The Time Is Now Right to Split Church and State

Article excerpt

Byline: ?Douglas Carswell

[bar] AY marriage, it is darkly hinted, would spell the end. The final breach. The thing that finally tears the English Church and State asunder. Legalising marriage between same-sex couples would -- whisper it gently -- provoke the disestablishment of the Church of England. No more -- horror of horrors -- would Anglicanism be our official state religion.

Oh, please! I can think of many sensible arguments both for and against gay marriage. But the idea that we should oppose it for fear it would mean the disestablishment of the Church of England is not one of them. Indeed, it is the one line of argument guaranteed to make me sympathetic to Lynne Featherstone, the minister responsible for this gay marriage muddle.

Anti-disestablishmentarianism -- the idea that we should not strip the Anglican Church of its official status -- is not only the longest word in the English language, it has also given rise to one of the longest running debates in the English language, too.

"Leave it alone" has been the default argument of defenders of the Anglican Church's privileged position for the past 150 years. "Detach this one delicate thread from the constitutional tapestry" they cry "and the entire thing might come apart."

Having an official church, the traditionalists tell us, with whom Her Majesty is "in communion" as Supreme Governor, is the foundation upon which our monarchy rests. Tinker with the Act of Settlement of 1701, and we will become just another tinpot republic before you can say "written constitution".

Nonsense. Since 1688, the monarch has been our head of state not because of the Divine Right of Kings, nor because the English realm has been some sort of family heirloom. The monarch has been the monarch because Parliament says so.

The popular, deep-felt affection for the monarchy that we saw on display in London last week came not some ancient legal parchment but from the people.

An ardent monarchist, who also wants to see the Church of England thrive, I believe that disestablishing the Church of England would set Anglicanism free.

Why, I wonder, do so many of the political Right cling to the idea that the Anglican Church should remain our state-backed religion? We conservatives are, as a rule, against nationalisation. It generates complacency and inefficiency.

So why do we back a nationalised Church? If the State is useless at running airlines or telephone lines, why do we accept that it is any better at running the Church of England? I want the Church of England to break free from the State precisely because I want to see it prosper and thrive. Like the state-run industries in the 1970s, the Church of England has suffered from falling market share. It has expensive and costly overheads. It has failed to innovate, with sometimes complacent senior management. It has at times been in danger of losing touch with its customer base.

Though it is never wise to generalise about either America or religion, I cannot help but notice each time I have visited the US how churches over there seem to thrive. …