by John Stephenson
Citizens of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Realms (of which Canada is the chief) have to be some years older than myself (b 1953) in order to remember living under a Sovereign other than Elizabeth II, who in September of this year looks set to become the longest-reigning monarch ever to wield the sceptre over the British Isles. Despite moments of irritation with the antics of certain royals, I’ve never not been a monarchist. Old habits die hard, of course, and for millions of inhabitants of the UK and the Commonwealth Realms, loyalty to the Crown is just that, habitual, a routine orientation of the mind and heart that is only rarely the topic of reflection. I often jokingly attribute my own royalist sentiments to having sat through Her Majesty’s coronation on 2 June 1953 before an aunt’s television set at the tender age of less than four months. Nor can I forget that I am a twofold subject of my gracious Sovereign Lady, both by birth and in virtue of having gladly sworn allegiance to her in her capacity as Queen of Canada when, with the other non-Canadian born members of my family, I took the oath of citizenship in the summer of 1997.
My own monarchical sentiments could easily survive abrupt changes of location, ethnicity, and culture, and, were I to live in Japan or Thailand, I would happily bow my head to the hereditary sovereigns of those faraway lands. “King” is an image that transcends cultures across time and space, being rooted not only in the depths of the human psyche (think of C. G. Jung’s “archetypes”) but also in the nature of God Himself. After all, Psalm 2 pictures our Lord as set by YHWH on Zion as “my King,” not as, so to say, the president of the holy Christian church, re-elected by consent for an indefinite series of three-year terms.
Preference for constitutional monarchy over other forms of government is poles removed from engaging in the personality cult of any particular king or queen, though it certainly helps that Elizabeth II has proved a model of personal and regnal rectitude over more than six decades. The Queen appears to realise that the symbol that she temporarily embodies is much, much greater than the diminutive, well-spoken Englishwoman apart from whom it has no current subsistence in the headship of State of her various realms. Alas, her heir apparent has long given the impression of somehow running for office and needing to prove himself; perhaps he has made the mistake of elevating himself, with all his personal quirks and foibles, over the symbol to which no mere earthly monarch can ever do full justice.
The British sovereigns have as little right to be Supreme Governors of the Church of England as the Lutheran rulers of Germany had to strut around as supreme bishops of the churches within their domains, or as the King of Norway has to be Protector of the state church of his realm. And the successors of Henry VIII had no business institutionalising in their office the title Defender of the Faith that Clement VII bestowed for his own lifetime on the king who followed his attack on Luther by renouncing the authority of the pope who stood in the way of the dissolution of his marriage with Catherine of Aragon.
But the British sovereigns have always been officially and often personally Christian, in which context I think of another monarch whose rule spanned six decades. For some reason, certain new relatives of mine grimace at mention of “good King George,” and yet it is well to remember how, when tormented by physicians during his first spell of madness, George called on the name of the Lord by reciting collects from Common Prayer, refraining from coarse speech. And at a time when the Church of England was an episcopally ordered part of Reformed Christendom with a modest liturgy and no one would have thought of bowing to what was mostly called the Lord’s table, George would make three profound bows to the altar of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, when he took up the offering to the officiant; he got the point that the reality symbolised infinitely transcended himself, the symbol, ceremonially acknowledging the superior sovereignty of the one true God in general and of his Lord Jesus Christ in particular.
Despite the personal Christian faith that has manifested itself on occasion in her public utterances and gestures, Elizabeth II has placed constitutional propriety over the demands of biblical monotheism as, in 1967, she gave the Royal Assent to the legalisation of abortion and as, in 2014, she did the same for the hellish redefinition of marriage; in both cases, she broke her coronation oath and, if she would reign with Christ in paradise once her earthly reign is over, she needs to repent these grave misdeeds.
Prince Charles’ preference for classical over modern architecture may well reflect good personal taste, and certainly does not infringe on the Christian confession to which he is ostensibly committed. His lunatic ravings on the topic of so-called climate change have an eerily pantheistic, pagan ring about them, and, if he feels so strongly on this subject, perhaps he should renounce his inherited office and run for public office in the pursuit of his eccentric goals. In the interests of the 8th commandment, we should concede that in recent months the Prince of Wales has spoken out with clarity for the slaughtered Christians of the Middle East, lamenting the sufferings of his “brothers in Christ.” With these utterances he has struck a different note from the many paeans of praise he has directed to Islam over the decades during which he has waited to ascend the throne, a privilege that the Queen’s great longevity may yet deny him.
But what are we to say of his decision, at the end of this week of prayer for Christian unity, to fly to Saudi Arabia in order to express his condolences on the death of the nonagenarian King Abdullah, whose demise leaves Elizabeth II as the oldest reigning monarch on earth? In company with his fellow royals, Charles has paid many visits over the years to Arabia and other parts of the Islamic world, and the British royals have many bonds of friendship with their Muslim counterparts, even as those authoritarian monarchs preside over systems that dish out death to Christian converts, forbid the public confession of the holy Name, and mete out barbarous punishments to a whole range of offenders, real or imagined. Today’s news informs us that Westminster Abbey, a royal chapel after all, is flying its flag at half-mast in honour of the departed King Abdullah, the wealth of whose family has been throwing up mosques across the globe at the same time as this ruling family has seen to it that not a single church may arise within the bounds of its kingdom. And amid their many social get-togethers with the tyrants of Arabia, the British royals have hardly ever set foot in Israel, which, despite its understandable Jewish loyalties, permits Christian worship and upholds constitutional liberty. You would think that those who would sport the titles of Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England might find spiritual benefit in stopping by the churches of the Nativity and the Holy Sepulchre now and then.
Canada’s Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, is himself a good monarchist, a courageous supporter of the State of Israel, and one of the few Western leaders not to allow political correctness to blind him utterly to the Islamic danger. I devoutly hope that, when next he hosts a British royal or stops by one of the London palaces to pay his respects to what is also Canada’s Royal Family, he delivers a word in season in rebuke of the hideous, indeed despicable fawning of a professedly Christian dynasty before barbarous, anti-Christian tyrannies with which they should be ashamed to associate themselves.
God Save the Queen, and may He grant Elizabeth and her heirs and successors to bend the knee in true piety to Christ the King, whose reign will outlive theirs and beside whom they, like all mortal flesh, fade into mere insignificance.
Rev. Dr. John Stephenson is Professor at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catherines, Ontario.