The Anglican Church, as the nation's officially "established" church, has had a privileged position in England since the Act of Supremacy in 1534. It isn't called the Church of England for nothing. For example, the 26 most senior bishops of the Church have by right a seat in the House of Lords. The head of state must be a member of the Church and may not marry a Catholic (although presumably he or she might marry a Muslim, Hindu or Jew). Monarchs are required to swear that they will "maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion [the Anglican Church] as established by law."
The connection to the state is
strong. Archbishops, bishops and deans
of cathedrals are appointed by the monarch on the advice of the prime
minister. Measures proposed by the Church affecting its governance or
worship must be approved by the British Parliament. Church assets are
managed by 33 Commissioners, including the British prime minister, who
are responsible to Parliament.
a result of its favoured status, it has prospered mightily. In 2007,
its land, property and stock market assets were valued at $9-billion,
generating $285-million in annual revenue. Its investment fund
originated in money accrued by Henry VIII and given to the Church in
1704 by Queen Anne.
Despite its status as the
established church of the nation and its great wealth, it is losing its
credibility among the British people. Although it has nominally 24
million members, only 1.1 regularly attend weekly services. Attendance
declines as the average age of churchgoers increases.
week the Church fell further in the esteem of modern Britons when its
house of laity voted against the ordination of women bishops. (The house
of bishops, to its credit, voted massively in favour.) Politicians from
all parties expressed their displeasure and Prime Minister David
Cameron lamented, "The church needs to get on with it and get with the
The Church may simply have been taking instruction from St Paul: "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence," (1 Timothy 2:12). However
this bit of misogyny no longer has credibility even with Christian
women, and the Church's failure to "get with the program" should have
consequences. It is an appropriate time to take the long overdue step of
ending the Church's special relationship and attendant privileges with
the British state. It is time to disestablish the Church of England.