I wrote the following article for the Church Times, who published it on 28 April 2023. Apologies for not posting on it here sooner.
Featuring all the paraphernalia of monarchy and militarism, the coronation sends a clear message that some people are more important than others — because of their ancestry. At the same time, the coronation is technically an act of Christian worship. It makes me sad to see the language of Christianity used to bless what is, essentially, a celebration of inequality.
To bow down to another human being, to address him as “Your Majesty”, to grant him privileges on grounds of his family background — all this seem at odds with the radical love for all people inherent in the gospel of Jesus Christ. How can I love my neighbours as myself if I do not treat them as equals? To treat someone as my inferior or superior is to deny the reality that we are all created in the image of God, equal in God’s sight, and called to bow down to God alone.
The prayers and Bible readings for the coronation ceremony have been carefully selected, not least because of the Bible’s ambivalent attitude to monarchy. As Margaret Benn, a former president of the Congregational Federation, put it, much of the Bible is a story of conflict between the kings and the prophets.
The early Israelites viewed Yahweh as their king. When they asked for a king “like other nations”, God told Samuel that “they have rejected me from being king over them.” Samuel linked monarchy with militarism and inequality, telling the Israelites that a king would conscript their sons to fight or make weapons, and their daughters to be servants (1 Samuel 8.4-18).
Coronations do not, of course, include quotes from passages such as this. For centuries, coronations have relied on the attitudes that dominate in later chapters, in which Israelite kings such as Saul and David are described as anointed by God. What possible grounds can there be for believing that Charles Windsor (or any other British monarch) is anointed by God? He owes his position to the reality that his ancestors violently fought off other claimants to the throne. It is a wilful denial of truth to pretend otherwise.
When it comes to the New Testament, you have to dig around for a long time to find passages that can be seen as supportive of earthly monarchs. Right at the beginning, we are presented with a choice of kings. Matthew tells us that King Herod, the tyrant who ruled Palestine on behalf of the Roman Empire, was “frightened” — of a baby (Matthew 2.3). The baby, Jesus, was described as “King of the Jews” by the Magi. Herod’s violent response makes clear that he feels threatened by this new claimant to his title. Yet this is a very different sort of king, born in obscurity and relative poverty, who grew up to associate with outcasts and break down barriers.
I am not trying to equate Charles with Herod or Roman emperors. Rather, my point is that faithfulness to the Kingdom of God requires rejection of the kingdoms of this world. I cannot understand how a ceremony of subservience can be compatible with Jesus’s kingdom, in which all are brothers, sisters and mothers to each other, and where those who want to be greatest must be servants (Mark 3.35; 10.43).
Our deeply unequal society desperately needs to hear about the value and dignity of all people, equal and loved by God. As Christians, we should be the first people to seek to live out this principle as we proclaim the salvation offered in Christ. Instead, we seem determined to ensure that people connect Christianity with privilege and pomposity.
Some say that the coronation is an opportunity for evangelism. This is spectacularly naïve. The coronation is an act of counter-evangelism: it conveys the message that the Christian faith is for millionaires in military uniforms or medieval robes, not for people who are worrying about paying the bills, or struggling on apparently endless waiting lists for surgery or mental health treatment.
I am not questioning the sincerity of church leaders who are taking part in the coronation. But I think that they are severely mistaken. I am one of many Christians who will join people of other religions and none in the protest outside Westminster Abbey organised by Republic, a group that campaigns for an end to monarchy. When churches around the UK pray for Charles Windsor the next day, I hope that many clergy will have the courage to avoid speaking of him as somebody to whom we owe loyalty.
We cannot promote the gospel by bowing before our equal human being. Let’s champion the value of all people and proclaim the kingdom of God, in which we are called to live as equal siblings in Christ. We can uphold the gospel not by celebrating the oronation, but by protesting against it.