Monarch, jubilee and conscience
Christians of all denominations have been invited to take part in lighting church beacons on 4 June 2012 to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
Elizabeth Windsor is the head of one denomination of one faith grouping in this country. That grouping happens to be the one established by law as the 'national faith' of the UK. For many of us who are not members of that persuasion and who take a more radical view of equality and of the way of Jesus before the Constantinian settlement brought Christianity and state power into alliance, the invitation to rejoice is a difficult one.
Two phrases from a statement by John Sentamu are significant to me in forming a response. The Archbishop said: "Here in York, we are delighted to be participating in celebrating Her Majesty the Queen's Diamond Jubilee by taking part in the Church Beacon initiative.”
First – the period of time involved. It is sixty years since a coronation took place. The presence of Elizabeth Windsor on the throne has been the backdrop to our lives. Most of us have no recollection of the pomp and symbolism of anointing the man or woman who claims the 'divine right' to be our monarch. I wonder how this will play with a new generation?
The concept of the anointed king comes from an age of warlords who were supposed to protect their people. Its symbolism may have emotional power but does that make it true? The reality about the Windsors – and about all royal houses – is that their families were once more ruthless and successful thugs than yours or mine. Once the parping and the flummery is over and the captains and kings have departed, the absurdity – and warlike origins - of the whole concept may begin to dawn on a less automatically reverential and sentimental age.
Second – the appellation of 'majesty'. No human person has a right to claim or exercise that title. As a Quaker, I refuse to lay my tongue to it – just as I will not call the Bible 'holy'. Words matter. Only God is holy; only the Creator may truly lay claim to majesty. And, significantly, the Creator declined such pomp – at least according to the teachings and example of Jesus – the embodiment of, and metaphor for, the divine Light.
The poor man of Nazareth, with his constant emphasis on humility, service and radical inclusion, had no part in the grand illusions of power. He recognised their existence but pointed his followers to another way of thinking and being. That Church and temporal power have become so entwined that any questioning of that union gives rise to either incomprehension or indignation, should give us pause for reflection. “Bow your knee to no one but your Maker” was my father's injunction and I believe its simplicity holds a profound truth for our spiritual well-being and understanding.
I wish Elizabeth Windsor well. I wish her health and happiness in her old age. I respect her sense of duty – even though I believe it misplaced. I do not doubt for one moment that she is a good and Godly woman. But she is, nonetheless, just a woman and I cannot collude in the brocade of 'tradition' and sentiment which would present her otherwise.
When my colleague Jonathan Bartley posed the question to Premier Christian Media as to “what are you suggesting the Christians and churches who come from republican traditions, (and/or feel that these kinds of things are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus) do?”, the response from Premier's CEO Peter Kerridge (to whom peace and no disrespect) was to suggest that "Christians of a republican tradition are also encouraged to celebrate the Queen’s contribution to British society and her enduring Christian faith as Head of the Church of England."
I hope the above will help to make clear why some of us cannot, in conscience, take that path.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen
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