Apologies for the rather naff title, but I understand that we are celebrating 450 years of the bard this week!
So should the Church of England be disestablished? Let’s start with a quip from President Roosevelt who when asked what sort of economist he would like allegedly replied ‘a one handed one.’ When asked to explain his answer he told his inquisitor that he was fed up of economists, when asked for their opinion, replying ‘one the one hand……….but on the other hand……….’ And, I guess it is a bit like this on the (dis) establishment question.
Before I give a few thoughts on ‘the question,’ one simple reflection: those calling for disestablishment appear to comprise the liberal secular elite; ordinary Jo’s (and Josephine’s) don’t appear to be that bothered. Having said this there are arguments on both sides.
It is interesting that the leaders of other denominations and faiths seem to like the fact that we have an established church. Having an established church means that all citizens have spiritual rights; paradoxically an established church is regarded as the protector of religious plurality. Our Supreme Governor is both the Defender of the Faith, and by proxy defender of the faiths (Prince Charles need not worry about official religious titles!) It is also right and proper that faith and religion should be represented in the legislature. We like to ham up the decline in religious attendance but, it remains a (for some an uncomfortable) truth that religious attendance, by a considerable distance, remains the most popular voluntary activity in the U.K. Sorry, secularists but it is true!
So far so good. But, it is also true that many in the church wish that the Bishops would stop being so political and instead focus on church affairs, faith and the building up of local Christian communities. I understand this point but would also suggest that the Bishops are mandated to express political views by dint of their place in the legislature. We can’t expect our Bishops to turn up and say nothing!
At times the established church is weakened as a consequence of its status as the established church, it is forced to take positions that are either largely counter cultural, or explicitly political and this will always upset some of its constituency. By being part of the legislature it courts controversy and risks ridicule (just as Jesus did). But, the only other alternative is marginalisation both for itself and all other denominations and faiths, and that would be a very bad thing indeed.
So all in all, I favour establishment!