Wednesday, 22 October 2008

a politician mentions disestablishment

There has been a lot of material in The Times about this.

Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester interviewed Phil Woolas on 18 October. At the very end, he is reported thus:

But he also warns Christians that they need to be more accepting of other faiths. The Church of England will, in his view, be disestablished in the end. “It will probably take 50 years but a modern society is multifaith.”

Rachel Sylvester wrote There’s a God-shaped hole in Westminster. Towards the end, she said:

When Alice Thomson and I interviewed Phil Woolas last week, his comments on immigration hit the headlines - but it was his suggestion that the Anglican Church would be disestablished that got Downing Street in a jitter. The minister’s claim that the link between Church and State would be broken within 50 years because “a modern society is multi-faith” was potential dynamite, with implications for the monarchy, the armed forces and the judiciary as well as Parliament. In fact, Mr Brown has already started to break the link between Church and State - he has given up the power to appoint bishops and is considering a plan to abolish the Act of Settlement, which ensures that only a Protestant can succeed to the throne - but he had hoped to move to the point of disestablishment by stealth.

It would be wrong to suggest that Britain is any longer a Christian country in terms of the population - only 7 per cent of people regularly attend an Anglican church. Yet neither is Britain a secular State like France. Its history, culture and constitutional settlement are based on the link between Church and State. Earlier this year, Nicholas Sarkozy criticised the French republic’s obsession with secularism and called for a “blossoming” of religions. “A man who believes is a man who hopes,” he said. It is ironic that politicians in this country have abandoned belief - at the very moment that the people need hope.

Then, there was this report by Richard Ford and Ruth Gledhill that enlarges on the point. Phil Woolas contradicts government policy over position of Church of England:

Phil Woolas, the new Immigration Minister, was again at the centre of controversy last night after contradicting official government policy over the position of the Church of England.

The outcome of the Government’s attempt to reform the House of Lords would be to strip the Church of its privileges, he said. Within 50 years the Church of England would have lost the special position it has held in English life since the Reformation.

Mr Woolas told The Times: “Disestablishment – I think it will happen because it’s the way things are going. Once you open debate about reform of the House of Lords you open up debate about the make-up of the House. It will probably take 50 years, but a modern society is multifaith.”

His remarks caused consternation in Whitehall: the Government has no intention of igniting a political row over the issue, which has consequences for the monarchy…

The Times has also published a leader on this, titled Church and nation. This concludes:

…Disestablishment would in a sense allow the Church of England to be more Christian. Its concerns would be less expansive, and a more distinctive voice might thereby emerge. Whether that is the right course for the Church and for the nation is a conversation worth holding. It should, however, be conducted with an eye to posterity, if not eternity. While a national church might appear an anachronism, changing its status must not be undertaken lightly.

Above all, this is an issue on which the Church itself should deliberate. Politicians have transient authority, whereas the Church has existed for centuries. For a decision that would be irrevocable, there is no need to adopt a timetable.

A sidebar in the Ford/Gledhill article says this:

Disestablishment would put at risk

— The presence of a parish priest for every community

— The right of all, unless there is a separate legal inhibition, to be married, baptised or given a funeral at their parish church

— The Church’s central role in helping the nation to mark important events, such as royal weddings

— The role of the Church as an education provider through church schools

— The public enactment of church legislation. The laws of the Church are part of the laws of England – measures passed by General Synod also need to be passed by Parliament – and therefore the Church’s courts are part of the English legal system

— The role of the Sovereign as supreme governor of the Church

— The role of the Crown in appointing bishops and other senior clergy

— The presence of bishops in the House of Lords – they are not there to protect self-interest but to represent communities in a non-party-political way

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 22 October 2008 at 11:21am BST | TrackBack
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Comments

Can someone explain to me why disestablishment would have implications for the military? Bemused Yank wants to know.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Wednesday, 22 October 2008 at 12:25pm BST

Well, as someone from a Commonwealth country where establishment has never meant much, I find the issues in the sidebar interesting. The "issues" are basic facts of life for the majority of the world's Anglicans, so get over it! And why does the monarch appoint bishops anyway, why is a secular ruler the "Supreme Governor" of the Church, why are the actions of the Church dictated by law, and why is it a bad thing for bishops NOT to be part of the higher levels of government by right? Come on, no other Church in the Communion is governed like this, and it's high time the CofE stopped being governed like this as well. Why should we even discuss whether or not Betty Battenburg should be Supreme Leader of the Church? She isn't ordained, she isn't a theologian, she is ruler of a secular state, why should she or her government have any role at all?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 22 October 2008 at 1:41pm BST

I'm pretty sure that having a constitutionally established Church isn't doing English society any harm, but I don't think it's doing much good for the Anglican Church in England. Cutting the C of E adrift from the political establishment can only give the Church greater freedom and independence to critique that establishment by rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and affirming that our loyalties lie with another kingdom.

