As Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee this week (and temporarily causes Americans to pine, if not for monarchy, then for the kind of institutional stability and nondemocratic transcendence she embodies), a number of stories have cropped up mentioning her faith, which is usually regarded as a subdued, if not private, matter in a country like the United Kingdom. Recently, though, she’s become moderately more vocal about this quasi-taboo topic:
It won’t be the first invocation of religion by the Queen in this year of jubilee. The 86-year-old leader is as busy as ever making appearances around the country, including one at Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, where she delivered a short but moving speech to a group of religious leaders of various faiths.
Said the Queen: “Our religions provide critical guidance for the way we live our lives, and for the way in which we treat each other. Many of the values and ideas we take for granted in this and other countries originate in the ancient wisdom of our traditions. Even the concept of a Jubilee is rooted in the Bible.”
She continued with a remarkable statement in defense of religious pluralism, claiming that the role of the established church in Britain is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other faiths, but instead to protect the free practice of all faiths in the country.
A similar point has been made by the first female Muslim British cabinet member, Sayeeda Warsi, who has called for Europe to feel stronger and more confident in its religious heritage. A firm Christian foundation, she says, can create space for religious minorities to practice their faith and participate in the community better than a society in which there are no religious symbols and no religious presence in public life.
Significantly, though, the Queen has more to say, beyond merely defending the importance of a generic “faith perspective” in public life (though that position is of course preferable to calls for a rigid kind of secularism). She is explicitly and unabashedly a Christian, though her witness is rarely a front-page story, as perhaps it shouldn’t be (“royal figurehead” is indeed a peculiar vocation to be given).
Still, her life is one from which all Christians—regardless of their station or denomination—can draw from, Damian Thompson argues in the Telegraph. And that quiet life of faith is especially important in a Church riven with internal chaos:
The Queen’s last few Christmas broadcasts demonstrate the intensity of her faith. She reminds Christians that the feast marks “the birth of Our Saviour”, the “Prince of Peace” who is “our source of light and life in both good times and bad”. In old age she has underlined this message more heavily than she once did not in an obtrusive way that would cause offence to non-Christians, but boldly enough to make some of us sit up from our post-lunch slumber and think: “She really believes what she says”.
When she does so, she speaks as directly to Catholics as to Protestants. We papists may have been taught to reject the notion of a monarch as Supreme Governor of a national Church but the concept of a Christian monarch is as old as Constantine.