The religious festival of Easter is concluding. For the Jewish faith it is the remembrance of Passover; for Christians the remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Easter event is often accompanied by celebrity people, of all faiths or none, conveying their Easter greetings to the multitudes, irrespective of whether the ears of the people are eager or otherwise to hear what is being delivered.
Charles Windsor, the so-called Prince of Wales, was no exception. Mr Windsor dedicated his 2018 Easter greeting to persons worldwide who have suffered religious persecution, that is, persons who have undergone suffering of any kind as a consequence of their faith. Charles Windsor was non-specific about which faiths he had in mind, but there is little doubt that his mind would likely have had a Jewish and Christian focus.
Now, Charles Windsor was also non-specific about the nature and form of this persecution. Notwithstanding, as seems typical of this character, he appeared publicly in a nationally televised photo-shoot with both leaders of the various Christian faith denominations and non-Christian faiths. Such appearances and the accompanying sentiments no doubt seek to justify his royal function.
Noticeably absent from the faith leaders’ line-up was a female representative of any of the gathered faiths. this being the case, it might have been appropriate that it was Charles Windsor, rather than Elizabeth Windsor, who gave the Easter greeting to the religious leaders…..a matter of gender protocol?
So too, there was nothing of the Maundy Thursday “foot-washing of the poor” ceremony that sometimes and in some places accompanies this occasion – as with the example of the Roman Catholic Pope. Nothing particularly new there, then, especially in view of Mr Windsor’s personal life-style! However, he was – as is usual with this celebrity – all smiles, handshakes and sleeve-tugging, with the occasional and characteristic brief moment of conversation, as the opportunity afforded.
Who would know what the snippets of conversation were all about – perhaps he was actually being informed for the first time about the form and severity of the persecution being experienced by the adherents of a particular leader’s religious faith. He gives every appearance that he actually cares what the faith leaders have to say about the possible persecution of any persons belonging to the religious movements that they represent.
To a large extent, however, the substance of that concern remains a matter of conjecture, as does the genuineness of the various world religions to the nature and extent of the persecution faced by each of them. The conflict in and between the different major worldwide religions is in itself a cause of the persecution each experiences!
What Charles Windsor seemingly fails to realize is that, from the perspective of history, his status and office stands closer to the camp of the persecutors than it does to the persecuted. He is the heir to a royal heritage that may one day give him not only the title of King of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, but will also enthrone (an interesting word) him as the Head of the Church of England and place him at the pinnacle of the worldwide Anglican Church.
These titles will be his by reason of a monarchical line that has historical and constitutional sanctions. The actual formation of the Church of England took place in consequence of a despotic late-medieval English king’s desire, for entirely self-centred reasons, to break with the Roman Catholic Church and establish a dual hegemony over the English state and church. The rest is, as they say, history.
Apart from the dubious historicity of the sanctions Charles Windsor will inherit when he becomes the reigning British monarch and the Head of the Church of England, the only people, give or take a select handful of politicians, who will have any role or function in the official conferring of this office/inheritance will be those attached to official and hierarchical positions in the Church of England. So much, then, for the United Kingdom as a genuine and practising multi-faith nation!
All things being equal, therefore, as the king-in-waiting and the next Head of the Church of England and worldwide Anglican churches, Charles Windsor stands to inherit, as of right, the highest office of the established church in the supposedly democratic nation of the United Kingdom. This is the British establishment in its most public and privileged manifestation.
Institutional religion, of course, has never been something that has epitomized the democratic ideal. In itself, the fact that the United Kingdom has an established Church of England, means that all other Christian denominations, as well as other religious faiths, suffer by comparison and in practice – in terms of reputation, political patronage and position, financial provision, property acquisition and ownership, as well as any other advantages accruing to a religious title which carries national political and constitutional importance.
Of course, the position occupied by the Head of the Church of England carries with it certain demands of the person who occupies or aspires to the position. These demands are religious, moral, philosophical and, of course, constitutional. These demands suggest the necessary proclivities of any candidate for the office.
With this perspective, it is of some importance to note that it was not that long ago when a former Attorney General of the present Conservative Government considered that Charles Windsor was not a suitable candidate to be the Head of State for the British nation and, therefore, not suitable to be the Head of the Church of England, never mind the worldwide Anglican communion.
It is quite apparent that, based on moral as well as theological grounds, many of the constituent churches of global Anglicanism have a much higher regard for the nature and character of the office than does their British counterpart. A search of the British Constitution, as well as the statutes and rules of the Church of England, would probably verify such an opinion.
History has shown, however, that any establishment – be it legal, military, sporting, business or religious – has a way of overcoming obstacles, no matter how severe these hindrances may be. In recent times it has been noticeable that those duties which Elizabeth Windsor, as the Head of the British State and by extension the Church of England, has been unable, or unwilling, to fulfil, have been performed in the main by her grandsons, William and Harry, rather than her son and heir, Charles Windsor. This may, or may not be, significant.
This was not the case, however, when it came to the serious matter of royal Easter greetings and the photo-shoot with the national religious leaders. This was a duty that required to be fulfilled by someone who possessed present or future stature as a representative of British institutional religion. As the likely next-to-be Head of the Church of England, Charles Windsor was such a person.
Interestingly, it was a task to be performed not by the actual and functioning religious leader of the Church, that is, the Archbishop of Canterbury, but by the titular Head of the Church of England – in this case the Prince of Wales acting in the place and on behalf of Queen Elizabeth. Is the enthronement process already in motion – psychologically if not practically?
The reigning British monarch is the Head of the Church of England in title only, that is he or she is the holder of an office without any of the correspondingly specific functions or obligations. That person has been described somewhere as a “titular saint”! There is some argument that this could apply to Elizabeth Windsor, but Charles Windsor…?
Easter is recognisably a season when the traditional Easter greetings are conveyed by accepted celebrities to the masses – or by national leaders to selected and significant others. This practice is generally considered to be appropriate, especially when it is seen to be an ongoing and relatively harmless aspect of the function of royal personages.
After all, much is made of the monarch dutifully attending the appropriate Easter church service (always in a state church, never in a Roman Catholic or a non-state Protestant church, and certainly never in one of the expanding number of non-denominational churches in the UK) – another photo-shoot opportunity, perhaps, to underline the fact that the monarch takes with utmost seriousness her role as the head of the established Christian church in the land.
In offering his commiserations for the present suffering and best wishes for future resolutions and reconciliations to the gathered British leaders of national and international faith movements, Charles Windsor was carrying out a royal function. How personally meaningful it was, never mind a faithful part of his sacred duty, is something we may never know.
Whether or not Charles Windsor thinks that his greetings will make any difference to the situation of religious persecution worldwide is a moot point. Better minds and more extensive physical and spiritual efforts than his have tried and failed.
Whatever else it may be, religious persecution is not simply a consequence of what a person believes. It has just as much to do with social class and caste, lack of personal and political power, national and regional identity, as well as the pervasive and persuasive influence of ideology and myth.
The above being the case, Charles Windsor and, probably, those faith leaders to whom he conveyed his Easter greetings, rather than being with the persecuted may well be closer to the camp of the persecutors than they themselves realize.