I always used to think that no political party would be prepared to give disestablishment the time and effort that it would require. But Prime Minister Corbyn might just be the man to do it. And far from being a fusty move for constitutional committees, disestablishment could be framed as an attempt to rationally redesign a Britain fit for a global role beyond the EU. After all, who needs Christian morality in the age of human rights?
Don’t get me wrong. I do not warm to the state of affairs that I have just described. Indeed, I feel profoundly alienated from such a country. It is just that I think something like this is unavoidable and that the established church has to get ahead of the situation by transforming itself, rather than play a continuous rearguard action against the inevitable.
But there is opportunity here for the church, as well as loss. What we give up is our traditional role as courtiers. Good, I say. The banners of the New Model Army would proudly proclaim that there is no king but Jesus. And to say that Jesus is the supreme authority is to say that no one else can be – not the Romans, not the pope, not the House of Stuart or the House of Windsor. The Church of England was specifically designed to soften that thought, to make it less dangerous. Christians were to be housetrained. We were to give up all our revolutionary talk of bringing God’s kingdom to earth and settle instead for a warm vicarage and being nice to our parishioners. That settlement is about to be ripped up.
I do not believe that disestablishment will revive the numerical fortunes of the church. Looking at our disestablished cousins, I think it may well mean we will decline at an even faster rate – at least in the short to medium term (and that means centuries in church terms). But please, my fellow Anglicans, we need to go before we are no longer welcome. And go in the knowledge that, as people of the resurrection, we do not fear death – either personally or institutionally.