Saturday, 16 February 2008

firestorm: the Economist weighs in

Updated Monday afternoon

The Economist has a brief news item: The gathering storm and then a leader, headed Church and state Sever them.

The news item concludes rather interestingly with these paragraphs:

…Schism has been looming over Anglicanism since 2003, when American liberals ordained a gay bishop, Gene Robinson. And—a sign of how far apart the camps are—the conservatives’ worry is not that Lambeth will endorse homosexual relations among the clergy or anybody else; it is rather that decisions there will not provide clearly enough for the expulsion of churches which stray in a liberal direction.

In the latest move, Drexel Gomez, the conservative Archbishop of the West Indies, has started drafting a compromise that would allow old-timers to attend the Lambeth meeting, on the understanding that proper arrangements will be made for disciplining gay-friendly liberals. To people who are neither Christian nor Muslim, it must all sound a bit like sharia law.

The leader draws this conclusion from it all:

…Faced with this anomaly, the archbishop proposes to expand the privileges of all religions. It would be better instead to curtail the entitlements of his one. It makes no sense in a pluralistic society to give one church special status. Nor does it make sense, in a largely secular country, to give special status to all faiths. The point of democracies is that the public arena is open to all groups—religious, humanist or football fans. The quality of the argument, not the quality of the access to power, is what matters. And citizens, not theocrats, choose.

Cut it free
Disestablishing the Church of England does not mean that it has no public role to play. America’s founders said there should be no established religion, but religion shapes public debate to a degree that many in Europe find incomprehensible. Let religion compete in the marketplace for ideas, not seek shelter behind special privileges. One law for all, with its enlightened insistence on tolerance and free speech, is not a “bit of a danger”. It is what underwrites the ability of all religions to go about their business unhindered.

Ekklesia which had already expressed a view on this in Disestablishment may be back on the agenda as church feels pressure has now commented directly on the Economist response in The Economist calls for cutting the cord that binds church and state.

And Simon Barrow wrote about Giving up Establishment for Lent.

Here is a link to the BBC Sunday item (7 minutes audio):

Disestablishment
Controversy has surrounded the comments Rowan Williams recently made about Sharia. The religious think tank Ekklesia has now weighed into the debate with the suggestion that the Archbishop’s speech demonstrates the need for the disestablishment of the Church of England. Jonathan Bartley, the co-director of Ekklesia, and the Right Reverend James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, gave their views.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 16 February 2008 at 11:35pm GMT | TrackBack
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Comments

"The point of democracies is that the public arena is open to all groups—religious, humanist or football fans. The quality of the argument, not the quality of the access to power, is what matters."

And, more's the pity, I suspect that even *football fans" have a better quality argument these days, than does Rowan Cantuar (and too many of the LOUDER voices in the CofE: +Carlisle, +Durham, +Rochester, +Winchester, and the omnivocal Canon Dr. Sugden. Ack.).

As far at the leader goes: I couldn't agree more! Cut 'er loose!

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 17 February 2008 at 12:34am GMT

It is fascinating to read this piece after Theo Hobson's article in the Tablet: the anger in this archetype of classical liberal magazines suddenly becomes much more intelligible.

Too bad that the Economist does not bother to examine the Tocqueville thesis, long a feature in British political thought: that establishments of religion can often work to restrain religious excess. But by emphasising the opposition of secular (not the same as atheist) interests and religion, and by supporting the agenda of orthodox Muslims rather than progressives, RW may well have done more to roll us towards disestablishment than any of his recent predecessors.

Posted by: John Omani on Sunday, 17 February 2008 at 12:51am GMT

It is quite rare for me to agree so wholeheartedly with The Economist, but I do now!

(Although I am puzzled about how one would go about disestablishing the C of E -- the initiative would have to come from the government, no? And what about the fact that in Norway the liberals in the church are fighting to maintain establishment to protect the church from the fundamentalists?)

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Sunday, 17 February 2008 at 2:20am GMT

"To people who are neither Christian nor Muslim, it must all sound a bit like sharia law."

As far as I'm concerned, the only real difference between the mad mullahs and the Bible pounders is a shave.

