The Monarchy and the Pastorate

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has been a profound moment of reflection on the nature of her 70-year reign and the manner in which she lived out her royal standing. By most accounts, Elizabeth was an amazing person, accepting her role in life with a heightened sense of duty and loyalty. Like millions, I have enjoyed watching “The Crown,” the fictionalized, but based in history, story of the Windsors over the last century. In the multi-season unfolding of “The Crown,” Elizabeth has been the constant, as she was in the life of the United Kingdom for two generations, for the entire lives of most of her subjects. And I have appreciated watching the retrospectives on her life and reign.

One of the defining marks of Elizabeth’s reign was that she revealed very little of herself in deference to the crown, to the place in life not chosen by her but assigned to her. Many commentators and royal family watchers have observed that Charles, now King Charles III, enters his reign as a much more known person. His views in a number of matters of state and politics are well known. Elizabeth assumed her reign at age 25; Charles at 73. Elizabeth knew from her teen years that the mold was set for her and it didn’t take very long for it to happen; Charles has known from early on, too, but his wait has been decades, the longest wait in the history of the British monarchy. So it is not surprising that some of his views have become public. In addition, there may be a temperamental difference between the mother and son. And perhaps differences influenced by gender identity and expectations.

All this has me thinking about a line, perhaps a tension is a more accurate word, I sought to honor as a working local pastor. The common wisdom is that a pastor should not be seen as a partisan (Republican, Democrat, etc.), because most congregations have major and minor political parties represented, and should. If the pastor becomes known as a Democrat or a Republican, to use the two major American parties, one section of the congregation will be pleased and another section of the congregation will not be pleased. “We want our pastor to be above partisan politics,” people think and sometimes say. “If our pastors have partisan political affiliations and leanings, those should be kept in private and not allowed to divide our congregation.” Indeed, there is wisdom in that expectation.

Yet pastors deal in politics all the time. Politics is not a bad word; it means ordering or governing a city (polis in the Greek, from which we get politics and words like metropolis and cities like Minneapolis and Indianapolis). Pastors serve congregations that invariably have parties, like the “let’s get it done now” party and the “let’s wait and see if it needs to be done” party. Pastors try to keep both parties working together. And congregations have Republicans and Democrats and independents, and conservatives and liberals, and libertarians and progressives. Pastors try to keep them all working together for greater purposes, for the advance of the kingdom of God (which sounds rather political).

The queen excelled at keeping her own political views largely to herself. She worked with prime ministers of just about all political stripes. To what extent should a pastor do that? What if it involves matters of public concern, as it did in the rise of Nazism in Europe? Some German pastors remained silent as Hitler gradually assumed dictatorial powers and then unleashed the holocaust. Others named the evil they saw; many of them were killed for doing so.

What do you think?

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