelve year olds are better informed regarding the evidence and the problems than their parents or grandparents. The Church of England has been active in its responses to environmental questions for more than thirty years and should be able to engage the imaginations of cohorts of younger people.
Listening to psychedelic pop band She Drew the Gun on the radio, there was a line in a song which didn’t seem right. The band have recorded an updated version of Frank Zappa’s 1966 song Trouble every day. Frank Zappa wrote the song as a reflection on riots in Los Angeles in 1965 and the social unrest they reflected: She Drew the Gun’s lyrics reflect on the unrest of the present time. The fourth stanza of the song says:
And they’re rebelling our extinction, they’re making such a jam
To stopping cars in London just to stick it to the man
‘Cause we’ve gotta go cold turkey, gotta give up all our gas
Addicted to the fossil fuels but they ain’t gonna last
And the scene is getting hotter like the scientists foretell
And them cats up in the boardroom should be going straight to hell
The corporate institutions, the whole bloody cartel
Except the Holy Church of England has still got them shares in Shell
And they’re cutting all the funding ‘cause they’re stripping back the state
Privatised policing, advertising hate
And they’re selling us a ticket to something that don’t exist
And their cup that overflows is just filled up with hypocrites.
Shares in Shell? Didn’t the Church of England disinvest from companies that were not perceived as ethical? It seems that Royal Dutch Shell are perceived by the church as ethical. The Church of England Pensions Board supported a resolution at this year’s Royal Dutch Shell AGM in The Hague that required Shell to set and publish emission-reduction targets.
It would not take more than thirty seconds before the sharper Year 7 students would point out that Shell were among those who had caused the problems in the first place. The members of She Drew the Gun would add that Shell were part of the neo-liberal movement against which they were protesting. The Church of England is not able to be consistent in conveying the one message that might win them a hearing.