Day job took me to the seaside last week to a tiny Employment Tribunal in a city (it has a lovely cathedral) not much larger than Wimbledon Village. The fascinating and Christmas seasonal question for the Tribunal was one which has vexed secular courts before, namely whether a minister of religion should be treated mainly as a servant of man, in which case he or she should be subject to the full rigours of the British employment laws or mainly a servant of God, in which case Divine Love, Providence and if needs be Retribution, should apply in due course. In the event the tribunal members decided that they would need private time to decide on how to answer the question so wait and see applies if not 'God only knows'.
A thought which has remained with me ever since is that the State in the UK at least is interfering more and more in matters religious. The Tribunal case did not concern the Catholic church whose Bishops are currently understandably in my view, anxious about the Gordon Brown government's proposed new Equalities Bill, which if it becomes law may circumscribe some of the important beliefs customs and practices of the Catholic Church in this country. However a trend is appearing these days for such questions tobe answered in ways which are unhelpful to religious believers of most faiths.
A few years ago, many perhaps most UK citizens and political parties, would have been wary of the Chinese government's intereference in matters of religion; for example the Roman Catholic Church was essentially outlawed; only the Chinese state approved Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association was approved.
We may smugly have felt that such intereference in matters of religion "couldn't happen here". Sadly unless the people and hierachy remain vigilent it may well happen here and may already be happening, albeit in a different guise from that of the Chinese state.