After a conversation instigated by officials at Buckingham Palace, it is with regret that the Rev’d Dr Gavin Ashenden – theologian, academic, columnist and occasional contributor to this blog – has decided to resign his position as Chaplain to the Queen. It was, he says, “the most honourable course of action” following “attempts to silence or defenestrate” him.
I have held the position for the last nine years. But over the last few years people who objected to my defending the Christian faith in public wrote to both Lambeth Palace and Buckingham Palace to try to get the association ended.
When I was confronted with these attempts to silence or defenestrate me, my reaction was to ask “in what way is a priest defending the faith on behalf of a monarch who was Defender of the Faith, incongruous or improper?”
I have come to see that the situation is more complex than that. There is a very important convention that the Queen should not be drawn into public affairs where she is deemed to be taking a position. She needs to be above ‘positions’. That is how the monarchy rides out political turbulence.
It is sometimes assumed, wrongly by under-informed people, that if a chaplain to the Queen (one of her many chaplains) speaks out on an issue of public importance, that he does so because he has the Queen’s ear. The newspapers certainly like to imply something of the kind. It makes news.
But of course none of the chaplains do have the Queen’s ear, and if they did, they would never say so.
But, it does the Queen no good at all for it to be assumed by any of the public, or the fourth estate, that she does have a view that is being expressed by someone connected with her.
That being the case, I could most easily avoid any misunderstanding by not speaking out in the public space on matters of faith that I took to be important. This would have the effect of silencing me and prohibiting me taking part in public debate.
On the other hand, if I did choose to speak out, as a matter of integrity and responsibility, I ought not to do it while I was in possession of the office of ‘Chaplain to the Queen’.
Because I think it a higher and more compelling duty to speak out on behalf of the faith, than to retain a public honour which precludes me doing so at this time, I resigned my post.
Gavin Ashenden is a man of integrity; a Christian leader of holy devotion and doctrinal conviction. He speaks truth, and does so without compromise on diverse matters for BBC Radio 4, and most recently in a letter to The Times about the Qur’an in the Cathedral saga at St Mary’s, Glasgow. There is right and wrong, good and evil; Christ and Antichrist, prophets and false prophets. Does a chaplain to the Queen not have a moral duty and theological vocation to defend the faith of the Defender of the Faith?
Gavin Ashenden is not of the contemporary managerial episcopal mould: in another era, under a different discernment, he would have been a very senior bishop indeed; even an archbishop. As the Very Rev’d Martyn Percy has noted, the Church of England needs inspirational theologian-bishops to pastor the flock: they must teach diligently and care deeply; not manage processes or supervise evangelism programmes. Gavin Ashenden is in tune with the Holy Spirit; his ear inclines toward the Paraclete of divine transcendence. There is no easy place for him or his like in a church of corporate fashions, trendy fads and bright new ideas. He prefers the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walks in it, and finds rest for his soul.
When one is faced with “attempts to silence or defenestrate”, one has a choice: to resign honourably or wait nervously for the axe to fall, and thereby suffer a martyr’s fate. For the sake and style of Her Majesty the Queen, Gavin Ashenden chose to resign. That is an honourable decision worthy of respect. He has lost a parochial church title, but gained a world of freedom to help save the soul of the church. Please pray for him, and God bless him.