I was in a Bible study recently and towards the end we began talking about David Cameron’s Easter message (I know its a bit late) and the insistence that we are still a Christian nation (If we are then shame on us for what passes for Christian these days). Yet I was surprised by the near universal sentiment in the group that it’d be better for the Church of England to ‘come out’ of its role as the established church of the nation. Most of the people there had been raised in the CoE yet felt clearly the country and the church are being pulled in opposite directions and the church being chained to the state clearly was not doing us any favours with the expectations of the unbelieving public and political class bearing down on it.
A fair criticism of the Church of England is how closely it mirrors the secular world around it, how our bishops so closely mirror our politicians talking so much but saying very little. Demographically both the Church and the political system have become increasingly devoid of the participation of those in lower and middle income brackets and the young. The Church keeps promising to exercise authority against those deserving of it but the outcome is always underwhelming. The Church of England is an institution, a bureaucracy and ‘there is no health in us’. Which is perhaps why the church needs to ‘come out’ and learn to find its own voice and walk unaided by the state.
I am confident it is only a matter of time until the public and the state make the decision for the church and it should be taken as a blessing from God rather than anything tragic. It will force us and all others of the magnitude of the task before us here in the UK, because things will not be going back to the way they were. I will be surprised if the established nature of the church outlasts the life of Queen Elizabeth by any real measure (and I will really lament if Charles gets a handle on what little is left) because she seems to be the last true Christian monarch. As an aside, I’m not even a Monarchist but I think she’s probably one of the most vocal and well positioned Christians left here and for that I respect and even like her.
If the Church is wise it will act proactively and use such a separation as a chance to proclaim the gospel, if we are brave enough we should proactively seek to end it on our terms rather than that of the state. To get ahead of the inevitable and step more fully into the idea of the global church that Anglicanism is already participative in and more fully reject those who seek to capitalise on the idea of Christianity as a means of obtaining cultural capital for their own ends.
I find myself praying for disestablishment and soon and I do not think I am alone in praying this. The Church of England has an opportunity to occupy the role of a witness to the Kingdom of God which is infinitely better than the myopic cultural and epistemological materialistic landscape we are inheriting. It would be a massive change that would fundamentally alter the Church of England at its core, but its a change I think could be ultimately cathartic and for the better.