Saturday, 17 October 2015

Monarchy: servant leadership

James and John ask to be the leaders of the nascent Church. Jesus does not say that there is anything wrong with this per se, but he tells them that they don't really know what they are asking. If they want to lead, they will have to be baptised with the baptism he is going to be baptised with: that is, his death on the Cross. "You are not to be like the Gentile rulers and tyrants who lord it over their people," he says. "The great among you must be servants, and the greatest a slave to all."
Songs by the Sex Pistols, Hollywood movies and the consensus of sneering, metropolitan comedians might tempt you to believe that the villainous tyrants to whom Jesus objects are kings and queens. Yet compare the behaviour of American presidential candidates with that of our Queen, and you can quickly dispel the myth of republican superiority. Her commitment to selfless public service is indisputable even by the most hardline critics of the Crown. Forgive me for aiming at such easy targets, but the same cannot be said for Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton.
A brief overview of history will reveal many atrocities committed by absolute monarchs, but nothing on the scale of violence committed by Cromwell's Protectorate, the French revolution, or the various fascistic or Soviet republics of the twentieth century. In the present day, Transparency International lists only three republics in the top ten least corrupt countries and only three monarchies in the bottom ten. Modern constitutional monarchies are among the least corrupt countries in the world. Many northern European ones, far from being blighted by class division, are also the most egalitarian (note that there have been far more women monarchs than presidents).
Why might this be? The avowedly apolitical nature of the modern constitutional monarch certainly has something to do with it. It is harder to buy the favours of someone who is not competing for office. There is also the implicit lack of ambition involved: not having to campaign for their post, monarchs can afford humility. Further, it is safer to have one's police, judiciary and Armed Forces swearing loyalty to a suprapolitical institution rather than to a partisan individual.
These are all arguments that a secular apologist for the monarchy might employ. But as a Christian, and especially as an Anglican, I think there is something more to it than that. There is also the sacral dimension. The monarch is crowned and anointed by the Church, not by the people, albeit with the assumption of their assent. She is crowned not to her own glory or a personal fiefdom, but into the self-sacrificial kingship of Christ himself, and is therefore bound to his model of service. Nor is this merely a voluntary and dissoluble bond, but arguably a sacramental one. The oaths a monarch makes to the nation have the same gravity as marriage vows, and as with marriage, those vows are sealed by nothing less than God the Holy Spirit. So do we trust God to fulfil his half of the promise?
I am not at all sure when the people were consulted on the change of our nation's status from Christian monarchy to secular democracy, but by apparently undemocratic means the change has undeniably been effected. Yet even in this secular democracy, perhaps there is space for a leader who is not only personally but even institutionally bound to and answerable to a higher authority than herself. Indeed, if modern geopolitics and recent history are anything to go by, monarchies have proven better protectors of democracy than dictatorships of the mob. But proof avails little in the face of modernist common sense.

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