Churches and Social Issues in Twentieth-century Britain

By G. I. T. Machin | Go to book overview

Introduction

This book attempts to chart the reactions of the British Churches to a succession of social and moral change that was unprecedented within a single century. During the twentieth century not only did State collectivism establish itself as the central means of initiating and administering social policy, but so many changes took place in personal behaviour (some of them sanctioned and encouraged by legislation) that a virtual social revolution of a non-political variety took place. This was especially the case in the 1960s and the subsequent years which were affected by the multifarious changes of that decade. In the realm of social policy the twentieth-century watershed was the 1940s, when the Welfare State was established. In regard to personal morality and behaviour, the century's watershed was the 1960s, after which a markedly different climate prevailed in these matters than had previously been the case.

In some respects the Churches, as the moulders of British civilization, can be said to have initiated or at least encouraged many of the social changes that took place. In other respects, however, change was caused or encouraged by scientific invention (as in the case of the contraceptive pill) over which the Churches had little or no control; or, on the basis of freedom of speech, freedom of publication, or freedom of display, change was pressed to an extent that the Churches could not sanction. Whatever the extent to which the Churches had helped to provide the original climate of thought in which twentieth-century social changes came to flourish, the Churches were clearly challenged to defend or modify their traditional attitudes as the changes developed. Considerable controversy and division were caused both between and within Churches as they struggled either to repel or to absorb the changes.

The Churches were bound to regard all social developments from the viewpoint of Christian morality. The reactions of individual members of Churches to these developments were, or should have been, based on whether they believed the changes could be reconciled with Christian morality -- or, conversely, whether Christian morality could be modified sufficiently to accommodate them.

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