Tuesday 4 September 2012

Allegiance to the Queen and the Rejection of God

Eddie Izzard: A True British Queen to be proud of? 
I was gently challenged over lunch at the Anarchist conference to share my thoughts on how I can, without crossing my fingers, affirm an oath of allegiance to the Queen, "her heirs and successors" and continue to write, think, and act on anarchist ideas. 

So here goes. 

I first swore allegiance to the Queen on my ordination as deacon in the Church of England. However, every time an Anglican priest is given a new license, in other words appointed to a new role, the oath is renewed. I can only assume that the Queen doesn't think we really mean it. Ahem, perish the thought! 

This evening I'll be licensed as "Pioneer Associate Minister" at St Mark's Mansfield, and as Deanery Adviser on Seeking Justice. At the service at which this formally happens I will renew my oath. 

Before I first did this I was given advice by plenty of lefty Anglican priests: "cross your fingers," "think of a different Queen. Ru Paul? Eddie Izzard?" "Don't take it too seriously". None of these ideas struck me as satisfactory. I need to either not do it, or do it with some sort of theological integrity. 

Turning to the Jewish Tradition
There's plenty in the Old Testament that gives a view or ten on the place of the monarchy. From the hyperbole surrounding Solomon's reign to the brilliant satire against rulers in the book of judges. But the text that I chose that spoke to me most of my dilemma was Samuel's mediation between Israel and God on their desire to have a king "like other nations" (1 Sam. 8-9). 

Until this time the Bible describes Israel more as a confederacy of tribes. Occasionally a military leader, or Judge, will come forward but mostly, as described in the closing words of the book of Judges, "In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes." (Judges 21: 25). 

But as Samuel, the final 'Judge' reaches the end of his life the people get twitchy. A small people-group surrounded by Super-Powers they longed for some political security. 

Samuel Does not Want to Choose a King
Samuel is clear. If the people ask for a King they are, in effect, rejecting God as their King. Choosing Monarch is making a choice for idolatry. Samuel is dismayed at the idea. 

However, God is more easily persuaded. Sometimes it's easier to back down on your own behalf than for someone else, or perhaps it's just that God is an anarchist and refuses to stand in the way of human consensus. 

Give them what they want, says God, and give it them 'good and hard': "Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them." (1 Sam. 8: 9). 

In Britain there is an established Church and a Constitutional monarchy. Both are idols and both represent a rejection of God as King. But God, I believe, is an anarchist, and blesses whatever is offered. For most of us what is offered is done so with the best of intentions and God longs to bless. 

So, following Samuel's example, and listening to God's desire to bless whatever the people of God offer. I will be renewing that hideous oath this evening. I choose to do so and no one is coercing me to do so. I would rather not make the choice and pray for a day when there is no monarchy so vain as to ask for my allegiance, and I'm sure that day will come. 

Meanwhile, we all need pay heed to Samuel's warning: 

‘These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plough his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. 15He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. 16He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but theLord will not answer you in that day.’
(1 Samuel 8: 11-18).