My wife, Gena, and I extend our heartfelt condolences to the Royal Family, the residents of Great Britain, Europe and indeed the world in the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history.
When we heard last Thursday that the queen died at the age of 96, my first thought was how much she reminded me of my 101-year-old mom, Wilma Norris Knight. They both represent a bygone era of class, compassion, humility and service to God and country (in that order) that we desperately need today.
What many in the U.S. may not realize is that the queen of England bears as unique a role with religion as she does in politics.
Christianity Today explained it well:
Queen Elizabeth II inherited religious responsibilities as the Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, titles vested in the reigning British monarch since Henry VIII renounced the Papacy in 1534. At her coronation in 1953, Her Majesty took an oath to “maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England.”
Her duties included appointing archbishops, bishops, and deans of the Church of England as advised by the prime minister. In 1970, she became the first sovereign to inaugurate and address the church’s General Synod in person, a practice she continued every five years after diocesan elections.
Three weeks after her coronation, the Queen followed historical precedent and swore to maintain the Church of Scotland, honoring her duty to “preserve the settlement of the true Protestant religion as established by the laws made in Scotland.” The Church of Scotland is Presbyterian and recognizes only Jesus Christ as “King and Head of the Church,” resulting in Her Majesty’s lack of official title and participation as a regular member.
The queen’s sacred duties went far beyond a historical obligation to God and country. Throughout her life and reign, she personally and regularly appealed to others to believe in her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and in His words and ministry as recorded in the Bible.
In her 2016 address, she explained, “Billions of people now follow Christ’s teaching and find in him the guiding light for their lives. I am one of them because Christ’s example helps me see the value in doing small things with great love, whoever does them and whatever they themselves believe.”
“To what greater inspiration and counsel can we turn,” she asked, “than to the imperishable truth to be found in this treasure house, the Bible?”
The queen’s love for God and the Bible prompted her to partner with authors Catherine Butcher and Mark Greene in the publication of “The Servant Queen and the King She Serves,” a faith tribute commemorating her 90th birthday. This special book was published by Bible Society UK, and so popular the agency reprinted another 150,000 copies to meet the demand.
Here are what I call her “top 10 statements” regarding the King and Lord she served, most of which are chronologically collected in this small but powerful 64-page booklet, “Our Faithful Queen: 70 Years of Faith & Service”:
- “The gift I would most value next year is that reconciliation should be found wherever it is needed. A reconciliation which would bring peace and security to families and neighbors at present suffering and torn apart. Remember that good spreads outwards and every little does help. Mighty things from small beginnings grow as indeed they grew from the small child of Bethlehem.” (1976)
- “In difficult times we may be tempted to find excuses for self-indulgence and to wash our hands of responsibility. Christmas stands for the opposite … we need to go out and look for opportunities to help those less fortunate than ourselves, even if that service demands sacrifice.” (1980)
- “Christ not only revealed to us the truth in his teachings. He lived by what he believed and gave us the strength to try to do the same – and, finally, on the cross, he showed the supreme example of physical and moral courage.” (1981)
- “To many of us our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.” (2000)
- “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.” (2011)
- “Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.” (2011)
- “This is the time of year when we remember that God sent his only son ‘to serve, not to be served’. He restored love and service to the center of our lives in the person of Jesus Christ.” (2012)
- “For Christians, as for all people of faith, reflection, meditation and prayer help us to renew ourselves in God’s love, as we strive daily to become better people. The Christmas message shows us that this love is for everyone. There is no one beyond its reach.” (2013)
- “For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role-model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.” (2014)
- Last month, the queen issued a message to the Lambeth Conference (a gathering of bishops of the Anglican Church) in which she testified during this time of “great need for the love of God”: “Throughout my life, the message and teachings of Christ have been my guide and in them I find hope. It is my heartfelt prayer that you will continue to be sustained by your faith in times of trial and encouraged by hope in times of despair.” (2022)
Her close friend and true confidant Billy Graham affirmed the queen’s love for Christ and the Bible, in his autobiography, “Just As I Am“: “No one in Britain has been more cordial toward us than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Almost every occasion I have been with her has been in a warm, informal setting, such as a luncheon or dinner, either alone or with a few family members or other close friends. … I always found her very interested in the Bible and its message.”
Despite that she was a queen, Elizabeth II was just as human as the rest of us. She suffered loss and heartache, too.
In 2002, the queen endured the personal deaths of her sister, Princess Margaret, and the queen mother. In her annual Christmas address that year, she again echoed her need for God and faith: “I know just how much I rely on my own faith to guide me through the good times and the bad,” she said. “Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God.”
In the days after the horrendous attack of 9/11, the queen extended her heart in compassion when she assured those attending a prayer service in New York City, “My thoughts and my prayers are with you all now and in the difficult days ahead. But nothing that can be said can begin to take away the anguish and the pain of these moments. Grief is the price we pay for love.”
With experts predicting that Europe could easily plunge into another “Dark Age,” and the U.S. commemorating its 21st anniversary of 9/11, we would also be wise to ponder and “never forget” the essential nature and pivotal role of God and religion (specifically Christianity) in our republic, especially according to America’s founders and framers.
It’s no surprise that the greatest leader the U.S. has ever had, George Washington, the father of our country, also echoed that faith and religion were indispensable supports to American life, government, civility and morality.
When Washington retired after his second term as president, just a few short years before his death, he challenged Americans to never forget the critical roles of faith and religion in his 1796 farewell address:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
(If you struggle, doubt or want to explore faith and spiritual issues more, I encourage you to download this FREE E-copy of the book, “God Questions: Exploring Life’s Greatest Questions About God,” which tackles tough questions about the Creator and gives evidence for Him. Please click HERE.)
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