Posted by: rjb on Wednesday, 22 October 2008 at 3:19pm BST

The question is whether establishment can really be sustained in a secularising society. There are certainly some advantages in having an established church, but not if it stops being a church for all and becomes a sect. Essentially, an established church has to move with the zeitgeist and compromise, or it cannot carry out its role. I think the CofE is finding this very difficult now, because of its homophobia and failure to relate to the late or post-modern

Posted by: Merseymike on Wednesday, 22 October 2008 at 3:28pm BST

There is no basis for establishment. Coming from a Church that decided its own rules, I find it odd and rather pointless that this Church should be connected with the very law of the land when what it does is a matter of its own private interest.

(Implication for armed forces? Presumably its system of padres)

Posted by: Pluralist on Wednesday, 22 October 2008 at 3:46pm BST

"Cutting the C of E adrift from the political establishment can only give the Church greater freedom and independence to critique that establishment by rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and affirming that our loyalties lie with another kingdom."

Definitely!


"Essentially, an established church has to move with the zeitgeist and compromise, or it cannot carry out its role."

Merseymike, this is a very concise formulation of the reason why establishment is so wrong, and has been wrong these past 1700 years.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 22 October 2008 at 7:18pm BST

A friend of mine in the UK was outraged that her parish priest refused to baptize her twin sons because she was not a regular churchgoer -- this in the parish where she herself was baptized. I told her that he couldn't do this. The boys remain unbaptized.

I don't know if the state is harmed by its connection with the Church (embarrassed by what the bishops get up to in the Lords, perhaps) but I agree with rjb that the connection doesn't seem to be doing the Church much good (OCICBW).

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Wednesday, 22 October 2008 at 7:34pm BST

"(Implication for armed forces? Presumably its system of padres)."

But that doesn't make any sense. The United States doesn't have an established church, but we have chaplains in our armed forces. For that matter, the Royal Army has RC and Jewish chaplains under the current system.

Posted by: BillyD on Wednesday, 22 October 2008 at 8:16pm BST

I think disestablishment can only be a good thing.

My one proviso is that disestablishment must happen after the abominable Covenant has been disposed of.

One of the glories of establishment is that it would make it illegal for the CofE to sign on to a Covenant which gives authority to foreign prelates.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Thursday, 23 October 2008 at 4:51am BST

Maybe it's the status of armed forces padres: you have military rank, housing, training etc.

Locally we have chaplains to all sorts of local institutions - police, ASDA, football club etc. The local hospital and college pay for a chaplain, though that's constantly being reviewed, and the college recently decided not to fund the post any more. That would be unthinkable in the armed forces - chaplaincy to the military seems to have a much stronger position.

Posted by: David Keen on Thursday, 23 October 2008 at 9:09am BST

Chaplains in the military come from all Christian denominations and non-Christian faiths too, so I don't think disestablishment would make any difference there.
The person whose friends children were refused baptism should complain to the relevant Archdeacon or Bishop. C of E clergy are only allowed to delay baptism in order to give reasonable preparation to the parents, which doesn't mean regular churchgoing (though it could include a limited length course of a few weeks, which might include going to church during that time.) For a member of the C of E clergy to refuse baptism to those legally entitled to it counts as neglect of duty under Canon law, which is, because we are established the law of the land.
Personally I have no problem with disestablishment, though one of the reasons I am a C of E priest is that it brings with it a responsibility towards everyone in my patch. But there would be some complex issues of who owns what property and who pays for ancient churches like mine - either they belong to the church which can then dispose of them if it wants to, or they belong to the state and the local community, which then has to pay for their upkeep...

Posted by: Anne on Thursday, 23 October 2008 at 9:58am BST

"Why should we even discuss whether or not Betty Battenburg should be Supreme Leader of the Church? She isn't ordained, she isn't a theologian, she is ruler of a secular state, why should she or her government have any role at all?" - Ford Elms.

Hitherto, Ford, I have applauded most of your postings on this site..But! 'Betty Battenburg', really! (anyway: the name is Windsor)

However, I suppose not many Americans, certainly, would understand the loyalty and devotion most English people have towards Her Majesty The Queen; because they have never been subject to the rule of a constitutional Monarch. Instead, what do they have today? One wonders whether the election of a President, elected on the lines of most presidential persons, is a truly democratic and representative way of electing a Head of Government - considering the Supreme Powers some of them seem to arrogate to themselves. I already feel the vibrations of those in the US who are contemplating the awesome prospect of the election of a certain Vice-Presidential candidate who could one day become President of the U.S.A.

