Establishing fairness for church and society

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Commenting on a leader in The Economist [Feb 14th 2008] calling for the severing of the church-state link in England, Simon Barrow, co-director of the think-tank Ekklesia, said: "The fact that a major journal on global affairs has raised the issue of disestablishment shows that it will not go away."

He continued: "One might disagree with the magazine's over-enthusiasm for market solutions in all spheres of life, but the alternative to an unjustifiably privileged position for the Church of England under the Crown is not the rule of money but the positive development of free faith in civil society."

Ekklesia points out that the Church of England is now the only state church in the 71 million strong worldwide Anglican Communion, and that Britain is the only democracy in Europe where unelected leaders of one religious group are allowed to sit in the legislature as of right, rather than through usual electoral procedures.

It says that careful distinctions need to be made between Establishment (the formal link between Church and Crown) and other issues about the settlement of religion in society - including schools, public services, law and representation.

"Establishment creates an environment of privilege and exemption, but removing this does not automatically solve all other issues about religion. Rather, it provides a clearer distinction between voluntary association within civil society, in which faith groups have an important role to play alongside others, and formal mechanisms of governance which should aim at a level playing field for all - irrespective of differences of belief."

The think-tank also says that the Church contradicts its own founder's rejection of power and prestige when it seeks to secure special advantage for itself, and that this brings discredit on its message and standing in wider society.

"Defending something unfair and anachronistic in the interests of self-preservation hardly constitutes a positive witness to a Gospel which is supposed to be about the power of love overcoming the love of power," says Barrow.

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More information:

The Economist calls for cutting the cord that binds church and state - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/6779

Economist leader, 'Church and state - sever them': http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10689643

Simon Barrow, 'Giving up Establishment for Lent' - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/6774