Disestablishment of the C of E would be the best thing that ever happened to it. But then, I'm an American.
English bishops may talk to us Yanks with the tone of irritated headmasters, but when their backs are turned, we're howling with laughter at them. That Lord Carey was picked to be ++Canterbury by Margaret Thatcher, a Methodist, was a real knee-slapper. The English episcopacy is in no position to be complaining about the "oddities" of our polity.

Posted by: Counterlight on Sunday, 17 February 2008 at 4:41am GMT

The Economist's promotion of the American model of religious freedom is hardly a useful one in England. Many of us love the USA, but the vaunting of the religious state of affairs in that country is unhelpful. The religious concept in the USA has produced many scholars and saints, as well as a scale of frightening gullible ignorance and superstition unrivalled by any developed society.

The position of the English Church has an organic and living co-operation with the Christian crown and governance of a country that contributes to those liberties so desired beyond her shores. The American model is new and vibrant; most of that model England has already shared for centuries. But disestablishment on an American scale is hardly a way forward. The deepening realisation of what the Church actually contributes to England and the world is the road some of us travel.

Posted by: Canon Ian Sherwood on Sunday, 17 February 2008 at 7:41am GMT

Please read David Nicholls, The Pluralist State, for the lowdown on all this. The idea that government should respect the principle of subsidiarity, instead of usurping all authority and power to itself, is in many ways not unattractive. Universities, schools, trade unions and churches should have a great say in running their own affairs and should be freed of undue government interference. The rule of law should not mean the reduction of society to one huge State, the Leviathan of Hobbes, and a lot of isolated individuals whose voice is registered only in the solitude of the polling booth.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Sunday, 17 February 2008 at 8:08am GMT

If the CofE were disestablished in the way the Church in Wales was, it will be hamstrung for decades by debt and clegy pensions... as well as the unpaid job of maintaining the nation's heritage of ancient religious buildings ... While the government makes off with a few billion pounds in cash and property that they identify as national assets.

Posted by: david wh on Sunday, 17 February 2008 at 8:54am GMT

Many early columnists who begrudgingly admitted that Rowan was probably raising important questions went on to say that his “clumsy” mumblings had probably made it unlikely the debate would happen. Others argue even now that Rowan’s “unclarity” has fatally skewed any debate (in one way or another!) that might follow.

I think there are signs that the debate is happening, and that it will be wide ranging and certainly will include looking at a new constitutional settlement for England that will have major implications for the other Home Colonies.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Sunday, 17 February 2008 at 10:51am GMT

Disestablishment has nothing to do with upkeep of church buildings -- HM Government doesn't do it now! OTOH, the secular governments of France & Germany DO help pay for church upkeep (historic buildings & all that). Best not to confuse the two.

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Sunday, 17 February 2008 at 11:28am GMT

Your sociopolitical system = your problem = your solution but, whatever happens will be generations in the making with a rocky, painful transition period. Eventually, something practicable and "better" will emerge but I doubt it will be within the time frame of any of us commenting in 2008.

Posted by: ettu on Sunday, 17 February 2008 at 11:51am GMT

I'm curious about this comment:

"In the latest move, Drexel Gomez, the conservative Archbishop of the West Indies, has started drafting a compromise that would allow old-timers to attend the Lambeth meeting, on the understanding that proper arrangements will be made for disciplining gay-friendly liberals. To people who are neither Christian nor Muslim, it must all sound a bit like sharia law."

How is this something +Gomez can guarantee? Is he saying "We promise we'll punish them if you come."?

Dirk C. Reinken

Posted by: Dirk Reinken on Sunday, 17 February 2008 at 12:14pm GMT

"The religious concept in the USA has produced many scholars and saints, as well as a scale of frightening gullible ignorance and superstition unrivaled by any developed society."

American religious groups are unfettered (and unassisted) by the state and thus necessarily entrepreneurial -- how else to get bodies in the pews and coin in the coffers? In the American republic, the free market has ruled in religion from the very beginning -- the constitution of that republic was the first document ever to guarantee religious freedom, rather than mere religious toleration. This has meant that average people, who are indeed often ignorant and gullible, are free to find or create religious expressions that suit themselves. Historically, and to the present, that they have done so has resulted in a relatively high rate of religious participation in the USA -- a rate that is currently much higher than in any other modern industrial culture.

