For the first time in history, new U.K. census data reveals a majority of people in England and Wales don’t call themselves Christian anymore – a result that has sparked calls for the end of the church’s involvement in government and schools.
New data for 2021 released Tuesday by the Office of National Statistics shows 46.2% of people identified themselves as Christians, compared with 59.3% of the population a decade ago.
The reason for the 13 percent drop is that more people identified as having no particular faith at all. This segment of the population is known as religious “nones.”
Andrew Copson, chief executive of the group Humanists U.K., said “the dramatic growth of the non-religious” had made the U.K. “almost certainly one of the least religious countries on Earth.”
“One of the most striking things about these results is how at odds the population is from the state itself,” he said. “No state in Europe has such a religious set-up as we do in terms of law and public policy, while at the same time having such a non-religious population.”
Currently, the U.K. has state-funded Church of England schools, Anglican bishops sit in Parliament’s upper chamber, and the monarch is a “defender of the faith” and supreme governor of the church.
Secularists and academics are pointing to the poll results to push for change.
“The fact that Christianity is no longer the majority religion means policy is out of step with society,” Prof. Linda Woodhead, head of the department of theology and religious studies at King’s College London, told the Guardian.
The end of the Church of England would mean King Charles would not take an oath to preserve it, it would remove the Church of England bishops and archbishops from the 26 seats in the House of Lords, and do away with the requirement for schools to hold Christian worship.
“It’s been difficult to defend having an established church since the beginning of the 20th century,” Dr. Scot Peterson, a scholar of religion and the state at Corpus Christi College, Oxford told The Guardian. “The king being the head of the Church of England made sense in 1650, but not in 2022.”
Meanwhile, believers in the U.K. say the results are not a surprise, but they see it as a call to share their faith.
The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell says it “throws down a challenge to us, not only to trust that God will build his kingdom on Earth but also to play our part in making Christ known.”
He adds, “We have left behind the era when many people almost automatically identified as Christian, but other surveys consistently show how the same people still seek spiritual truth and wisdom and a set of values to live by.”
Lynne Cullens, the Bishop of Barking, says the church should not feel defeated by the results.
“We are like the Nike tick,” she said. “We have to go down before we go up. We will evolve into a church more attuned to the worshipping needs of the communities as they are today.”