A wedding under the Church of England's watch

If you dare to wake up at 3 a.m. to watch the royal wedding on Friday, consider yourself a traitor. So argues Mark Oppenheimer at Slate, who encourages Americans to boycott the nuptials. This isn't Mark's usual religion column, but maybe you'll enjoy the mini history lesson.

While I appreciate the informative way Oppenheimer makes his argument, I hope he won't judge me if I openly admit that I plan to catch it on YouTube or some other website Friday evening.

(Cough: quick, shameless, self-promotion and then we can move on.) I argued in the Indianapolis Star today that the wedding represents a convergence of The King's Speech and The Social Network as we see a mesh of tradition and tech. There's something about the wedding that many long for: stability, honor, continuity and tradition, at least the romantic version of the monarchy.

So I won't get up at 3 a.m., but I'm interested.

Yesterday, we discussed how the royal wedding could overshadow Pope John Paul II's beatification because let's be honest--media outlets have only so many reporters, photographers, air time, etc. But in the meantime, if we accept the fact that people will be searching for stories about it, we might as well learn something about how things work across the sea.

Along those lines (assuming we're going to make the best out of the wedding coverage), this piece from Religion News Service shed some pretty interesting light on the church-state affairs in England.

As the Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev. John Hall, and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams prepare to conduct and solemnize the wedding of the century, both Christians and prominent and powerful nonbelievers are raising their voices and demanding the disestablishment the Church of England that has dominated religious life here for 400 years.

It's a little premature to call the event "the wedding of the century," but I like the angle on how the wedding raises issues about the Church of England's role in state affairs.

In a powerful measure of Britain's unique marriage of church and state, the parliament's House of Lords contains 26 Lords Spiritual, all of them unelected men who also serve as bishops in the Church of England.

The assembled royals and bishops inside Westminster Abbey will reflect the close ties on both sides. Williams was appointed by Elizabeth in 2003--her fifth appointment to Canterbury in nearly 60 years--on the recommendation of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

He, in turn, or his successor will one day crown the next monarch.

Mollie already looked at Kate Middleton's recent confirmation, a further reflection of how the church impacts royalty.

Current Prime Minister David Cameron has expressed support "in principle" for scrapping the 1701 Law of Settlement restricting access to the throne by non-Catholics--a move Anglican leaders strongly oppose.

The 1701 law also forbids heirs to the throne from marrying Catholics, on the idea that their royal offspring who are raised as Catholics would be forced to choose between loyalty to Rome and loyalty to the Church of England.

...For his part, William has expressed little concern about or commitment to either the Church of England or Christianity. Those close to the couple say they are, like their peers, quietly indifferent about religion.

For all the speculation about the upcoming wedding, I've seen little coverage of the prince and his bride-to-be's religious beliefs, so this part of the story was interesting. All of this led me to some coverage in the Telegraph about how the Church of England blocked a move to scrap a the law that prevents royal family members from marrying Roman Catholics. Apparently Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, began work towards the repeal but it was quietly shelved.

Church leaders expressed concern that if a future heir to the throne married a Roman Catholic, their children would be required by canon law to be brought up in that faith.

This would result in the constitutionally problematic situation whereby the Supreme Governor of the Church of England was a Roman Catholic, and so ultimately answerable to a separate sovereign leader, the Pope, and the Vatican.

There is no similar prohibition on the Royal family marrying members of other faiths such as Islam and Judaism, or those who are openly agnostic or atheist.

It's difficult for Americans to imagine a church body dictating whether their leaders may marry outside of a particular faith tradition, but all of this is falls in a broader historical context. The law was passed to prevent the descendants of the Catholic James II from ascending the throne. As irrelevant as the monarchy might seem to Americans, stories like these help us understand how religion still plays an underlying role.

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