Regarding the matter of disestablishment of the Church of England, I think all Anglicans would agree that this is a matter for the only English people to determine. It has nothing to do with the other Churches in the Communion. However, one thought does occur - that in its present crisis situation the Church of England has little excuse to deny the claims of English Law; in the matter of the validity of equal employment opportunity for women (e.g. as clergy in the Church), for the LBGT community, and for the validity of same-sex unions - which are now enshrined in law.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 23 October 2008 at 11:36am BST

Speaking from the disestablished Church in Wales, I can't see any reason why the CofE should not be disestablished. In Wales, we still have responsibility for all the people in our parish, we are still expected to baptise, marry or bury/cremate all residents of the parish (not all at once!), and there are still hospital and university chaplains suuported by those organisations. While buildings are clearly vested in the Church, what we can do with those with Listed Building status is limited - but that applies to all organisations, it is just that the Church has more Listed Buildings than anyone else! In England, ownership and listing is the same, but the state (whether in England or Wales) does not automatically contribute to the upkeep of ancient buildings unless owned by the state (English Heritage, Cadw, etc.) As I think the House of Lords is an anachronism, I really wouldn't worry about the CofE losing its Bishops' membership.

Posted by: Richard on Thursday, 23 October 2008 at 12:07pm BST

Fr Ron Smith said that "Regarding the matter of disestablishment of the Church of England, I think all Anglicans would agree that this is a matter for the only English people to determine."

Not so. There are other people in the UK who might legitimately have an interest.

Speaking from Scotland, I see no reason why the Church of England should not be disestablished and would positively welcome other reforms of the House of Lords too.

I say that as someone who is relatively untroubled by the idea of the monarchy. However, I'd prefer the monarch to be able to have freedom of conscience to adopt whichever religion was of his or her choosing rather than the present law. Currently the law insists that the Queen is a Presbyterian. She should have the right to choose to be an Anglican if she so desires.

There seems no logic in having the Church of England bishops in the Lords. Their presence is an anachronism within an anachronism.

Posted by: Kelvin Holdsworth on Thursday, 23 October 2008 at 1:34pm BST

Fr Ron
"One wonders whether the election of a President, elected on the lines of most presidential persons, is a truly democratic and representative way of electing a Head of Government - considering the Supreme Powers some of them seem to arrogate to themselves."

That is merely a question of political structure. In America the president is the political head of state, that is not the role the Queen has.

A better comparison would be Germany, where you have the political head of state in the office of Chancellor, and the representative head of state in the office of President.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 23 October 2008 at 1:50pm BST

her parish priest refused to baptize her twin sons because she was not a regular churchgoer"

While I am more in favour of this attitude when it comes to marriages, and do not really support the actions of the priest in this instance, I would have to ask her why, if she is not a practicing Christian herself, she should want her children baptised. She isn't a regular attendee at Synagogue either, would she think it her right to have a Briss for her sons? I think it's time we told people that there is no social requirement in this day and age for anyone to be a Christian. Baptism is NOT "getting the baby done". Now, I don't think this should be presented as punishment for lack of attendance either, just reassurance that there is no social imperative to "go through the motions". Who knows? Maybe presented to her in this light, she may be led to rethink her own commitment.

"they have never been subject to the rule of a constitutional Monarch."

Well, I'm a Newfoundlander, and we have been subject to the rule of the British Monarch for 500 years. It has not been a bed of roses. As I age, I find myself less and less able to think of the monarchy as anything more than an excuse for high ritual, and I gladly get out of bed at 5AM to watch a royal wedding or funeral. So, yes, Betty Battenburg. It is intended as cynical humour. Before George V's WWI paranoia, they weren't all that sure what their name actually was. She IS married to a Battenburg, however, so, one thinks, could go by her husband's name in at least some instances, no? The Kaiser, I believe, is reported to have said "Chivalry died when, for a mere war, the British monarch changed his name." Sometime, I'll explain how British history clearly shows they have always done best when they are ruled by foreigners.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 23 October 2008 at 2:22pm BST

"Maybe it's the status of armed forces padres: you have military rank, housing, training etc"

I don't know if it's still the practice, but I believe that it used to be that armed forces padre had no rank at all - they were considered to be of the same rank of the person with whom they were dealing, either enlisted or officer. Theoretically this would make it easier to deal with service members as a pastor.

