666 raises its ugly head in British House of Commons blasphemy debate
By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service LONDON, ENGLAND (ANS) -- Whether or not you are a student of prophecy, a conspiracy theorist, or dabble in the art of biblical numerology, you may find interesting or disturbing the fact that during a debate on blasphemy a motion calling for the disestablishment of the Church of England has been listed in the British House of Commons as 666 -- the Number of the Beast.
According to Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent of The Times, Labour Member of Parliament (MP) John Austin, who has repeatedly tabled Early Day Motions urging disestablishment, put down his latest motion last night as MPs debated scrapping Britain's blasphemy laws.
The British Houses of Parliament building in London.
The motion appeared on the House of Commons order paper numbered 666, the number associated with the Antichrist in the Book of Revelation. The King James Bible renders Revelation 13:8 as: "Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six."
Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester and one of the signatories, said: “It is incredible that a motion like this should have, by chance, acquired this significant number. This number is supposed to be the mark of the Devil. It looks as though God or the Devil have been moving in mysterious ways."
Russell added: “What is even stranger is that this motion was tabled last night when MPs were debating blasphemy.”
According to Gledhill, the motion is unlikely to be debated. "But momentum for looser ties between Church and State is growing, as the support for the repeal of the blasphemy law illustrates. The blasphemy law favors Christianity and in particular the Church of England," she says.
Gledhill writes that although the attempt by Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris to amend the Criminal Justice Bill was unsuccessful, the Prime Minister Gordon Brown has disclosed that he is consulting with the churches about its repeal.
A report by the Associated Press (AP) on Newsday.com says the beast of the Book of Revelation "intruded into the banter of the House of Commons" on Thursday when a motion calling for the disestablishment of the Church of England was numbered 666.
The last book of the Bible says 666 is the number of a beast that "had two horns like a lamb, and…spake as a dragon," and that "doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men."
The motion simply states: "That this House calls for the disestablishment of the Church of England" -- in other words ending its status as the country's legally established, official faith.
The AP report says that such motions rarely result in any action, but are used by members to publicize issues. Other members may sign the motion as an indication of support. By Thursday afternoon, the number of the signers was three.
The Church of England, created by King Henry VIII's breach with Rome, is the legally established faith in England. The monarch, by law, is obliged to be a member, and has the title of Supreme Governor of the church.
"Eyebrows were raised in the House of Commons on Thursday when a motion calling for the Church of England to be disestablished was listed with the number 666, symbol of the AntiChrist," says an Agence France Presse (AFP) report carried byYahoo!NewsUK.
"This number is supposed to be the mark of the Devil. It looks as though God or the Devil have been moving in mysterious ways," said Bob Russell, a Liberal Democrat MP among those proposing the motion for debate. What is even stranger is that this motion was tabled last night when MPs were debating blasphemy," he added.
The motion calls for an end to the formal link between Church and State in England -- embodied in the monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, who is both head of state and head of the Church of England.
The number 666 is referred to in the Book of Revelation in the Bible: "Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred, three score and six."
"It is incredible that a motion like this should have, by chance, acquired this significant number," said Russell.
Under the rules of the House of Commons the motion by backbenchers has little chance of actually being debated in parliament.
A web-search revealed an article by the Christian think-tank Ekklesia calling for disestablishment of the Church of England following Prince Charles' engagement to Mrs. Camilla Parker-Bowles three years ago.
In that article, Ekklesia, the UK Christian think tank, was the first body publicly to call for moves towards the formal disestablishment of the Church of England in the wake of the engagement of Prince Charles and Ms Camilla Parker-Bowles, announced in February, 2005. Charles is heir to the British throne.
The think-tank was asking for an ecumenical reconsideration of church-state relations.
"The circumstances of this engagement clearly illustrate how inappropriate it is that the Church of England should remain established," said Ekklesia's director, Jonathan Bartley at the time. "As a state church, it has no say over its Supreme Governor and its interests remain subject to those of the Crown."
Bartley continued: "In decision-making about the Royal wedding the Church of England has been shown to be little more than a bit-part in constitutional affairs. It is time to end this humiliation and set the Church free."
Ekklesia pointed out that the Church is now in the anomalous position of having as its future Governor and Defender of the Faith a man who even the Archbishop of Canterbury cannot permit to re-marry in his own Church using the official liturgy he is meant to uphold.
The only reason Charles and Camilla could hold their civil wedding ceremony in the Chapel at Windsor is that it is a "royal peculiar," wholly owned and run on behalf of the Queen. "It is an embarrassment that the Church can be franchised in this way," Bartley commented.
Ekklesia believes that the case for disestablishment will be strengthened by the Church's current plight, but it stresses that the theological case for ending the state link is paramount, and has nothing immediately to do with the Prince's wedding.
"The Church of England is the only state church in the worldwide Anglican Communion," says Bartley. "That the Church should be subject to the Crown compromises its ability to proclaim and live the Gospel free of state interests. It inhibits equal relations with other Christian churches. And it is also inappropriate in a plural society. Faith cannot be imposed. It must remain a free choice."
Ekklesia pointed out that Christ's message of equality, justice and special concern for the poor stands in contradiction to the principle of Monarchy, which is based on privilege for the few through heredity.
The think tank also said that the blatant anti-Catholic bias of the 1701 Act of Settlement is "deplorable and sectarian." Were Ms Parker-Bowles a Catholic, the Prince of Wales and his heirs would automatically lose their right to accede to the Throne.
Ekklesia suggested that the Church of England should formally invite other denominations and church networks into "a fair, equal and theologically-grounded conversation about church-state relations and about ways of moving beyond Establishment," said Bartley.
The question of disestablishment has raised its head on a number of occasions in recent years. The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was known to be uneasy about it when he took up his post, and was formerly head of the Church in Wales, which was disestablished many years ago.
The former Bishops of Birmingham and Woolwich are among the prominent supporters of disestablishment.
Ekklesia associate Simon Barrow contributed to a recent volume of essays, "Setting the Church of England Free" (edited by Kenneth Leech, Jubilee Group) among whose authors was an Oxford Professor and other senior Anglicans, including the late Archbishop Trevor Huddleston.
** Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent of ANS, is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station. Michael's involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- Michael Ireland Media Missionary (MIMM) -- of ACT International at: Artists in Christian Testimony (ACT) International. His weblog appears at: Michael Ireland Media Missionary.