The Bible Society, HOPE and the London Institute have just published a lovely book, entitled “The Servant Queen” as a tribute to the Queen on her 90th birthday. It shows Elizabeth’s clear sense of duty and devotion to God, and her conception of being the servant of the state of the United Kingdom and of the Commonwealth. The book shows through what she has said in Christmas broadcasts, but also through decades of service to the State and to the ordinary people whom she serves, how this has worked out. It is built upon the example of Christ and with Jesus as her focus, as she fully acknowledges. She is, simply, another Christian, learning and living the lessons of the Christian faith.
I’m not the kind of person who believes that Britain is Great, or even great, or a monarchist, but Elizabeth’s understanding and practice seems to me to be one of the defining principles of governance throughout the world. She has taken the words of Christ, and lived them. Jesus said,
The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead the greatest among you, should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
And that is the kingdom service Christ conferred on his disciples. The ruler is the servant. That is not only the personal commitment of Queen Elizabeth, but also a principle of governance that applies everywhere and throughout history, as Moses also was the servant of the Lord. It is the reversal of state control, self-glorification, conquest, empire, using nations in our self-interest, militarism, ethnic superiority and the attitudes which generate wars and international crises which have dominated much of history.
It is also the deep undergirding of democracy, for democracy is the service of the people by the rulers. Slowly the self-service of the monarchy and the government has dropped away under the influence of Christ’s words. They are for us. They are not the lording people. They are not serving themselves by corruption and manipulating the law, by passing the resources of the state to their cronies, by building themselves big houses, by being like Caesar or Herr Examine My Armpit. They are not masters, but servants. We have Civil, or nearly civil, servants. We have ministers who answer to us. When we call, they should come running. For the least of us, whoever is the least, and in Christ’s kingdom there is no least, because the lepers come first, they are our servants. They are not to get uppity. That is democracy, the normative structure of the state, the service of all the people by the stewards of law, justice and the common good - and we know she knows.
Of course, the British monarchy has the trappings of imperial and national self-glory – palaces, servants, crown jewels, a gold coach, titles, soldiers with furry hats who march up and down, an aristocracy who shoot birds and play silly games on horses and Lords dressed in vermin. The Queen was born into this set-up and it is still substantially intact. The British establishment state has a bloody, “send us victorious, happy and glorious” insufferability, and for some inexplicable reason wants to punch above its weight, but She knows differently. She knows we need to renew ourselves in God’s love and become better people. She knows we need to love our neighbours as ourselves and that what the quiet people do moves the world. She knows that you do not have to be rich or powerful to change things for the better, and the unseen and unrewarded often do the best stuff.
She also has a grasp on peace and reconciliation, and understands the Common Wealth of nations, what they can give to one another, like few others, and her international visits and welcoming of foreign visitors, has given that dimension weight in the life of the nations. She understands “healing old wounds”, and does it well whether in Ireland or elsewhere.
Her governments often do not see things the same way. They are often into winning, self-promotion, and putting down the opposition. They, contrary to Christ’s words, are constantly parading themselves as our Benefactors and telling us how good they are for us. They frequently go out and fight other states, and see them as enemies or threats. They have the power. They govern and shape the laws. But they also fail by their failure to serve. The principle of service rules, even when it is ignored or compromised. In Christ, and in the example of Elizabeth, it does, and should, rule all politicians throughout the earth.
This post appeared on Alan Storkey's blog and we are grateful for permission to reproduce it on Fulcrum.
Alan Storkey studies Christian perspectives in politics, economics and sociology. His new book, War or Peace? is just out as a Kindle e-book £3.20 (www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00ONDNR5A) . It looks at the disastrous history of world militarisation caused by the arms companies and their defeat of peace-making.