I've been following stories like this from a distance, and not waded in, because: (a) I'm not in England; (b) I'm not clergy. But, in so far as the CofE is an established church, a crisis in the church is much a constitutional issue as an ecclesiastical one. So in I go. 1/
First off, I'm not sure that having an established church is a Good Thing, either theologically or constitutionally. I have published a fair bit on comparative religion-state relations in constitutional design, and there are lots of other ways to regulate those relationships. 2/
It's worth noting that: (a) all Anglican churches outside England are non-established; and (b) the only other Commonwealth realm to have an established church, outside of the UK, is Tuvalu, where the established church is Congregationalist (good pub quiz question). 3/
The current Queen, who was formerly Queen of Malta, was in that capacity Queen of a country where Roman Catholicism was constitutionally established. A Queen of Pakistan, she was Queen of a constitutionally Muslim country. 4/
I mention all this, because there's a tendency amongst a certain type of constitutionally conservative and insular English Anglican to see the establishment of the church as an essential an integral part of the Westminster Model or inseparable from the monarchy. It isn't. 5/
Establishment is not only a matter of choice, it is also a matter of degree. e.g. Establishment does not mean having bishops in the upper house. You can have an established church without that (Malta), or you can have church reps in upper house, without establishment (Belize). 6/
Norway used to require at least half of its cabinet ministers be Lutherans. That requirement was dropped by constitutional amendment a few years ago, but the requirement that the King be Lutheran remains. There are 'hard' and 'soft' forms of establishment. 7/
For the purposes of this thread, I'm not saying that any of those arrangements are particularly right, wrong, good or bad, only that there are options, and that as part of a thorough-going process of constitutional reform and renewal, we should carefully debate those options. 8/
Now, I'm also not going to go into the theological arguments. I have no theological training, nor any theological knowledge beyond that of a generally educated, slightly but not crazily evangismatic, Anglican layman. I'll stick to what I do know: constitutional design. 9/
In almost every context I have worked or researched - Scotland, Myanmar, Ukraine, Tuvalu, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kenya, Sri Lanka - religion-state relations are a central constitutional question, getting to the heart of what constitutions do: recognising identity & values. 10/
Constitutions attempt to provide a legal and political framework in which a diverse society can answer questions like 'Who are we?', 'What do we stand for?' and 'What will will not stand for?' (e.g. 'We are a people who do not torture or enslave; 'we believe in fair trials') 11/
You cannot have that conversation (not even seeking ultimate answers here, but just a pragmatic basis for living together in civil peace) without addressing the role, place and limits of religion in society, and the relation between the religion and the state. 12/
When people engage in those conversations, they frame their arguments in different ways: some frame them in theological ways, others in what might be described as 'political' ways. They advocate positions based not on 'truth', but upon 'benefit' - to society or the nation. 13/
This is where things get messy. Often those different ways of arguing - arguing theologically or politically - diverge in terms of their principles and foundations. They might, however, converge, once we get down to drafting, on specific constitutional rules or provisions. 14/
(They are what Cass Sunstein calls 'incompletely theorised agreements'. We agree, but we don't agree on why we agree. And while that might not be ideal, it might also be as good as it gets, and acceptable, in practical terms.) 15/
Let's assume for sake of argument it is at least legitimate to argue on grounds of utility: it is ok, in a plural society, to bracket-off questions of ultimate truth, in order to 'seek the good of the city wherein we dwell', as it were. 16/
And this is exactly what people do: they present religion (normally their own, at least nominally) as a civic, social, cultural and human good, to be encouraged not because all are agreed that it is true, but because there is a sufficiently broad consensus that it is good. 17/
There's a kind of Tom Hollandism about this position perhaps: 'It might all be nonsense, but it is a wonderfully rich and beautiful nonsense and we'd all be much worse off if we lost it'. 18/
And this brings us to the garment of very mixed fabric that is the Church of England. For some, it is a branch of the one true catholic church. For others, its a slightly old and creaky imitation of a Vineyard church, constrained by limiting factors.... 19/
But for still others - perhaps still a sizeable chunk both of the church-going and non-church-going population, the CofE is really most valuable as an institution that serves as a repository of national culture, values, art, history, heritage, meaning, identity. 20/
That's not to say it is a museum, but that it is part not only of the universal church (however we conceive that, again, not going into the theology here) but also part of a particular national heritage, story and identity. 21/
The two aspects of the church are not always well integrated. They pull it apart in all sorts of complex ways. They lead it into all kinds of messy compromises. But neither aspect can be ignored. That's just the reality. 22/
So, after a long thread, here's the point. If we have an established church, and if that establishment is justified not on theological grounds, but on grounds of public benefit and utility, and if establishment is a legitimate political choice, in various forms.... 23/
Then maybe there's something to be said for the public funding of churches. Maybe we should have, as in other countries, a 'church tax' to pay for this part of national institutional infrastructure. Maybe a parish priest should be paid at least the same as a headteacher. 24/
I'm not suggesting that the government should have *control*, but that a certain slice of revenues be constitutionally (important, to prevent manipulation) allocated to the church, under the church's own supervision, to free it from financial ruin. 25/
You could see it as a 21st century Queen Anne's Bounty. I'm not saying this *should be done*, only that it could be. It is an option. And it should be considered. 26/END
I'm going to add a bit more to this thread, prompted by a comment from @IainBancarz that this amounts to a policy of, "We must preserve English heritage by paying lots of my mates generous public salaries to do not very much."
