Church of England: Apart of the Establishment?
These have been very bizarre days. A friend suggested this had been the most stressful week for consumers of the news in some months – perhaps they’re right. The British establishment is suffering a wholesale loss of credibility before our eyes; bizarrely, the church is for once doing better than any other area of the British Establishment.
On Saturday I saw John McDonnell MP speaking. As ever, it was a pleasure to see him give a calm and measured message of hope to the Coalition of Resistance. I admire his courage and commitment to the task, but one thing he said got me thinking. With the police, politicians and media all drawn into the debacle he commented that the church only needed a sex scandal to complete the discrediting of the whole Establishment. Today, it looks like even Palace Staffers are involved, and thus the Monarchy itself, sat atop the whole Establishment house of cards, has been drawn down into the mess.
It is often said that the Church of England gains credibility it wouldn’t otherwise have (some would say deserve) by remaining the established church. It is allowed to do many things and make many presumptions available to no other church. But today, as the News of the World has ceased to exist and the rumblings continue, I wonder whether it might be a good day to be a non-conformist. The Methodists have plausible deniability in the situation. The Quakers would never even be associated with the mess. But for the Church of England?
There has been much made of potential brand toxicity and the risk that the Sun will be infected as well. I wish that were so. But as the whole establishment creaks under the strain of corruption, is there a risk the Church of England might actually come to harm by being associated so closely with the establishment? Apparently we have a few million invested in the company, though how much that will be worth shortly is anyone’s guess.
It would certainly be good to hear from the Archbishops on the News of the World matter; its a privilege given to the Church of England to speak out and be taken seriously on such matters. But could there ever come a time when the Church is tainted by connection to the establishment? During the miners’ strike, some saw the church as a target, though many churches were involved in food collections and the likes.
Whilst the Establishment is doing nicely for itself, the idea of being part of a church that is blessed by good relations with those who could easily make its life misery is pretty easy to dismissive as a quirk of history. When the government has the greed of the upper classes in mind, this becomes an opportunity to speak prophetically from within the courts, much as Old Testament figures often did – feared because they couldn’t simply be ignored given Israel’s heritage.
Right now, I’m left confused. Should the Church be lending credibility to the rest of the Establishment? Or should it step back and criticise, if only for the time being and with no legal change in status? Or is there some bizarre logic by which association with a despised establishment, a rotten core of society, is to be equated with Jesus concern for the despised margins. What if the Church of England has to take sides? Right now, I’m considering the Methodists quite privileged instead of us Anglicans.