“Divorce” Between the Established Church & the State Gains Increasing Support

Establishment may be beneficial for both the administration of the church and the society
( [email protected] ) Jun 23, 2004 11:22 PM EDT

The link between the Church of England and the state has been a very controversial topic to faith groups. A report published yesterday by an independent political organisation has shown more clearly the trend in the preference of faith groups among the public.

The report says that two thirds of the non-Christian religious groups in Britain would favour either complete disestablishment or changes to the present system. Together with a similar research done by CommunicateResearch in April, among 200 MPs, 57% are in favour of disestablishment, it is fair to conclude that there is an increasing majority of people supporting this proposal.

The result of this research is quite significant as the interviewees are all leading representatives from the Roman Catholic, Scottish Episcopal, Methodist, Quaker, Presbyterian and Baptist churches, as well as senior figures from the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist faiths. The research projected is headed by Iain McLean, Professor of Politics at Oxford University.

Even though establishment has been kept as a heritage in Britain since King Henry VIII, the proposal for disestablishment has been triggered by collisions between the state’s governance and the church’s autonomy appearing in both social and church matters. One very typical example is the recent appointment of a gay canon as the Dean of church, which is believed to be a decision made by the Prime Minister, instead of the will of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Supporters of Disestablishment raised questions over the role of the Queen as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Secondly, they objected to the presence of bishops in the House of Lords in parliament for they have not actually represented the Anglican voice or faith values in the legislative process, even though the other one third of the anti-disestablishmentarianism, have quoted this as one of the arguments, believing that bishops in the House of Lords take their views into account on issues such as education, asylum and Iraq.

According to the press release of the report, it calls for the Church of England to follow the Church of Scotland in reforming its relationship with the State. That is to “maintain the Church’s status as the national church in England and to remove political control over Church affairs, allowing it the same degree of self-governance that the Church of Scotland has enjoyed since 1921.”

The report also proposes creating a Council of Faith to formalise Government consultation with religious groups as an alternative to Bishops in the House of Lords.

The press release quoted a comment from Professor Iain McLean of Nuffield College, Oxford, “establishment ties up numbers of intelligent and potentially productive people, both in Church and in State, who should be freed to get on with their proper jobs. It also costs the Church of England money that would be better spent on promoting its mission to every parish. Experience in America and Wales suggests that weakening Anglican establishment could actually help the church in England.”

Co-author Benjamin Linsley from New Politics Network said, “Britain has a long and proud history of defending the freedom of conscience of its citizens. The State would serve a multi-cultural, multi-faith society better by not being quite so heavily involved with only one of those faiths.”