Why, in spite of my Faith, I still believe in separation of Church and State

House of LordsBy Paul Burgin / @paul_burgin

Anyone who knows anything about Paul Blanchard and myself will know that when it comes to issues of Religion and Faith we are two very different people, apart from the fact that our beliefs in this area flow into the Labour Party. Primarily, Paul is involved with Labour Humanists and I am involved with the Christian Socialist Movement.

So it may surprise some that on the issue of Bishops within the House of Lords I actually agree with Paul (although I’d hesitate to use the phrase “kicked out!” it smacks of theological aggression towards a group of people who have much value to our society on moral and social issues).

The reasons I agree with Paul and others who share his beliefs might differ – and I’ve already written about them before both on LabourHome and on my blog – but with this debate coming up, I think it’s worth reproducing my thoughts from last year:

“Thought I ought to blog on this subject, given the interest on my mentioning faith schools and a Sunday Times article I read yesterday about whether it is time for the UK to be a secular state.

Put simply, I have never really agreed with the idea of the Church of England being a state church. Whilst the relationship has some benefits, it can in theory compromise itself (especially with regard to where senior appointments are made by politicians who may or may not be Christian, depending on who is in the job), and indeed can be a vehicle for force-feeding Christianity on others. Whilst I think this is a miniscule concern in this day and age, it certainly wasn’t the case in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

In other countries the Anglican/Episcopal Church tends to thrive, unfettered by state control. True, it has its drawbacks, like any other denomination, notably a lack of money and the temptation to be dependent on wealthy benefactors – but it has thrived in other ways and the Christian faith has always been at its admirable best when it allows itself to be vulnerable instead of trying to fight. Simply, the Church is there to worship God and love our neighbour as we love ourselves, not to make idols out of insecurity.

An unfettered Church of England would be able to make its own decisions, work out better ways to heal the evangelical/liberal divide (the bits that need healing anyway) and develop better relations with other denominations. It may also become more influential in its dealings with the state; neither being compromised by the other and not depending on currently existing structures.

Take a look at the US, where the churches – although they make mistakes sometimes, and sometimes quite horrendous ones – wield a strong influence on political issues. One may say that in some cases the church is woefully misguided, but look at the work done by Christians such as Martin Luther King, Jr and Jim Wallis.

In short, the womb may well be a warm place but perhaps it is time to cut the umbilical cord.”

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