THE disestablishment of the Church of England “would not be a disaster or a great advantage”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
Speaking to a gathering of the judiciary at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the Archbishop said that, although he would oppose a divorce of the Church from the State, if the debate came to Parliament, the outcome would “just be another event in a very long history”.
The Archbishop was answering the question “If the Church is strongest when weakest, should it be disestablished?” in a Q&A session, at the end of his address “What makes us good?”, on Thursday of last week. He began: “I am the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. . . There have been ups and downs, and if we’re going to abuse establishment as we have done in the past, then absolutely [the Church should be disestablished].
“But I think we have learned in the last half-century that establishment is good for the country, a way of serving the country through the parish system.”
During the session, Archbishop Welby also addressed the problems of Christian identity and decline in church attendance. “This is not a Christian country in the sense that we are all churchgoing, but actually it never was,” he said. “The height of churchgoing in England was in the 1850s, when about 22 per cent of the population would regularly go to church.”
He continued: “I think that the Christian story, and the sense of what is to be good, has gone much deeper than we thought. . . It is something we need to reflect on and be confident about. It is the narrative that still seems to sustain us. Other communities despair when they see us abandon it.”
Archbishop Welby began his talk by drawing comparisons between the clergy and the judiciary, including the wearing of “unusual clothes” and the “pretty raw” deal received from the press. The main difference between the professions, he said, is that the numbers of people entering court was on the rise, and the number entering the Church was in decline.
“One of the problems is that we are both seen as part of a powerful elite for whom it is matter of self-interest and self-justification to seek and hold on to influence,” he said.
In a wide-ranging address, Archbishop Welby also spoke of the value of the human being in relation to the refugee crisis, the banks, the NHS, and, in particular, the application of the law in these areas.
“Does a refugee have the same inherent worth as someone who has been a citizen here for generations? I would argue very strongly, yes, dignity is intrinsic to the human being,” he said. “The politics are more complicated; refugees have the same right to dignity, but not the same rights under the law.”
The argument surrounding “what makes people good” went back to the roots of law, from the time of Moses and the Ten Commandments, he said: “They didn’t work, either: they do not make people good.”
Regulation, he said, was also a misnomer: “It is emphatically about shutting the stable door after the horses have bolted. . . There are always ways around regulation.”
The measure of good, he concluded, was not taking the “imperialistic moral high ground” as a Christian; rather, “when you set aside your ego, you recognise Christ.”
“God came in weakness to change us and it is through serving and worshipping of God that we find out who we are truly called to be,” he said. “That confidence, and the consequences that lead from it, I maintain strongly — not out of strength or of arrogance — but with humility and love.”