God save the Queen?By: Jake
This month saw the queen of England celebrate her 60th year of reigning over us. England has been awash with royalist sentimentality for the past weeks. Villages have been decked in flags and holding street parties. A four day weekend was declared, and a massive celebration was held in London on behalf of her.
In a strange twist of fate, the same weekend as the nation was celebrating the queen’s rule over us, in Sunday School we were discussing the evils of a king, or queen, from Mosiah 29. Given my strong anti-royalist sentiments I couldn’t help but chuckle at this fortunate confluence of events. The resulting discussion in my class with my students has allowed me to muse on some of the theological reasons I have an issue with monarchy.
The fact is that a monarch is an artefact of a political system that is entrenched in inequality – highlighted by the fact that homeless people were forced to work unpaid as stewards for the Royal celebrations. In a climate in which the poor are getting poorer and the super rich are literally reaching astronomical heights (with the super rich having the luxury of being able to afford private jets into space), to celebrate a symbol of inequality and elitism seems repulsive to me. This is not to say that I have anything against Queen Elizabeth personally — I am sure that she is a lovely lady. It is the monarchical institution I take issue with (it’s like loving the sinner but not the sin, in political institutional form). There is certainly something endearing about a quaint old lady who seems to embody national and civic pride, but behind that smile (who wouldn’t be smiling in her situation?) is something that disturbs me.
The Queen has over £500 Million of personal assets, holds assets of £17 billion in trust through the Crown Estate and still gets £32 million a year from the Government in support. This extreme wealth came to her by no effort from her; it was simply the chance of her birth within an elite bloodline. It seems unfair that an extreme minority, such as royalty, are given a head start in life, whilst others find themselves born with their legs and hands (metaphorically) already bound. This inequality is particularly repugnant when it is solely on the basis of biological heredity. The problem with aristocracy, inherited position, and the wealth of a Royal family is that it means that a select few are given incredible privileges whilst others, through no fault of their own, are not given the same opportunity.
To justify this inequity, people invented the “divine investiture of kings.” This suggests that God chose to place them in that situation, making sure that they were born into a noble bloodline. This suggests that the situation of our birth is a product of our pre-mortal existence. A similar argument has been made that Mormon children were special and valiant spirits who earned a right to be born into the covenant of the gospel. This is problematic as it creates a negative correlation with poverty and lack of opportunity. By the same logic, those born into poverty were not valiant. If the righteous who are born into good Mormon homes, or royal families, are given a place on earth out of pre-mortal faithfulness, then does that mean those born into abuse, suffering and poverty are wicked spirits…is God really partisan in his placement of his children?
If the answer is ‘yes,’ then it justifies the preservation of aristocracy and the accumulation of wealth by a cultural elite who through generations have gained wealth. It justifies this cultural elite handing that wealth over to their children, as those children were born to inherit it. In the religious sense, there’s the idea that Mormon children are of a better quality than non-Mormon children. If God really does have a protocol for the placement of spirits, then the Queen stands as the just head of State and her wealth, position and power are the rightful products of God’s divine birth management. But this does mean we are logically bound to say that the starving, suffering children deserve their suffering through actions in a theoretical pre-mortal realm that no one can even remember. We can’t have one side of the bargain without the other.
On the other hand, if we say ‘no’ — that God is not partisan and does not have a algorithm for placing pre-mortal spirits and our birth is simply a matter of biological chance — that requires us to question our attitudes to inheritance, the distribution of wealth and more egalitarian principles in our political and economic systems. It requires us to question our own sense of superiority from our Mormon birth, but also places the responsibility of addressing this inequality on us as a society and nation. A removal in God’s role in the distribution of opportunity in the game of life suggests that the current system is a product of man’s thinking, and to change it is our duty for we (that is, mankind) created it. It also suggests that the idea of a divine birth placement system is a product that serves to justify inequality and injustice, that it is a pseudo-doctrine designed, or at least has the effect, of convincing us that the status quo is part of God’s will, quenching any revolutionary spirit. It makes religion essentially into a tool of the elite to preserve and justify their status, and on such grounds, perhaps Marx was right when he famously said that religion was ‘the opium of the people.’
God save the Queen?
The difficulty with the monarchy is not simply on economic and social reasons; it has wider implications concerning nationalism and patriotism. This is in part because the justification used for a monarch is often that they are there by divine intervention. The national anthem makes it clear that God and the Monarchy are closely entwined with its opening line ‘God save our noble queen.’ I have always been uncomfortable with the presence of our national anthem in the Hymn book. This was mostly because it seemed like cultural favouritism having it in there. This was perhaps a natural extension of the fact that I was not impressed with the American national hymns in the Hymn book – if I am uncomfortable with American cultural imperialism in hymns, then surely I should be just as concerned about my own being included.
What concerns me most about them is that running through them both is the idea that the national head of state is there by divine design. That the Queen’s current age is not a product of her stress-free, luxurious, wealthy, pampered lifestyle, but the result of God preserving her as a sign of his approval (not unlike the doctrine behind our method of appointing our church president). This suggests that it is more divine intervention than better lifestyle and medical provision that has allowed her to reign for so long. The idea of a divinely chosen national head of state sits uneasy with me, even if the idea of a nation favoured by God is one that runs deep within scripture. Ancient Israel was told it was God’s chosen people; in the English reformation they claimed that ‘God is an English man’ and that the English due to their religious freedom were God’s favoured people –a trope that was to be seized upon later by the American revolutionaries and the divine providentialism that was characteristic of the religious revivals in the nineteenth century. In particular, the resurrection of the doctrine of Zion by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and the proclamation that America was the promised land preserved by God for his chosen people to reside in. Every nation it seems at some point has claimed that God is involved in their leadership. God save the Queen became God bless America; the seal of divine approval was shifted from a person to a nation.
How do we know which nations are favoured and preserved by God, and which ones are his cursed nations? Given that the gospel is now in almost every corner of the world, how do we know which leaders are being held up by God and which are in the grasp of Satan? On the one hand, as long as our current head of state is in our favour, or at least are in agreement with our own political ideology, we are quick to stamp God’s hand on him. However, as soon as the political wind changes and they fall out of favour, they are in Satan’s power. The desire to see our leaders preserved by God is understandable; after all, who doesn’t want to think that not only is their nation the best nation on the planet, but their leader has been chosen by God? It’s a pleasing notion, but it’s one which has lots of people competing for that claim and if God is guilty of favouritism, then I want to make sure that I am in a nation that he really does has a soft spot for. I can’t help but thing that in the end, just as all people are equal in the eyes of God (even if not in the eyes of the church), all nations and countries are equal before God.