Disestablishment of the Church of England is a no-lose policy: It is radical, it is right and virtually no one opposes itby Iain McLean / January 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
Tony Blair has looked constitutionally timid since devolution. Here is something he could do with huge symbolic and practical benefit. Only gilded vested interests would lose. He should disestablish the Church of England. He will do nothing unless the Church of England asks him to, but signals from the new Archbishop of Canterbury suggest that we may be about to see a historic shift in its position.
A BBC profile of Archbishop Rowan Williams broadcast on 1st December showed a man ill at ease with the establishment of the Church of England. “It’s possible to have very fruitful, very constructive relations with government and public life without all the apparatus of legal establishment as it’s evolved in England,” he said.
How very different this sounds to his predecessor. On St George’s Day 2002, Archbishop George Carey gave a lecture defending establishment: “In England, the interweaving of church and state and nation have come down to us through the long and steadily evolving set of relationships known as establishment… The Church of England alone among religious groupings has a comprehensive network of parishes and priests covering the entire country.
“The loudest voices [for disestablishment] tend to be those backing a clearly secular, and at times republican, agenda… Part of the Church’s service-born out of establishment-must be on behalf of faith generally. That is the basis on which bishops in the House of Lords have interpreted aspects of their role… It is interesting that moving towards a secular basis for the state is something that many leaders of other faith communities strongly oppose.”
Up to a point, Lord Carey. Of what “country” or “nation” do you speak? The UK comprises four territories. The Church of England is established in one. A different church entirely-the Church of Scotland-is established in another. The Anglican church was disestablished in Ireland in 1869 and in Wales in 1920. So the Archbishop’s “country” here must be England. Even in England, the Catholics and Methodists would be surprised by the claim that they lack a comprehensive network of parishes and priests covering the entire country. The most recent published data from the Office for National Statistics suggest that the Catholic church has slightly more attenders than the Church of England.
Where are those statements from other faith communities supporting establishment of the Church of England? Thirty faith communities sent in their views on religious representation to the…