Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to join the Roman Catholic Church might be of little interest to Americans, except for Anglophiles and students of ecclesiastical politics, but his “conversion” offers a timely opportunity to compare and contrast the relationship between religion and politics in the United Kingdom and the United States.

The choice is “timely” due to the Christmas season and because the 2008 presidential campaign has blown holes in the “wall of separation” between church and state. From Mitt Romney’s self-conscious insistence that he recognizes Jesus as his savior, to Mike Huckabee’s self-designation as a “Christian leader,” to Rudolph W. Giuliani’s confession of personal failures, the 2008 race has sometimes seemed like an election for preacher in chief.

In Britain, politicians are less prone to flaunt their faith. The paradox is that, unlike the United States, England has an established church. Because the queen is both the head of the Church of England and the sovereign of the realm, her prime minister traditionally has played a role in the selection of the church’s bishops – a position Blair might have found awkward if had become a Catholic while still in office.

England has an established church; America doesn’t. Yet in both countries, politicians and voters continue to struggle over what it means to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.



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