Wednesday, May 8, 2013
The Church of England should be disestablished
The establishment of the Church of England is upheld on the grounds that it is a national church, but it is a national church, at most, only in England. It is a Church based on the gratification of King Henry VIII’s carnal lust. It is entangled with the United Kingdom Parliament. A Church Commissioner sits in the House of Commons. Twenty-six of its bishops sit by right in the House of Lords. The Prime Minister retains residual rights over appointing its bishops. Its endowments and even its doctrine are nominally under the control of parliament. Its status as a national church of only one of the four parts of the United Kingdom, even though it is by far the largest part, cannot justify these entanglements. The entanglements between the Church of England and the state have endured for hundreds of years; they are at best anomalous, and at worst insulting to the people of the other three nations of the United Kingdom, as well as to many of the large non-Anglican population in England.
The really extraordinary thing about the present constitutional establishment of the Church of England is not its absurdity but that nobody really believes it any longer. The tight links between parliament and the Church’s general synod seem to both sides a mysterious encumbrance. Parliament is no longer solely a Christian Parliament. There is no reason for Parliament to be able to veto the synod’s legislation, as it presently can, and no reason why the Church of England should regulate its own affairs by legislation, as it presently must. If the Church were no longer established, then those ties would quietly be seen as serving no practical purpose. Neither the Monarch nor the Prime Minister would have a role in appointments. Nor is it clear why bishops should sit in the House of Lords. Breaking those constitutional links, which is what is usually meant by disestablishment, is a simple sensible reform.
In 1988 Tony Benn tried to disestablish the Church of England. Conservative MPs saved it, but for how much longer?
The Church of England should be dis-established.