Recently I showed a guest around Parliament who was incredulous to find Bishops in the House of Lords, that the daily proceedings in both Houses began with prayers, and that much of the architecture, both internal and external, resembles that of a church.
“What about the ‘secular state?’ She asked.
I had to tell her that we don’t have one. One the contrary, and as anyone can see on every coin, the Monarch reigns by the Grace of God (D.G) and is ‘Defender of the Faith’ (F.D).
The coronation oath requires the Monarch, as ‘Supreme Governor’ of the Church of England to defend the ‘Protestant Reformed Religion, by law established’.
Only in the Last hundred years has Parliament delegated powers to the Church of England to alter its liturgy and doctrine. Even that delegation isn’t absolute: any proposed changes to Church canon law have first to be ratified by Parliament’s Ecclesiastical Committee.
An MP is appointed as a Church Commissioner and answers questions every month in the Commons on behalf of the Church.
Recently tensions have arisen between the Church and Parliament over the issue of Gay Marriage.
Parliament passed the Equal Marriage Act in 2013, but it specifically excluded the Church of England from its provisions. Were same-sex marriages to take place in the Church of England, Parliament would need first to amend the 2013 Act. Recently, some parliamentarians have threatened the Archbishop of Canterbury with exactly that prospect, given their frustration at what they consider to be the slow progress of the Church on this question. After all, it was only last week the Synod considered merely providing prayers for same-sex couples in church. These prayers will ask for God’s blessing on the individuals, not their union. The Church’s doctrine of marriage will remain unaltered, namely that it can only take place between one man and one woman.
The problem for the Church is that in its legislating Synod there are two irreconcilable blocks, neither of which has a majority. About 45% are traditionalist and resist change to doctrine and practice, whilst another 45% are liberal progressives that promote the very changes that the traditionalists resist.
The Progressives want same-sex marriage, whilst the traditionalists want no change. Blessings for same-sex couples is a compromise or ‘fudge’ that satisfies neither side.
It is difficult to see how this can end well. The Bishops will now go away and come back with proposals for the prayers to be used in these blessings, but they will need to be accepted by a two-thirds majority in the Synod. Currently, that majority just does not appear to exist, or anything like it.
My personal prejudice is that Christianity has always spent too much time worrying about sex and sexuality, and there are much more important issues to address.
Nevertheless, a way out needs to be found in order to prevent collateral damage to the international Anglican Communion and to the integrity of the relationship between the Established Church and the State.
The Church of England is comprised of two provinces: Canterbury and York. That division is purely one of Geography. Perhaps we could instead make the division doctrinal: traditional parishes could opt for, say, Canterbury, and liberal progressive parishes for York. Schism and disestablishment could be avoided.
It might just work.