Anaheim SDA Church
Mid-week Pastor’s Update
September 14th, 2022
“There is no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
If you’ve even glanced at a screen, or heard a single news report in the last week, you’ve no-doubt heard of the recent passing of England’s Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 96. She had an inarguably remarkable reign, ruling for 70 years on Britain’s throne, during the presidencies of 14 U.S. presidents, and the premiership of 15 British Prime Ministers.
The images have been polarized: a nation in mourning yet full of loving gratitude, and scenes of pomp and ceremony in the midst of loss and sadness. While I haven’t been ‘engrossed’ in the proceedings, nor have I done a ‘deep dive’ into the particularities of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, it’s given me a lot to reflect on.
Firstly, I’m touched with scenes of broad grief for a person who seemed to be very lovely and kind. I found tears welling-up in my eyes as I heard Brits talking about how much they’d loved her, and how they were going to miss her. But then, on the other hand, I think of what her position, her ‘seat of authority’ represents, and has represented, around the world.
Of course, our current practice of elevating democratically elected leaders to power is quite new on the world scene from a historical perspective: all nations used to be ruled by a “King”, either a system of dynastic succession, as is the case in England, or of militaristic conquer. Similarly, things like term limits and intentional limitations of power (by, for example, splitting the roles of government into three branches as we have) would have been a foreign concept in the old world: reign was total, and the term, a lifetime.
It was in that worldview in which both Jesus and the Apostle Paul made statements regarding leaders and how we should relate to them: firstly, Jesus stated to Pilate when he stood before him “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” (John 19:11). This means that civil authorities, imperfect and corrupt as they may be, are on at least some level permitted by God to have earthly authority. The Apostle Paul takes the implication further by instructing in Romans ch. 7: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment, but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (vv. 1-7).
Now, before we might be tempted to say “Well, they had no idea what kind of government we’re dealing with here nowadays!”, let’s remember that both Jesus and Paul suffered persecution and died under corrupt governments! The world & governmental rule we experience is certainly more gentle (particularly religiously so) than was the ancient world of the early church. In fact, much of Paul’s counsel above seems to be motivated by a desire to avoid unnecessary persecution, and preventing the church gaining the reputation of being a civically rebellious institution.
But then it seems, as we progress forward in time, that a country that learns and espouses Christian principles should put down the structure of kingship and monarchy, no? All this pomp and fanfare over the queen’s death, as someone who was uniquely special seems to fly in the face of the Biblical principle that no-one has extra favor in God’s sight for their position of influence or wealth, all are equal before God (see James 2:1-8, Hebrews 9:27, and Galatians 3:28, which is quoted above).
But the historical record is not so! Despite the fact that God’s ideal plan was that His people shouldn’t be ruled by a king (1st Samuel 8:6-7), Christianity-cloaked Europe for centuries perpetuated the practice of kings, emperors, and popes with practically unlimited power over commoners. England was even an early adopter of Protestantism (of sorts), gave us the first English translations of the Bible, including the King James Version, which so many enjoy and find inspiration in to this day!
Yet this kingdom, for centuries, did not undo its monarchical structure, such a thought was inconceivable! It was only after America had successfully shown a much better system of governance in democracy, that Britain adopted a partial system of democratic leadership in 1832.
But they still actively participated in their practice of Colonialism: taking over broad swaths of land to helm their leadership, supposedly manage their resources, but of course ship a good percentage of the country’s wealth home. That’s where the wealth and decadence come from! Even in relatively recent history, when Queen Elizabeth came to power in 1952, England was still ruling over India, Australia, Ghana, South Africa, Barbados, and Jamaica, to name just a few. Though Queen Elizabeth didn’t cause this situation, the system she was born into perpetuated it.
On the one hand, I’m hearing such glowing reports of what an exemplary person Queen Elizabeth was: how she was stable, circumspect, supportive, steady, and a class-act. And she did use her position to bring to light many causes of injustice, promote charity work, etc. And I thought “well, maybe a person being elevated so that they can shine a light and raise up others is justifiable”. And of course, colonialism did wane significantly during her reign, and most of those exits were peaceful, I believe.
But on the other hand, all the pomp and luxury that surrounded her, which could’ve been put to use helping impoverished people and nations the world around seems pretty inexcusable. I can’t make myself feel good about it.
There are questions over whether Britain’s monarchy will continue much longer. Since it is pretty much a symbolic figurehead now, it almost seems like it’s Britain’s version of keeping up an expensive pretense, almost a dollhouse, for the sake of nostalgia and image.
I am of course in no position to judge Queen Elizabeth, the rest of the monarchy, nor the system that existed/exists to support it. It is God whom she and others will stand before to give account after their lives regarding what they’ve done (Hebrews 4:13).
The problem of earthly leadership and governance is an inherently problematic one for we who have a selfish & sinful human nature. Even democracy is far from perfect, as evidenced by recent machinations and surgings of the government!
I am frequently grateful for the peace, stability, and prosperity which we enjoy, but acknowledge only 1 king and sovereign over me: the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16), who will come soon to make the kingdoms of this world His own (Daniel 2:44-45, Revelation 17:12-14, 11:15).
I pray a blessed week for you and your families, as we consider to mull over themes regarding appropriate rulership in the light of this recent change in England.
Pr. Mark Tatum
(Some information for this devotional was sourced at https://time.com/6212772/queen-elizabeth-ii-colonialism-legacy/ “The Queen’s complex legacy” by Time Magazine, Sept. 13, 2022.)