Church and state: a marriage on the rocks?

Saturday 19 October, 1.30pm until 3.00pm, Cinema 2 Institutions in crisis?

Whilst the Church of England has never quite attracted the ire from secularists afforded to seemingly more dogmatic religions like the Catholicism or fundamentalist Islam, many continue to question the role of a state church in 21st century society. Amidst bitter rows over its stance on gay marriage, women bishops and House of Lords reform – and with even the Conservative Party, the Girl Guides and even a potential future Catholic monarch no longer as resolutely bound to it as before – has the time come to seriously consider disestablishment?

Even if we accept that the UK still possesses a large number of worshippers, there is surely a strong case for disestablishment, not only to recognise that a single, state Church cannot deliver for an increasingly multicultural and plural society, but also to protect the autonomy of that church from political pressure and interference. On the other hand, supporters of Establishment – including non-Anglicans - see it as an affirmation of the idea that religious practice is not merely a private pursuit but has an enduring public role. For many, the idea that the church exists for the whole nation rather than just a community of believers is an important source of national rather than simply religious cohesion. Is there any more to this argument than a plea for the continuation of special privileges?

What does the Anglican Church have to offer the nation, and is this something it can only deliver through its Established status? What would be the implications of disestablishment for the church and for the nation? Can we learn lessons from other state churches which have a different role to the C of E? Can the church survive the 21st century?

Anne Atkins
novelist, columnist and broadcaster; prize-winning journalist; regular contributor, BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day

Dolan Cummings
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; author, That Existential Leap: a crime story (forthcoming from Zero Books)

Rebecca Jenkins
cultural historian and novelist; Royal Literary Fund Fellow; former writing partner of Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins

Dr John Milbank
professor in religion, politics and ethics; director, Centre of Theology and Philosophy, University of Nottingham; author, Beyond Secular Order

Marc Sidwell
executive editor, City A.M.

Jake Unsworth
trainee solicitor, Bond Dickinson; convenor, Debating Matters Ambassadors

Produced by
Jake Unsworth trainee solicitor, Bond Dickinson; convenor, Debating Matters Ambassadors
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