Now, I observe the religious cultures of Britain from afar, and thus can't write of them with any authority, but my guess is that if gullibility and ignorance do not find much expression in the religious culture of England, it is probably because the gullible and ignorant (the average folks) are not participating much in that religious culture. For surely they do exist, even there -- in a recent basic science survey, 27% of both Britons and Americans were found to believe that the sun circles the earth; 48% of Americans and 33% of Britons were able to answer correctly that it took the earth one year to circle the sun. (The study also included people from Japan, Germany, France, and Denmark -- all scored similarly on the 20 question quiz.) I can't help but think that, given the chance, the gullible and ignorant could be just as vexing in England as they are in America!

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Sunday, 17 February 2008 at 12:45pm GMT

My instincts are to say I would like the CofE to be disestablished -- except I am not sure exactly what I mean by that. Apparently it might be possible to do this piecemeal and for Parliament to first of all retract from its current involvement in church appointments, which is one of the things I find most odd about our situation.

If the CofE were not the "established" church, I have a fantasy that all the people who currently pop in twice in a lifetime for a bit of folk religion would be equally likely to go elsewhere. When parked in the pew watching yet another baptism full of perjuring "god"parents, or interrupted by the racket from the children dragged along so they can get into the "rather nice" middle class primary school, this seems like a great idea. Maybe, though, it would mean a church full of the extra-committed, many of whom would be fundamentalists who *should* be committed in the other sense. In which case I'd probably be longing for alternative oversight from TEC.

Posted by: Jez on Sunday, 17 February 2008 at 3:32pm GMT

I don't think you mean Parliament. What we are concerned with here is the way that Crown appointments are made. The role of the Prime Minister is being modified; but Parliament never was involved.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 17 February 2008 at 5:18pm GMT

I quite liked the Economist article.

Like others I am bemused at this proposal ""In the latest move, Drexel Gomez, the conservative Archbishop of the West Indies, has started drafting a compromise that would allow old-timers to attend the Lambeth meeting, on the understanding that proper arrangements will be made for disciplining gay-friendly liberals."

Consider the antics and posturing of the last few weeks. Along the lines of "We're not coming to Lambeth because some people we don't like might be there, and they might be able to talk, and we might hear some things we don't want to hear."

Possibly expecting everyone to cowtail to the overbearing aunt and uncle who attempt to hijack their younger sister's daughter's wedding. To their surprise their niece, the rest of the family, the other invited guests and a good many observers have given thanks to God that they disinvited themselves. Even worse, they look like they might be going to have a charming event with much joy and blessings being granted to one and many.

So, being the attention seeking souls that they are, the aunt and uncle now realize that they are going to miss out on the party, and that their niece and new husband might even be happy on their wedding day.

So, now they are trying to make it that they have to be invited, on the clear understanding that they are going to be rude and obnoxious, and that it would be "unfair" to not invite them back to the wedding. Shades of the lobbying "manners" of Tanzania come to mind.

Go back to Jesus' model at Matthew 22:2-14. They were invited, they said no, and they even insulted and beat the servants who brought the messages. These guests were barred from the wedding, and the subsequently invited guests who showed up with no respect were also thrown out.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. Clough on Sunday, 17 February 2008 at 6:28pm GMT

The mention of the de Tocqueville thesis seems pretty well sums things up as Christianity has developed in the USA. Any huckster with a piece of tax free property can set up a shack on it and call it a church. And very few it seems here can practice any sort of meaningful discernment and moderation.

Although it is easy for me not being a UK taxpayer, my vote is to leave the CofE alone. It is in many ways, more healthy than TEC in a pragmatic sense and surely more impervious to individual power struggles than the American counterpart.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Sunday, 17 February 2008 at 10:25pm GMT

Well, what might be fascinating with disestablishment is to see if the Roman Catholic Church objects to a property settlement. I mean, all those cathedrals were built when the English Church supported the papacy, so I think that the Roman Catholics could have a good legal argument that they should be restored to that church - which is, apparently, now the largest in England anyhow, and so perhaps in the best position to take care of them.

I am not advocating this, mind you, but I could definitely see this emerging as a potential issue. And it could make the whole thing even more interesting....

