Following her death, Queen Elizabeth the Second is coming under attack in New York Times and among Social Justice Types for the Royal Family’s association with Empire.
The British Empire began to change into the Commonwealth with the Second World war. Millions of those who were conquered and colonised, some quite brutally, joined their colonial masters to fight and lay down their lives against an enemy they saw as evil and very different from the colonial rule against which they struggled. They “ volunteered “ to fight and sacrificed their lives.
There is no doubt that Queen Elizabeth inherited a very difficult task in managing the transition from empire to Commonwealth without rubbishing the history of the nation of which she was Queen. There were some terrible legacies of violence against colonial people – think of the Amritsar massacre in India in 1919, and the repression of the Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya 1952-60. The Suez mis-adventure against President Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956 was thankfully aborted.
Apologies for these outrages would have been mere words. If people with the approach of Winston Churchill had been the monarch, the peaceful withdrawal and transition from empire to Commonwealth would never have happened.
But God provided a woman as head of state over the process. The Queen recognised this emerging reality of the transformation of empire to Commonwealth and enabled it as only she could. She held a position but no power. Politicians only hold their positions if they have power. Queen Elizabeth was very wise: she realised that her position could only be built on honour and respect, because she rooted her position in her faith. Would any politician or world leader of that time have been up to the task? All most would do was to rail against the rapid loss of empire. Some even tried to halt it recklessly.
Soon she replaced colonial rule with her deep sense of Christian hospitality. A European Union of once warring nations can be formed with mutual self-interest but any community of nations can only be sustained by the bonds of hospitality. Drawing on her Christian resources of hospitality Queen Elizabeth became not a symbol of empire in the Commonwealth but a source of hospitality that shaped its ethos. Her many visits to Commonwealth countries represented neither the grandeur nor the immorality of empire but the hospitality that biblical teaching suggests must bind the community of nations. The Queen made sure she demonstrated that.
The London Times leader on 9th September observed that the Commonwealth owes its existence to her: “She travelled to many of the former colonies to celebrate their independence and to ensure, with deft authority, that links with Britain were not severed. She forged personal friendships with many African leaders…(which) gave her role as head of the Commonwealth a significance that alone kept such a disparate club together. …..Had the Queen not persisted in upholding the Commonwealth at a time when Britain seemed indifferent to its affairs, the unique 56-nation body would long ago have dissolved amid argument and differing interests.
“Largely thanks to her patronage the Commonwealth ..set up the scholarships, development funds and common professional bodies that made it both relevant and attractive to others. Countries with no historical link to Britain — Mozambique, Rwanda and Cameroon – have joined.”
Testimonies from around the Commonwealth
The Rev Lydia Kitayimbwa a lecturer at Uganda Christian University writes: “In 2007 Queen Elizabeth II visited Uganda. She opened the Commonwealth Head of Government Meet (CHOGM). Upon arrival, she greeted and waved to many with the famous Queen’s wave accompanied with a smile which were imitated by many of us (young ladies). We looked forward to watching and listening to the Queen. We admired everything about her including her colourful and matching fashions. She has been an icon of peace, stability, service, beauty and faithfulness.”
Dr Clayton Peel, from Zimbabwe, Senior Lecturer in Communication Studies at Namibia University of Science and Technology has commented: “By her personality and stature the Commonwealth has grown. This growth has taken place when many post-colonial nations did not want to be linked with their colonial past. The fact that the Commonwealth retains credibility is a tribute to the Queen. British Prime Ministers come and go. Some are less popular with the non-European oriented members. David Cameron said at a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that British Aid would depend on nations instituting a range of gay rights. He was robustly repelled on that matter. The Queen has stature and has been held in profound respect. A few odd people hold her responsible for the colonial excesses. But the fact that the Commonwealth is still in being is testament to her contribution. She related with the other heads of state with dignity. His Majesty Charles III will do well to maintain this good rapport.”
Archbishop Ben Kwashi of Jos, Nigeria has written: “I was one year old when she came to Jos and worshipped in St. Piran’s Anglican Church on the Plateau Jos, 1956. I have grown up all my life to always know and call the monarch Queen. As part of the Commonwealth she has been one we love, admire and respect for her faith in Christ, a courageous leader and mother of nations, a wise counsellor and a promise keeper to her office. She was a minister of love who built and joined an unbreakable chain of relationships throughout the world. A true mother of nations !”
She saw herself not as a ruler but as one who was ruled by God. She knew there is only one ruler, the God and Father of Jesus Christ. She said in August 2022 “Throughout my life, the message and teachings of Christ have been my guide and in them I find hope.” She saw herself as a representative of that rule. So her consecration to her identity as monarch, her faith, her regular attendance at church were a major expression of and resource for what she saw as her calling to serve her people. She demonstrated that she herself lived under a different law, the law of God who wants everyone to love their neighbour as He loves them.
Can secular journalists and commentators ever understand this? History will be much kinder to her than some of the anti-colonial and anti-empire commentators in the west today.
Vinay Samuel (India) and Chris Sugden (UK)
Church of England Newspaper September 15 2022