Andrew Brown: We need the Church of England

One of the things that has emerged from the debacle is that there is a very strong body of opinion in this country which holds that you can’t be truly Muslim and truly British. This isn’t just the belief of the Islamist nutters, though they make it their central claim. It also animates an astonishing number of people writing in or to the media who would describe themselves as Christians. It is as if three quarters of the country had risen to sing “Land of hope and glory” at the Last Night of the Proms.

It is at moments like that that we need an established church, precisely because it dampens zeal down. The undemocratic privileges of the Church of England are much better for everyone than democratically won privilege would be. Bishops in the Lords are infinitely preferable to priests who tell people how to vote.

If, say, the Economist got its way and the Church of England were disestablished, and replaced by the American model of a confusion of sects all competing for votes, what could stop them responding to the popular demand for a condemnation of Islam? What could give them anything of the Church of England’s woolly, incoherent but essential belief that it has a duty to everyone in this country, no matter what their beliefs are. Can any sane person want a hundred English Paisleys competing against each other for the nationalist Christian congregations, and their money, and at last their votes? Because that is the spectre that rose from the debacle caused by Williams’ speech and interview.

It’s silly to pretend that Williams should have made the speech just because it could have made a number of reasonable and important points. Of course he shouldn’t. There are some things that no Archbishop of Canterbury can say if he wants to maintain respect for his office or the institution that he heads. This particular Archbishop seems to think it beneath his dignity to say anything plain and short and he cannot tell the difference between a sentence that is deathless and one that was stillborn.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE)

10 comments on “Andrew Brown: We need the Church of England

  1. Wilfred says:

    “…an established church…dampens zeal down”

    Well, he sure got [i] that [/i] figured. The leadership these days acts like that is its main function.

  2. robroy says:

    As usual, Andrew Brown doesn’t mince words:
    [blockquote]After the debacle of Rowan Williams’ speech on sharia, no one who has to make decisions will ever take seriously anything he says again. Nor will they take seriously the church he is supposed to lead. If you want to know what he is good at, there is a rather fine funeral oration online that he gave at the funeral of a Cambridge don in the middle of all the outrage. But nothing he says now matters to anyone who isn’t mourning.
    As I said on a previous thread, Rowan Williams is hopelessly compromised to the guy the streets and Mr. Brown adds that he is compromised to those in Downing street or Parliament.

    Apparently, Mr. Brown thinks that religion is an artificial construct created to control the masses:
    [blockquote]That, I believe, is Williams’s point about conflict causing religion, rather than the other way round. [/blockquote]
    (I wonder if RW would agree with this assessment? I think not.) and
    [blockquote]We must [i]produce[/i] forms of religion that appear normal, tolerant and tolerable, rather then exclusive. This can certainly be done; it doesn’t require huge formal doctrinal changes. [/blockquote]
    Boy, does that sound Orwellian.

  3. Ed the Roman says:

    Yes, disestablishment is why there are so many more honor killings and no-go zones in the US than in the UK. Right.

  4. Marion R. says:

    “But nothing he says now matters to anyone who isn’t mourning.”

    Yet we are all mourning.

    We mourn for the Son of Man, that he was not.
    Or is not;
    or was, but never will be again.

    Or that he is, but that he was necessary.

    We all mourn.

  5. stevenanderson says:

    Williams, having done the ultimate damage to his position and to the CE he was meant to lead should step aside. It is one thing to be opposed by so many within the Church and outside it. It is another altogether to be ignored, to be considered so befuddled and obtuse that people no longer look his way. He has allowed his personal failures to taint the CE and in fact the wider Communion (what is left of it). Sir, take your ego and move out of the way.

  6. libraryjim says:

    I liked this phrase:
    [i]What could give them anything of the Church of England’s woolly, incoherent but essential belief[/i]

    Pretty accuate description of +Rowan William’s writing style.

  7. Virgil in Tacoma says:

    I think of the US as a “Christian-secularist” country. We do not have an established church, but we do have a national “Christian” religion. This religion is anything but orthodox, but it is our uniting strength. Every denomination, sect, and religion (even the religion of pure secularism) has to synthesize with the national religion in order to prosper and have peace. Most of the time, this works fine, but when radicalism in any denomination, sect, or religion occurs (including secular religion), it puts strain on the national consensus and on the peace of the country.

  8. dwstroudmd+ says:

    As an OB/GYN, a student at ESM in the Diocese of Missouri who has had to read the ABC in other venue’s, and a lover of truly good word-smithing, this sentence from the article says it all:

    “This particular Archbishop seems to think it beneath his dignity to say anything plain and short and he cannot tell the difference between a sentence that is deathless and one that was stillborn.”

    Andrew Brown may not have all the other ideas as clear as they might be, or too clearly for comfort of non-Latitudinarians, but this bit of word-craft is an absolutely spot-on critique of the ABC’s style.

  9. New Reformation Advocate says:

    It’s always valuable to know how unbelievers think and what they think of the Church and the Christian faith. Andrew Brown is very open about his rejection of Christian beliefs and he unashamedly displays his general tendency to see religion as an irrational, bad, and dangerous (though inevitable) thing.

    What is interesting to me is his oppostion to the idea of disestablishing the C of E, since he believes this would encourage the rise of fanaticism. Like Wilfred in comment #1 above, I thought the money quote was the line about how “…we need an established church, precisely because it dampens zeal down.” What a zinger. Oh. so true.

    And that is precisely why I favor disestablishment so strongly. As I’ve said before on other threads, I hate state churches. And the only thing worse than a state church is an ex-state church that still thinks and acts like a state church. Granted, the C of E is still legally the state church. But it has long ceased to be in fact “the Church of England,” and all that’s left is a mere empty shell, “the Church of a tiny minority of England.” All too often, Constantinian religion just innoculates people against real Christianity, giving them just enough exposure to it that they develop antibodies and never come down with the actual “disease.”

    Sir Winston Churchill once wittily described himself as being like a flying buttress, someone who supported the Church from the outside! In constrast, Andrew Brown is much more hostile, and in this remarkably candid piece he supports the necessity of an established church, but only because he sees it as an antidote to real religious fervor.

    This is precisely why I keep harping on the need to come to terms with our increasingly hostile “post-Christendom” social context in the western world.

    David Handy+
    Passionate Advocate of High Commitment, Zealous, Post-Christendom style Anglicanism

  10. Ouroboros says:

    No. 4, Marion R., is that poem a quote from somewhere, or did you author it? It is so deeply hauntingly beautiful.