A statement from the editors of Modern Church's theological journal Modern Believing, Jonathan Clatworthy and Anthony Freeman, published in Vol. 54:4 - Oct 2013
Changes are afoot at Modern Church and its journal Modern Believing.
The main implications for Modern Believing are a new publisher starting in 2014, and new editors starting with this issue. We offer a summary here.
For most of its 102-year-old history our journal has been self-published. It began as the in-house journal of the society, dedicated to promoting the liberal cause within the Church of England, and published conference papers and associated articles and reviews. This may seem a modest achievement, but it was not. The Church of England had far more influence in society than it has now and our conferences generated widespread public interest. In the 1920s and 1930s national daily newspapers would provide detailed reports of our conference proceedings, sometimes on the front cover.
While most of the society’s membership comes from within the churches, the quality of the journal has encouraged universities to subscribe, and this has given Modern Believing a dual role. First, since the ideas circulating in academic theology have often, sadly, failed to reach local churches, it has become all the more significant that our journal has been able to bridge the gap, offering churchgoers a way to keep in touch with new scholarly research. Second, with the academic status of Modern Believing now well established, the journal has become part of the world of academic theology, which has its own implications. Recent changes to production processes and design, with inevitable increases in costs, have been driven by academic expectations. (A third former role, as in-house journal for communication between members of Modern Church, has for some years been performed by a separate publication, our newsletter Signs of the Times, and this will continue.)
Over the last few decades the number of academic journals has mushroomed and Modern Believing has needed to make its own contribution a distinctive one. The front cover therefore tells readers that Modern Believing is ‘the journal of liberal theology’. Given our current role we need to ensure that our marketing and availability, both online and in print, keep up with best practice. Continuing to self-publish has become a disadvantage. Over the last few years we have been in discussion with a number of academic publishers, and we have finally agreed a contract with Liverpool University Press. This will secure our place in academic publishing without compromising our roots in the life of the Church.
The new arrangement begins with the January 2014 issue. For institutional subscribers there will be additional options for online availability. Liverpool University Press are taking over responsibility for both institutional and individual subscriptions, so there is a change of contact details. Subscriptions should no longer be sent to the Matlock address. The new arrangements are on a letter enclosed with this journal and on the Modern Church and Liverpool University Press websites.
There have been changes of personnel at Modern Church. The reasons vary. Some officers had been in post for many years and had given advance notice that they wished to step down at the 2013 Annual General Meeting. In other cases, including our President, Professor John Barton, deteriorating health made a resignation inevitable. Other changes result from the new arrangement with Liverpool University Press.
The new Chair is Jan van der Lely, the new Vice-Chair is Tim Stead and the new General Secretary is Guy Elsmore. Rosalind Lund, previously Vice-Chair, takes over as Treasurer. Jonathan Clatworthy, previously General Secretary, takes over as Editor for two years. Anthony Freeman, previously Editorial Assistant, takes over as Assistant Editor. John Plant stands down as Chair, Richard Hall as Treasurer, Adrian Thatcher as Editor of Modern Believing and Dave Marshall as Website Manager, while his role as Membership Secretary is taken over by Liverpool University Press. All four have put a great deal of work into furthering the work of Modern Church and we are deeply indebted to them. At the same time we are greatly encouraged by the strength of the new team and confident that we shall go from strength to strength.
An encouraging outlook
Our confidence is also partly due to changes in the ecclesiastical world which may prove significant in the long term. It is as though church voices are increasingly speaking out in favour of more liberal accounts of Christianity. Over the last few decades, in many circles reactionary movements have got away with presenting their views as the only legitimate versions of Christianity. The mass media, who often have little theological understanding, have all too often interpreted partisan claims as factual statements. The bed and breakfast hosts who refuse a bed to a gay couple, the employee who goes to court over wearing a cross at work, and the school that refuses to teach evolution, get described as ‘Christian’, as though Christians would typically agree with them. All too often the impression has been given that Christians are petty contrarians, obsessed with issues which in fact concern only a small proportion.
This gap between public perceptions and the actual beliefs and concerns of church members came to a head in 2012. The Anglican Covenant was driven by debate about gay bishops, though other issues followed in its wake. Then came women bishops and gay marriages. In all three cases church leaders made statements and lobbied hard for ‘conservative’ positions which were emphatically rejected not only by public opinion but also by most church members. It became clear that ‘conservative’ Christian opinion was not as widespread as it had appeared. Since then—and especially since the public reaction to the rejection of women bishops legislation in November 2012—more progressive, liberal voices have become more confident. We would like to think that Modern Church and its journal, Modern Believing, have played a significant part in this change of mood and will continue to do so.