Church Commissioners

24 Oct 2008 13:08:29

What role should the Church play in Parliament?

One of the curiosities of the House of Commons is its questioning of the Church Commissioners (who manage the Church of England's estate), through their representative Sir Stuart Bell (a Labour MP). He is a member of Her Majesty's Household as the Second Church Estates Commissioner. As such Sir Stuart is tasked with "liaising between representatives of Church and State" as his website puts it.

This would of course not happen in America, where the separation of church and state is jealously guarded, including by some profoundly religious people. The new immigration minister Phil Woolas, who has been exasperating his bosses, suggested this week that the Church of England will be disestablished within fifty years, as a consequence of Government reform of the House of Lords (in which 26 clergymen currently sit).

By contrast the Church is much in evidence in Parliament - morning sessions begin with "Prayers", for example.

The Times' journalist Melanie McDonagh wrote a spirited defence of antidisestablishmentarianism yesterday. This is the outstanding passage:

"The assumption that a multifaith society can't accommodate a privileged position for one religion, Anglicanism, can't be taken as given.

The case for an established Church, like monarchy, tends to be inchoate, being concerned with one of those parts of the constitution that works well without anyone quite knowing why. Admittedly, it worked better 50 years ago, when being CoE was nearly everyone's default religious position. But there's still a case for antidisestablishmentarianism.

Actually, leaders of minority faiths tend to be rather favourable to the CoE position, on the ground that its bishops provide a religious take on various issues with which they usually agree. And a reformed House of Lords could accommodate a few well-behaved bishops."

Where do you stand on the role of the Church in Parliament?