Religion and Politics—A Lasting Partnership?
THE Russian ruler Vladimir I decided one day that his pagan people should become “Christians.” He himself had been converted in 987 C.E., after marrying a Greek Orthodox princess, and he now decreed mass baptism of his subjects—at sword point if necessary. Gradually the Russian Church gained independence from its “mother,” the Greek Church, eventually even becoming a department of the State. And though the Soviet rulers today officially deny the existence of God, Church and State in Russia still maintain an uneasy partnership.
Centuries later, King Henry VIII of England also succeeded in forming a close partnership between Church and State, though by different methods. In 1532 he was worried because his wife, Catherine of Aragon, had failed to produce a male heir to the throne. To solve the problem, Henry secretly married his ladylove, Anne Boleyn. This was with the connivance of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who pronounced Henry’s first marriage annulled. In 1534 this adulterer and tyrant declared himself the head of the Church of England, a title enjoyed by England’s monarch to this very day. Church Synod decisions are subject to parliamentary approval, and bishops, as members of the House of Lords, take part in governing Britain. Church and State have thus been married in England for over 450 years.
Modern Church-State Marriages
In 1936 a revolt in Spain against the Republican government led to civil war and General Franco’s rise to power. To the dismay of left-wingers, Franco gave the clergy considerable power in return for their exuberant support.
In 1983 the WCC (World Council of Churches) assembled in Vancouver, Canada. Its general secretary, Philip Potter, told them to “stay political.” Grants of money from the WCC to militant political groups in a number of countries have been a source of grave concern to many churchgoers.
There is, therefore, little question that religion meddles in politics. The crucial question, though, is, Should it do so? Is it good or bad? Does religion’s political involvement raise the moral standards of politics, or does it pervert religion? And what of the future? Will religion and politics continue to enjoy their ‘love affair,’ or will it sour and place them on a collision course?
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The first head of the Church of England