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By the grace of God: The Coronation service signifies that the head of state must be authorised from above (Getty) 

What follows is an argument in favour of the establishment or public privileging of the Church of England. Since "establishment" can mean all manner of thing — as a survey of European, indeed British, arrangements would quickly reveal — let me make clear right at the beginning what I have in mind.

First there is the Coronation Service, in which the head of state, kneeling, receives authorisation from above, not from below. Contrary to the populist orthodoxy that prevails among us, the moral legitimacy of government issues primarily from its faithfulness to the given principles of justice, and not from its reflection of popular will — as the fate of the Weimar Republic in the early 1930s should have taught us. In an era that finds it hard to think of political legitimacy except in terms of popular election, and which is therefore inclined to collapse a healthily mixed constitution into its democratic element, the Coronation Service makes an important and dramatic cautionary statement — and in our circumstances, a prophetic one.

Second is the affirmation by the head of state of the established church through the monarch's special association with it. While the disqualification of Roman Catholics from succession should be removed, the requirement of communion with the Church of England should remain. If the Roman Catholic church chooses to continue to prohibit members from such communion, then that is a problem for Rome.

Third comes the sitting of Anglican bishops in the Upper House of Parliament. An Upper House ought to give us an "aristocracy" of expertise, perchance wisdom, and not a mirror-image of the Lower House. Therefore, its composition ought to guarantee the representation of civil society in all its variety — including the Church of England. Since direct elections cannot guarantee such representation, appointments will be necessary. It is true that support in the House of Commons for the recommendation by the Wakeham Commission (2000) of a predominantly appointed — rather than elected — Upper House has waned; but, given what is at stake, I see no reason simply to go with the flow. It is also true that, if seats in the Upper House were opened up to representatives of non-Anglican religious communities, it might be difficult to agree on a formula for distribution that would keep everyone's nose entirely in joint.  But since when in politics was there ever an agreement that made everyone entirely happy? Frustration is a routine feature of political life, and tolerating it is a definitive feature of liberal political mores.

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December 22nd, 2014
10:12 AM
Speaking as a Christian advocate of the separation of Church and state, this article does not even raise the real issues let alone do justice to the "criticism of the establishment from within the churches". The fundamental question concerns not only the compromise of the prophetic voice, but the nature of the Kingdom of Jesus and its interaction with the kingdoms of this world, and the teaching of scripture regarding the origins and purpose of government. Government was a gift of God as a concession and a restraint for godless nations in response to the sinfulness of humanity (Genesis 1-11). The Kingdom of Jesus is 'not of this world' (John 18:36) and of an entirely different order and character. There is no positive biblical evidence whatsoever that Jesus ever intended His followers to take over the political power structures of the world, and a great deal of evidence to the contrary.

March 31st, 2011
1:03 PM
Perhaps the writer ought to be reminded of Her Majesty's styles and titles and other oaths taken at the Coronation. The Church of England may be established in England, it isn't in Wales and it certainly isn't in Scotland. The Church of Scotland is protected by the Sovereign's oath to maintain the Presbyterian nature of the Church. During the Enlightenment, there were many arguments for disestablishment. Many thought (Hume and others) that it might be best to leave the established churches to fade, as has happened in the Church of Sweden, and to some extent within Scotland and England. What is deceit is when some cleric - whether Roman, Anglican, Rabbi, Hindu or Imam - decides to exact political influence by denial of such 'gifts' as 'sacraments' to those that do not uphold their views. Given the recent child sex abuse cases around the world, we don't need any advice from some theologians whose names escape me. In ecclesiastical terms, deceit can be described as an obreption, a modern day mot du jour.

March 31st, 2011
12:03 PM
"...let me make clear right at the beginning what I have in mind. First there is the Coronation Service, in which the head of state, kneeling, receives authorisation from above, not from below." Thank you for making it clear so early in your article that it is not to be taken seriously. The establishment seeks to propagate the lie that there is a higher authority, then claims entitlement to power bestowed by that authority. Deceit and fraud are not a good basis for government.

John Dale
March 31st, 2011
11:03 AM
What utter drivel. This just serves to convince me even more so that we should disestablish as soon as possible.

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