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Her Majesty's Cultural Christianity
It's a paradox
Queen Elizabeth II was, by nearly all accounts, a devout Christian. As the figurehead of the Church of England, she symbolized one of the world’s last remaining true marriages between Christianity and the state. The queen was an avatar of Christian Britain in the world, and her private and public confession of faith in Christ gave the gospel a global and geopolitical relevance that is real.
On the other hand: the queen’s Christian faith did not make Britain more Christian. Its two major political parties are mostly agreed on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. England is a highly secular nation and legal attacks on free Christian speech are, all things considered, more likely there than in the U.S. Moreover, the queen’s Christian faith has not been lived out by her family, several of whom have been publicly derided for decades now due to scandal, divorce, and even more serious allegations. Whatever legitimacy the queen’s faith granted Christianity in the cultural and political machine has been significantly undermined by the profoundly non-Christian choices of those closest to her.
So once again, we see the paradox of cultural Christianity—the kind of cultural Christianity that a growing chorus of conservative evangelicals insist the church ought to pursue, even if doing so creates close alignment with those who openly reject our God. There is a way of being dismissive toward cultural enfranchisement of Christianity that rejects its salting effect on society, ignores how the state is a de facto teacher, and underestimates the moral effect of Christianity in the public square. A person who falls into this trap will quickly dismiss any idea that the queen’s Christian faith was relevant to the lives of her people or the direction of her nation. In doing so, they are not unlike those who believe, wrongly, that the ritual and pageantry of the monarchy can be destroyed while the monarchy is preserved. Symbols matter. Ideas have consequences, and “ideas” cannot be boiled down to mean just “ideologies.” When Zadok the Priest roared during Elizabeth II’s coronation, the effect was spiritual: use of music and regalia and ceremony to make the notion of a Divine King more plausible.
But the one thing cultural Christianity cannot do is shut the gates of hell. Even as Britain held forth a Christian on the throne, its own shores have darkened. The supreme expression of cultural Christianity in our lifetime has not created a robust revival of orthodoxy. In fact, it has not even preserved a religious conservatism in the halls of power. For seventy years, the throne was Christian, and the Parliament was not. There is no meaningfully powerful pro-life contingent in British politics. There is no flourishing coalition of those committed to the biblical definition of marriage. Britain is not without witnesses, but the Christian ethic, though plausible at Buckingham, has become less and less plausible outside it.
The question that must be posed to evangelicals who passionately advocate for a forcible alliance between law and Christianity is: Why should we believe that political machinations to prop up cultural Christianity in our nation will have much more powerful effects than it had in the most culturally Christian institution in the West? What do your YouTube clips, your blog posts, your essays, and your podcasts get right that the U.K. just missed for three-quarters of a century? How will the people atop an American theological regime resist the allure of money, sex, and power better than the royal family?
These are not unreasonable questions. They’re the type of questions that serious culture warriors should be answering all the time. If somebody tries to sell you a plot of land without showing how you how fertile it is, you might balk. I don’t give a rip what you think about winsomeness, “Big Eva,” or Libs of Tik Tok. If the enemies of the church are the people who think little of cultural Christianity, show us cultural Christianity converting the masses, triumphing over the darkness, and preserving its people.