With respect, I don't think @IainBancarz has the slightest clue of what clergy do - or, moreover, what they could do if properly financed and resourced, and set free from having to always scrabble around for tiny pockets of money.
Again, I'm going to look at this (first of all) on the grounds of 'public benefit': how they contribute to the well-being of the community in ways that people of all faiths and none might recognise as good, worthy and necessary.
Many active churches run all sorts of community services, often reaching those that others cannot reach. They offer food banks, debt liberation, kids' clubs, street pastors, parent-and-toddler groups, libraries - all sorts of help, networks, support. It's not just God-bothering.
I don't want to reduce the church to just another charity doing social work. It is of course much more than that. The 'God-bothering' is an essential part of the whole thing. But that social outreach is also essential - and we need it, in a society where the cracks are widening.
On purely pragmatic terms, giving public money to the church might just be a very efficient way of spending it. The list goes on: marriage counselling, pregnancy crisis, foster care and adoption services, drug rehabilitation, reintegration of ex-offenders, job finding etc etc.
All that activity needs leadership. It needs co-ordination. It needs someone to lead teams of staff & volunteers. It needs people who can balance budgets, manage projects. That's why I suggested that a primary school head-teacher might be the appropriate equivalent for stipend.
The heritage aspects are part of all this, of course. The mission is to the poor first, but also to the whole community: The village fete, and the upkeep of the church-yard, are of benefit to the community and to the well-being of a flourishing social and civic life.
What I am talking about here is an essentially pragmatic and utilitarian case for the public financial support of the established church as a national institution, which by its existence and its actions contributes to the well-being of society. The deprivatisation of the Church.
Of course, the Church is much more than a National Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage and the Promotion of the Common Good. It is the Body of Christ.
(And this is where I must venture out of the realm of constitutional policy, to which I have previously carefully confined myself), and allow myself to enter briefly into a more confessional state-of-mind.)
The real question is whether England wishes its civil body-politic to be wedded, at a constitutional level, to the body of Christ. Does it wish to regard itself as part of Christendom: a state based on Christian values and ethics, and supporting Christian institutions?
What is the point of having an established church, with all the trappings like a Christian coronation oath, anointing of the monarch, bishops in the House of Lords - all that stuff - if the church is not going to be materially supported by the nation to which it ministers?
Now, one might reasonably conclude that there is no point, and that the alternative solution commends itself: to treat the Church like any other voluntary society, and declare the secularity of the state. Perhaps we might all be worse off if we did that. But it is coherent.
If public-funding of the church is politically a non-starter (picking up on a point made by @rtrnicholl), that means, in essence, that the choice has already been made: a choice for what Keble called 'national apostasy'.
The church as a body of Christ will go on. It will be freed from its 'limiting factors'. It will look like a charismatic house church, or a Vineyard church, or maybe some old dude celebrating mass in a garden shed. In so far as we are citizens of Christ's kingdom, that's fine.
But in so far as we are citizens also of earthly polities and societies, the loss of the Church as a national institution would be a tremendous civilisational loss - I am actually not sure whether we could withstand it. Everything we have built in the last 2000 years would fall.
There is only one route, as I see it, out of that dilemma, and that is a massive revival that not only grows the kingdom of God, but also somehow channels that into the established church, rather than into independent house-churches or non-denominational churches etc.
I am going to stop again here. I fear I've done too much of what I said I wouldn't do, which is to stray out of a constitutional discussion into a broader discussion on the condition and nature of the church - where I am not really qualified to add much of value. So I'll shut up.

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