|THE CASE FOR DISESTABLISHING THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND|
| By Jonathan Bartley and Simon Barrow
An edited version of this article appeared in the Church of England Newspaper, 18 February 2005.
Whatever one’s views on the ethics and circumstances of the latest royal engagement, it highlights the need for a major change in the Church of England’s confused and highly questionable marriage to the state.
In the Charles and Camilla saga, it seems as if the Church has again been a bit-part in constitutional affairs, dragged along by the wishes of Palace spin-doctors.
The upshot is that the C of E’s future Governor will be a man who is not to permitted to re-marry in his own Church using the official liturgy he would pledge to uphold at his coronation.
Church representatives call this a ‘sensible compromise’. To many observers it looks like a mess aimed mainly at keeping sweet the Church’s own matrimony of convenience.
That’s fine if you think the Church is there mainly to give the state comfort and a religious gloss. But the true cost is a loss of integrity in witness and prophetic engagement, turning pastoral care into collusion.
Defenders of Establishment say that the Church has greater ‘influence in the nation’ through its Crown privilege. What they really mean is that, in all honesty, we have much less trust in the Prince of Peace is than we do in worldly princes.
As the Gospel reminds us, the state’s power is secured by its ability to crucify (or, these days, go to war). God’s power, however, is seen in Jesus on the Cross. You can see why the state looks a much safer bet. But it’s not where resurrection faith lies.
The message of the Gospel is that God’s grace and forgiveness is available to all, whatever their status. Jesus practised open table fellowship, said that the last would be first in God’s kingdom, and created a new community of equals – the church.
The Crown, by contrast, is an institution that exists to preserve an order based on eugenic privilege. That most Christians do not notice this, and do not see how the Church’s royal allegiance falsifies the Gospel, illustrates just how blinded we are by worldly status.
Establishment diminishes the Church of England’s ability to proclaim and live the Gospel free of state sponsorship. It inhibits equal relations with other churches. And it habituates Christians to trust in earthly power rather than God’s disarming strength displayed in Jesus.
Ironically it was a famous controversy over divorce and remarriage 500 years ago that first institutionalised the arrangements for the Church’s governor to be chosen through royal heredity. Now there is a chance to think again about the wisdom of this settlement.
The Church can choose to remain attached to the monarchy and thereby assure its place in the heritage industry. Or it can embrace the opportunity to spearhead a bold ecumenical reconsideration of church-state relations.
We could waste the next couple of months fretting the niceties of a royal wedding. But wouldn’t it be better to inject some proper theological energy into the church-state debate? What we do will reveal where our faith – which the monarch purportedly ‘defends’ – really lies.
(c) Simon Barrow, Jonathan Bartley and Ekklesia, 2005