Saturday, September 15, 2007

Archbishop Rowan on 'defence of faith'

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been forthright in his advocacy of the traditional role of the Monarch in relation to the establishment of the Church of England, through an interview for the Daily Telegraph, summarised by the BBC News website, reminding the world that the future King, as Head of State inherits the historic role of Defender of the (Christian) Faith, as Head of the Church of England.

This doesn't preclude the Monarch acting as defender of Faith(s), for the head of State is the one in whose name all laws are made, promulgated and enforced. The law of the land is already clear in defending peoples' freedom to believe what they will, to openly discuss and practice matters of faith, outlawing discrimination and persecution on religious grounds, outlawing incitement to hatred, effectively obliging law-abiding citizens to be at least tolerant in behaviour, whatever they think. The Monarch's secular role thus obliges defence of people's freedom to practice a life of faith of any and every kind, provided that practice does no harm to others. Is that as far as the Monarch can or should go?

Rowan Williams has stated a clear position, and it won't be long before the polished advocates of secular atheism rise indignantly, crying out against State privilege accorded to the minority of citizens (in their opinons, according to their statistics) who adhere to a religious faith.

Even among religious people there are many who favour Church disestablishment, including the Archbishop (unless he has changed his mind of late). But whatever his personal opinion he is, by virtue of his office, the guardian of our socio-political heritange, and reminding us, as a good pastor should, that none of this can just be swept away when it no longer appears to enjoy much public support, without inflicting serious damage on the nation.

The high principles of the law of the land always need implementing. This leaves lots of room for activities ranging from excessive zeal, to virtual neglect. If the Monarch wishes to encourage 'defence of faith', what better benchmark could there be for this than considerate compromise, tolerance, moderation and respect, characteristic of the CofE at its best.

Evidently, these values can never be taken for granted in society, nor can they be enforced. But they can be upheld, and their adoption can be persuaded and encouraged by a Monarch who is both head of Church and State, as the Queen has demonstrated so well throughout her long right. If this tradition ceased to be followed, it would be necessary to think long and hard before any action to replace the status quo. Secular republican models, whether French or American, despite their high ideals, leave much to be desired.

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