The Lincoln Letters: A Study in Institutional Change

In: Ecclesial Practices
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  • 1 Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK
  • 2 School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

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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.’ In response, a large quantity of correspondence was sent to the Bishop from members of the public, the vast majority expressing support. In this paper, we set the empirical data contained in the letters themselves within a context of continuing change in both society and the Church of England. We consider the reactions of the Church at the ‘tipping points’ of social 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. 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.