Defender of the Faith
The Queen's life of service is an example to us all
Published 02 June 2012 | Rob James
I’m not much of a royalist: I think I could live as happily in a republic as in a constitutional monarchy. But, having said that, I must admit that I have been impressed by the way the Queen has discharged her duties over the past sixty years.
There have been moments when she’s seemed out of touch (Diana’s death was probably the saddest example) but no one can deny that she has shown a remarkable devotion to duty. She deserves our thanks for the way she has sought to serve both God and her people. Consequently I have no difficulties celebrating her Jubilee. She has gained my respect, although I have to admit that an extra Bank Holiday is a welcome bonus too!
I’ve been reflecting on some of the massive social and political changes we have witnessed in the UK over the past sixty years too, and I can readily appreciate why there is talk now of her being a “Defender of Faiths” rather than a “Defender of the Faith”.
Even the Queen (now) seems to sense that this an essential part of her role. At her first Jubilee engagement of the year she defended the Church of England by telling a multi-faith reception that ,"Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of all other religions, instead the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country".
I had to smile. Prince Charles sparked a real controversy a few years ago when he suggested he should play this sort of role if and when he acceded to the throne. But I did more than smile. I spent some time reflecting the historical background to this title for, far from highlighting the need for tolerance and inclusiveness, it long stood for intolerance and persecution.
I guess few of the 73% of respondents who told the BBC recently that the Queen should keep this title would either know, or remember that the title was first given to Henry VIII for his strong defence of Catholicism, and then given again by Parliament when Henry’s relationship with Rome was quite the reverse. And my Baptist forebears among others would scarcely have wanted the monarch to enjoy the sort of rights they did for centuries.
The church of Jesus Christ does not need a monarch’s political and legal support; indeed it makes a massive mistake when it does accept it. Jesus will build His church whatever the opposition. The early church grew primarily through the faithful witness of countless anonymous believers who witnessed to the Risen Lord even when it meant their death. It has always been so. The growth of the church in modern China is yet one more example of this willingness to defend the faith.
As I look back over the long years of Her Majesty’s reign I’ve been trying to figure out which event I remember most, and I come to the conclusion that it has to be President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas back in November 1963. I suppose it had such a huge impact on me as a young lad because I had been impressed by the manner in which Kennedy had handled the Cuban missile crisis. But I had been inspired by his oratory too, especially his inaugural speech in 1961. The address consisted of a mere 1,364 words and took just 13 minutes and 59 seconds to deliver, making it the fourth-shortest inaugural address ever delivered. But it is widely considered to be among the best presidential inauguration speeches in American history.
It was packed with memorable quotes not least, “Let every nation know... that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty." Many a Christian fled England (and a monarch’s tyranny) to enjoy that sort of liberty, and so I don’t find it surprising that it forms such an important part of the American psyche.
Having said that, I suppose the sentence I remember best is the one most quoted: “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country" As we reflect on sixty years of the second Elizabethan Age it would be fair to say that this is an apt summary of the Queen's approach to life.
And to the extent that she has lived like this, she has shown us what it means to be a genuine “Defender of the Faith”. For this is how expects His followers to live: God first, others second and ourselves last.
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