Democratically elected bishop?

Archbishop of York John Sentamu is favourite to replace Rowan Williams. Photo: PA

A leading political theologian has called for change in the way archbishops are appointed in light of the resignation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Dr Graeme Smith is a senior lecturer at the University of Chichester, a member of the Cathedrals Group of universities. He believes that the new Archbishop would be better chosen by a democratic process rather than the current system.

Dr Smith said: “What I would like to see is a democratic election, an open contest in which candidates put forward their ecclesial and spiritual credentials.”

Dr Smith argues there are flaws with the current process. “The next Archbishop will be chosen by the great and the good, sprinkled with some local diocesan worthies.

“Opponents of democracy, such as John Milbank and Phillip Blond, will welcome this kind of process. Democracy, in their view, only gives power to the media manipulators, the spin doctors and campaign gurus who have done so much to debase our politics. Much better to have the great and the good decide what would be in everyone’s best interest.

“But, and this is the problem with oligarchy, the great and the good are going to do the same, they are going to act in their own self-interest.

“We can expect many deserved tributes to Archbishop Williams in the coming months, not least his impressive achievement in holding together a fundamentally divided Church. But, despite his Welsh background, and despite his socially liberal credentials, he turned out to be an establishment figure.

"He is evidence that the establishment will ultimately choose one of their own, even when they seem to be taking a risk.”