• Paul Coulter

Crown &Conscience, Awards & Abortions

As the United Kingdom was preparing to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, I found myself caught in confusion. This was no new experience for me where the British monarchy is concerned. I find the pomp and circumstance of occasions like the Trooping of the Colour, royal weddings and the state opening of Parliament mesmerising. Yet I am utterly opposed in principle to the idea that wealth, power and privilege should come to anyone solely because of the place and family into which they are born. In this, as in many things, I recognise I am a bundle of contradictions!


But when it comes to the Queen herself, surely I can be on safe ground in admiring her. Has she not served the nation with dignity, self-sacrifice and integrity throughout her 70 years on the throne? Furthermore, is she not a sister in the faith, a follower of the Lord Jesus, a Christian influence?


I have heard many Christian people make this last point over recent weeks and months. Like them, I have appreciated the Queen’s comments in her annual Christmas speech about her personal faith – how the Lord Jesus inspires her, God comforts her and faith guides her. But I see a British nation that has, over the course of her reign, seen a precipitous decline in Christian adherence and church attendance along with rejection of Christian morality and I cannot see how the Queen has acted in any meaningful way as a brake on this process. Are my fellow-Christians simply engaging in wishful thinking? I have even greater difficulty with those of my brothers and sisters who do seem to accept the idea of an inherited monarchy uncritically.


At this point I must acknowledge my limited understanding. Perhaps better-informed people can identify evidence that the Queen has been a preserving influence in Britain and people may have more concerns about elitism and inherited privilege than they express. I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the Queen’s personal faith or the fact that when she took her coronation oaths she understood herself to be entering into a covenant with God to serve Him and her people. I have only knowingly been close to the Queen twice in my life – once in a car park in Matlock and once in a grand room in Buckingham Palace – but have never shaken her hand or spoken with her. So, I claim no right to judge her as a person.


I should also say categorically that I do admire the Queen in many ways. Anyone who can stay in the same job for 70 years must deserve some credit! And it cannot have been at all easy to work with so many Prime Ministers of varied personalities, to entertain so many heads of state, to live constantly under press scrutiny, to have everyone assume they ‘know’ you for good or ill, or to have no choice at all about your career path. I do not envy her any of this and admire her steadiness and consistency.


Yet I do have a concern.


What sparked my Jubilee crisis was that it was pointed out to me that among the list for this year’s birthday honours was someone who received an OBE “for services to abortion law reform in Northern Ireland”. I have deliberately not named the person and have no desire to comment on her personally (again I do not know her), but I am deeply troubled by the idea of an award of this nature going to someone for this reason.


I will skip over the question why any award is being given for an ‘Order of the British Empire’ (of which an OBE is an Officer). Empire, really? In 2022? Why would anyone want that ‘distinction’?


And I don’t want to dwell on the fact that so many awards seem to be little more an extra bit of hubris for those who already have plenty (retired politicians and civil servants) or an opportunity to further promote Britain on the world stage to potential investors (when entertainers and sports people are decorated).


What concerns me in this post is what it says about the monarchy, and specifically Elizabeth, that she will grant an award in person to someone because that individual was part of the process of bringing death to unborn children in Northern Ireland.


I do not know what the Queen believes personally about abortion.


I do know that as a professing Christian, she should see it as a great evil (see the Life Affirmation - www.lifeaffirmation.org - for a helpful Christian position statement on the issue that you can even sign).


So, let me assume for now that in her heart she knows that abortion is wrong.

How, then, can she give this award?


I know she doesn’t personally make the list of people to be decorated. I assume that is the doing of government or civil servants or palace staff. I presume, too, that someone, or some organisation, recommended this person for the award and gave the suggested reason. I am sure too that this award is another effort to teach those of us who think killing unborn children is wrong that we are out of date and lacking in compassion. That it is a great ‘service’ to society change the law so that mothers can kill their babies. I can see this is a two-finger salute to us.


But is isn’t the nominator or the official who confirms the list who has to stand and smile and pin a gong on the lapel of the person. That falls to her majesty.


How can she do it?


I suspect this is only one of countless times in her reign when the Queen must have acted outside her comfort zone. How many reluctant handshakes? How many smiles hiding clenched teeth? How many people she would rather not have been photographed with? How many laws she really wouldn’t have chosen to give assent to?

But this issue is not like any other issue.


Sadly, of course, it is not the first time the Queen has given approval to abortion. The law of 1967 that legalised it in GB was made in her name. But somehow that little piece of metal and gloved handshake seems, to me at least, like more of a personal affirmation than reading a speech to parliament or a royal seal of assent.


What does an award for bringing in abortion mean?


How can those people in Northern Ireland who think of themselves as her majesty’s loyal citizens maintain that pretence if she awards a change in law that was enforced upon them from Westminster undemocratically? That should, of course, trouble people in other parts of the UK too, though I have seen little evidence that it does.


Much more importantly, how can we think of the Queen in any sense as a defender of the faith or a good Christian influence if she makes this award?


I suppose the likely defence may be that she is only doing her duty. That defence has been tried before and found wanting!


Is a monarch allowed to have a conscience? In a constitutional monarchy is she merely a puppet moved by the hand of whichever Prime Minister or party holds the strings at the time?


Ultimately, it is to her Creator that her majesty will answer. As will you and I. In light of that day, all we who profess to be His people must all act in good conscience under Him in accordance with His Word. A clear conscience is of eternal importance.


In closing, I think I may have stumbled towards the argument that might finally clinch the monarchy/republic debate for me. In the past I probably leaned towards monarchy, in part because the Queen seemed a uniting and stabilising influence and in part because it is familiar. But how can I defend a system in which any person is a puppet and words in one’s name are hypocrisy? I think I must conclude that the risks of an elected head of state – populism, lack of stability, deeper partisan fragmentation – are outweighed by the distastefulness of sham Christian dignity.

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