Posted by: BillyD on Thursday, 23 October 2008 at 3:21pm BST

"Currently the law insists that the Queen is a Presbyterian."

No, currently, the law insists the Queen be something of a doctrinal shapeshifter, Anglican south of the border, Presbyterian north of it. It's an oddly British compromise. What little I've learned of the Scottish Episcopalians in the last few years has really elevated them in my estimation. Too bad Canadian bishops elect didn't follow in Seabury's path and go to the Scots for consecration!

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 23 October 2008 at 5:15pm BST

Ford -- I actually would not approve of christening a baby of parents who aren't practicing Christians -- but my understanding is that the C of E parish priest has to do so if requested (& I think it was foolish not to use preparation as a teaching opportunity)

Re: the Queen's religion -- supposedly someone once asked Queen Victoria if she usually spent March & April at Balmoral because she was particularly fond of Scottish springs & received the reply, "Oh, no -- but Easter is much too happy an occasion for a Prayer Book service!"

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Thursday, 23 October 2008 at 5:24pm BST

"the C of E parish priest has to do so if requested (& I think it was foolish not to use preparation as a teaching opportunity)"

I agree about using it as a teaching opportunity, and I also do not think right to refuse a child the rebirth of Baptism simply because her parent(s) are not practicing Christians. We do it at St. Mike's, the rationale being that something stirs a person to seek baptism for their child, and that something could very well be the Spirit. But, the fact that CofE clergy are required to administer the sacraments to whoever believes they have a cultural right to some kind of public validation ceremony is another reason for disestablishment, IMNSHO. And I meant what I said about people being reassured that there is no longer a social imperative to be a Christian, indeed, in sopme circles, it's a drawback.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 23 October 2008 at 7:54pm BST

Prior Aelred says: "Re: the Queen's religion -- supposedly someone once asked Queen Victoria if she usually spent March & April at Balmoral because she was particularly fond of Scottish springs & received the reply, "Oh, no -- but Easter is much too happy an occasion for a Prayer Book service!"

Granted that the 1662 BCP probably is not the jolliest Paschal Feast in Christian tradition, but what do you suppose the Presbyterians were doing that the Queen thought was more fun?

Posted by: WSJM on Thursday, 23 October 2008 at 8:11pm BST

On the matter of military padres, the issue of establishment or disestablishment is irrelevant. And Billy, it was the custom of the HM's navies (RN, RCN, RAN etc) that padres held no rank. In Canada, that was messed up by that idiot Hellyer (now senior member of the Privy Council for Canada) and his unification foolishness.

On the matter of the correct style for the lady who lives in Buckingham Palace. "Mrs. Battenburg" seems an appropriate usage for a republican. As a (sentimental) Jacobite, I'd say that HIS Majesty is Francis II, residing in exile in a palace outwith Munich, while Mrs. B is more properly known as "the Princess Phillipos of Greece and Denmark."

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Thursday, 23 October 2008 at 10:30pm BST

"that idiot Hellyer"

Would that be Hillier, or am I confusing one of our boys with someone else? I must be, his former troops held him in such esteem, I doubt the appelation "idiot" would be seen to apply to "Our Rick".

"As a (sentimental) Jacobite"

Can we get together next July 12 and, holding our scotch over a glass of water, toast "the King" and "the wee man in the velvet suit"?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 24 October 2008 at 12:32am BST

" And Billy, it was the custom of the HM's navies (RN, RCN, RAN etc) that padres held no rank."

Ah, just the navies, then? Pity - it seems like such a commonsense idea. I probably heard about it while I was in the USN and just extended it to all the armed forces on my own authority.

Posted by: BillyD on Friday, 24 October 2008 at 3:04am BST

No, Ford. I was referring to the Honourable Paul Hellyer, the senior living member of the Canadian Privy Council who, as Minister of Defence, demolished all our services and traditions and rigged us up in jolly green jumpers circa 1967.

I was certainly not referring to your fellow Petran (ie, person from a rock) General Rick Hillier who, while too army-centric for my tastes, was cetainly a strong leader and a valuable advocate for his soldiers, sailors and airfolk.

On the other matter, I refer you to www.jacobite.ca

Gotta love that wee gentleman in the velvet coat.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Friday, 24 October 2008 at 10:53pm BST

"Petran"

EXCELLENT!!!!! If only we had had this a few years ago when they changed the name of the place, so that now our premier says "I am a Newfoundlander and Labradorian". I imagine this must have been rather hard on his mother, since the only way for this statement to be true would be if, during labour, she were able to span the nine miles of the Straits of Belle Isle and deliver him directly into the water. (end of derailment)

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 27 October 2008 at 3:07pm GMT
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