“The concept of our established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated,” the Queen said in a speech at Lambeth Palace in 2012. “Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country,” she explained, with impeccable articulation of the essential Anglican mission: the preservation of religious liberty. She paid tribute “to the particular mission of Christianity and the general value of faith in this country”, but, for her, Christianity is particular: it is the Faith. Other faiths are are of “general value”, not only because they are “sources of a rich cultural heritage”, but also because they provide “critical guidance” for the way many families live their lives and treat each other. She continued:
It certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents. But also, gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.
Earlier this week the Queen held a reception at Buckingham Palace for communities from all the main faiths. The guest list included faith-based leaders and those who work tirelessly, often voluntarily, to welcome the stranger, house the homeless, feed the hungry and heal the sick. This was the Supreme Governor of the Church of England at her supremest, assiduously labouring for peace and reconciliation, and faithfully defending the Faith: “He stretched out His hands in love, acceptance and healing,” she reminded the nation and the Commonwealth of nations in her 2014 Christmas broadcast. “Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people, of whatever faith or none.”
The Church of England’s identity may be the State’s reification of metaphysical truth, but it is one which coheres with the essential English psyche. Communities are not created or sustained by Christian coercion, but by nurture and love. We preach the gospel in season and out, but we live a life of service, humility and love. Without the latter, the former is a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
Unless you acknowledge the “general value” of religious faith, you cannot understand the fundamental identity of many millions of Britons, or begin to grasp their framework of social action and belonging. As the Queen says: “..religious groups have a proud track record of helping those in the greatest need, including the sick, the elderly, the lonely and the disadvantaged. They remind us of the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves.” This is the essence of loving one’s neighbour. It is a human vocation performed and sustained historically in England “with the assurance of the protection of our established Church”.
What a joy it is to have a Head of State who walks in spirit and in truth; who praises God for His steadfast love; and who declares His faithfulness through the times of darkness. The power of the Church of England to govern itself is both upheld and constrained by Royal authority, as Article XXXVII declares:
The Queen’s Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other her Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction.
Where we attribute to the Queen’s Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not to our Princes the ministering either of God’s Word, or of the Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen doth most plainly testify; but only that prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evildoers.
There are two distinct spheres of authority: the political and the spiritual. In the political realm, we have a Head of State who acknowledges her God-given authority under the law over every sector of society: she is “the highest power under God in this kingdom, and has supreme authority in all causes” (Canon A7). In the spiritual realm, we have a Supreme Governor of the Established Church who is guardian of its freedoms to preach the Word and celebrate the Sacraments. She is also our supremest peacemaker and most blessed incarnation of reconciliation.
God Save the Queen.