Wedded to a right royal theological confusion

By Simon Barrow
April 29, 2011

Reading the church media over the past week, and probably for the succeeding one, would leave many people with the impression that the boundary between church and monarchy is virtually indecipherable. I find this elision of faith in God with a longing for worldly pomp and circumstance deeply disturbing.

Though Anglican by tradition and somewhat Catholic in my spirituality, I am increasingly a Mennonite-shaped Anabaptist in my core theological convictions - and ecclesiologically formed by the difficult but fruitful conversation between these three.

However, at a time when flags are waved, national anthems sung, royalty celebrated, the state ritualised, and all 'proper' persons presumed to be monarchists, it is my nonconformist and Anabaptist side that I feel coming to the fore more than ever.

Next to a willingness by Christians to sanction or excuse war, there is for me no greater evidence of the theological vacuity, privatisation of belief and civic absorption of the church (all of which lie at the heart of the crisis in modern institutional Christianity) than clerical eagerness to fawn over earthly monarchs and be their courtiers.

I write this without an ounce of ill-will towards any individuals within Britain's royal family, and without in any way wishing to be churlish about anybody's wedding - whether they are famous or not.

But for me, the idea and reality of monarchism is deeply offensive. It rests on nothing more nor less than absolute eugenic privilege and the reservation of power, wealth and status for the very few - in whatever attenuated 'constitutional' form. This is deeply unChristian. Yet most Christians, socialised into deference and mistaking the upside-down kingdom of God for earthly kingdoms, appear not to notice it. Even when it is pointed out. We have a massive amount of unlearning and relearning to do in the transition to post-Christendom.

That means, among other things, re-visiting our theological roots. In this sense, while remaining implacably at odds with the constraining (modernist) ideology of fundamentalism, I am not a 'theological liberal' either. It is the deep structure of the narratives, language, events, experiences, grammar ('doctrine') and communal inheritances of the tradition of Jesus and the dynamics of his movement in the world which I wish to be constitutive of my political orientation - not passing fads in culture or secular theory.

But for that structure to become usable - and resistant to the powers that be - we need a hermeneutic of new community (ekklesia), a recognition of the tension between monarchical / establishment and prophetic / dissenting religion (much more significant than the modern 'conservative' versus 'liberal' typology Christians have become captive to), and an ethic of demonstrative Gospel virtues - economic sharing, forgiveness, peacemaking, hospitality and more.

Otherwise we Christians - whatever our denominational or other labels - will go on 'getting it wrong' by interpreting the kingdom of God in terms of the kingdoms of this world, rather than the other way round. Which is where the confusion about monarchy (something established against the warning and will of God in the historical biblical tradition) comes in.

Who or what are we really wedded to in terms of social practice and spiritual formation? Those are important and challenging questions for Christians to ponder on 29 April 2011, and beyond.

Meanwhile, I wish William and Kate well. But I am not their loyal subject, and never can be, given my defining allegiance to Jesus the subversive.


© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.

Also on Ekklesia

* Simon Barrow, 'The mytho-poetics of royalty' -

* Symon Hill, 'The subversive feast of Christ the King' -

* Chris Rowland, 'A kingdom, but not as we know it' -

* Tom Hurcombe, 'Disestablishing the kingdom' -

* Jill Segger, 'Crown or parliament? Time for reflection' -

* Phil Wood, 'Beyond 29 April: Equity after monarchy' -

* Sande Ramage, 'The Royal Wedding: What's love got to do with it?' -

* Symon Hill, 'Kate and William are our equals' -

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