The job of religious organizations is to hold governments to account, but not exercise political power themselves, Anglican Bishop Michael Ingham told an audience in Vancouver last month.

“It is the role of religion to help improve society, and that includes government,” the Bishop told a meeting of the Vancouver Opera Society.

“Religions can do this best of all, he said, by staying out of government themselves, and by being a voice of constructive, positive and careful opposition so that in this rapidly changing world we do not forget the values of love and compassion,” he said.

The Vancouver Opera this fall staged Francis Poulenc's 1953 opera "The Dialogues of the Carmelites,” in which a group of nuns are guillotined for refusing to acquiesce to the subordination of the church to the state during the French Revolution. The bishop’s talk was one of three events the Opera Society organized to explore the contemporary relationship between church and state.


An old print of the martyrdom of 16 Carmelite nuns of Compiègne in 1794 during the French Revolution.

Religions do not infringe the separation of Church and State by engaging in political commentary or even political advocacy, the bishop maintained. But they should hold themselves to the same moral and ethical standards they expect of others.

“Religions must be self-reflective and morally self-critical if they are to be credible participants in public debate. This is the work some of us are trying to do.”


The full text of the Bishop’s speech is available on the website of the Vancouver Opera.