Posted by: John Bassett on Sunday, 17 February 2008 at 10:56pm GMT

The New York Times published an analysis of the sharia controversy today, one that explores exactly how it works in various parts of the US:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/17/weekinreview/17liptak.html?_r=1&ref=weekinreview&oref=slogin

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Monday, 18 February 2008 at 12:55am GMT

Today's Irish Times:

... For the past five years, Imam Yahya has referred Muslims living in Ireland to the council. He says he has dealt with no more than 10 cases - involving Libyan, Iraqi, Pakistani and Nigerian Muslims - in that time. In one case, a woman sought a divorce from the council because her husband had disappeared; in another, a Dublin-based Muslim, whose husband was living in the Middle East, applied for divorce after her husband took a second wife.
..
Sarah Filaih, an Irish woman who converted to Islam before meeting her Iraqi husband, applied for an Islamic divorce through the sharia council after she got a legal separation... "I wanted to make sure he knew I was serious about divorcing him," she says. "Plus if I wanted the option of marrying again, I would have to get an Islamic divorce."
...Many in Ireland's Muslim community observed the furore over Dr Rowan Williams's comments with interest. While Muslims in Britain can avail of sharia-compliant banking and the services provided by institutions such as the Islamic Sharia Council, no such facilities exist in Ireland.

One initiative currently being considered by the Irish Council of Imams, an umbrella body of religious leaders set up in 2006, is the setting up of a committee to advise on family-related matters in accordance with sharia.

Sheikh Hussein Halawa, from the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland based at Clonskeagh mosque in Dublin, stresses the committee they envisage would not operate on the same basis as the sharia councils in Britain in that it would not grant Islamic divorce.

"It will look at family affairs, using sharia law as the foundation for sorting out problems," he says. "The number of Muslims in Ireland has increased and with it the number of family issues we are asked to give advice on. Sometimes the Garda come to me regarding domestic disputes involving Muslim couples. This committee will help sort out these family disagreements. You could call it a reconciliation committee."

Ireland's Muslim community is undergoing significant change. It is rapidly increasing in size - the last census reported 32,500 Muslims living here, a 70 per cent increase since 2002, though Muslim leaders say the real figure is closer to 40,000 - and it is becoming more diverse, with African Muslims and those from the Balkans adding to long-established Arab and south Asian congregations. Sheikh Allama Zille Umar Qadri, imam at the Al Hidayah Islamic Cultural Centre in Ongar, Dublin, predicts that as the community matures, it will seek ways of incorporating sharia principles into everyday life.

"Right now the Muslim community in Ireland is a relatively young one so people are preoccupied with settling and putting down roots. These issues will become more pressing in the future as people start thinking how they can make their lives here more sharia-compliant, for example in the area of finance."

Sheikh Qadri believes there should be an Irish equivalent of Britain's sharia councils. "Not everybody is happy with the opinions of the sharia council in London for example," he says. "As the Muslim population of Ireland grows, there will be a need to set up a similar body here. Why should Irish Muslims have to depend on a council in England? There should be something catering specifically for Irish Muslims."

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Monday, 18 February 2008 at 1:08am GMT

I confess I write from the west side of the Atlantic, but beyond the government's appointing of bishops and other senior clergy, I don't know what it means for the Church of England to be "established." The Church of Scotland is "established" north of the Tweed, but so far as I know neither the government in Edinburgh nor the government at Westminster exercise any control over the Church of Scotland at all.

Posted by: trueanglican on Monday, 18 February 2008 at 5:32am GMT

It seems that there is continuing confusion about what Establishment means. It's the constitutional arrangement by which the Church is subject to the Crown (in all matters, including spiritual) and the Crown upholds the official teaching of the Church. Issues of divestment, bishops in the Lords and other privileges are distinct from this arrangement, but flow from it. My objections to it are theological and spiritual, as my article referenced above makes plain.

Incidentally, the notion that ending the Church's relationship to the Crown somehow puts us into the US in religious terms is quite astonishing... why, for goodness sake? (I am married to an American, so I am not unfamiliar with the issues). The assumption that Establishment somehow restrains madcap religion and buttresses the nice stuff seems to me to be a piece of mytho-poetic imagining largely ungrounded in fact and lived experience, too. And insofar as it could be sustained, it suggests that we cope with difficult reality best by being protected from it rather than by being invited to face it without fear or favour. Not much of a declaration of faith, is it?

Posted by: Simon Barrow on Tuesday, 19 February 2008 at 1:10pm GMT
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