Thursday, December 11, 2003


Earlier in the year I joined at Churches Together in Britain and Ireland staff visit to Brussels, home of the European institutions, to engage in exchanges with the CEC Church and Society Commission, COMECE - Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community, the EKD Brussels Office, the Orthodox, and an EU policy adviser on 'Dialogue with the religions, churches and humanisms'.

The churches continue to play a significant and constructive role in practical conversations about the evolution of European polity and society -- not least on issues of human rights, economic justice, religious / cultural freedom, bioethics and social dialogue.

Perhaps the most difficult discussions are about the function of religion itself in the new Europe. There are strong and divergent opinions over the extent to which churches and other faith communities should have anything approximating to an 'official role'.

My own view is that there should be a clear distinction between church and state, transparent and regular conversation about mutual rights and responsibilities, the vigorous participation of faith communities alongside others in the shared arenas of civil society, and space for the autonomy of different civic communities. But the co-extensivity of Christendom is (and should be) a thing of the past. It is incompatible with the plurality of modern societies and it is also enervating for faith communities.

One particular sticking point is the EU Constitution. Should religion (Christianity in particular) be mentioned in the pre-amble? Should God be mentioned? The Vatican has been advocating for both. Its approach is mediated by the statehood of the Holy See and its historic understanding of corpus Christianum.

My latest Ekklesia column, 'Should God get a name check?' offers a different perspective on this question, premmised on a post-Christendom viewpoint which says that Christian social and political praxis should be an orientation developed from the outwardly engaged community of faith, not from incorporation within the structures of governance.

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