Prince Charles

The Guardian digs into faith of one of UK's most private, yet public, Christian believers

The Guardian digs into faith of one of UK's most private, yet public, Christian believers

Some things never change and, even when they do, they may change very slowly.

Journalists tend to focus on the quick, the loud, the, well, "newsy" things that happen in public life. Long, slow stories tend to drive editors a bit crazy.

That's one of the many reasons why important stories on the religion beat are hard to sell to editorial power brokers in the big offices in major newsrooms. Important stories about faith are often built on lots of observations about symbolic words and gestures, unfolding over time.

So kudos to The Guardian for its Christmas story about one of the quiet, but symbolic, moments on the calendar in England -- the Queen's annual Christmas address. The double-decker headline spells things out:

How the Queen – the ‘last Christian monarch’ -- has made faith her message
Over the 65 years of her annual Christmas broadcast, the Queen has begun to take a deliberate turn towards religion

Obviously, Elizabeth II is not your ordinary monarch. Her time on the throne has been extraordinarily long and, thus, she has seen stunning changes in her land and her people. It took patience to document how the content of her messages has been changing and what those changes say about her and these times. Here is the overture:

To the royal household, it is known as the QXB -- the Queen’s Christmas broadcast. To millions of people, it is still an essential feature of Christmas Day. To the Queen, her annual broadcast is the time when she speaks to the nation without the government scripting it. But in recent years, it has also become something else: a declaration of her Christian faith. As Britain has become more secular, the Queen’s messages have followed the opposite trajectory.
A survey of the broadcasts made during her 65-year reign reveals that for most of the time the Queen has spoken only in passing of the religious significance of Christmas. There have been references to presents linking contemporary Christmas to the three wise men, for instance, alongside trips to Commonwealth countries, family events such as weddings and funerals, and there were observations about contemporary society.

However, in 2014 she referred to her Christian faith as the "anchor in my life.” Then, last year, she added words that, on some street corners in today's multicultural England, could cause trouble. The Queen said:

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Concerning the Church of England, the Lord's Prayer and the Star (culture) Wars

Concerning the Church of England, the Lord's Prayer and the Star (culture) Wars

It was a question that nagged defenders of the English monarchy for years: If and when he ever became king, would Prince Charles declare himself to be the "Defender of Faith," as opposed to "Defender of the Faith"?

In a way, the chance that the crucial "the" would go missing was the perfect symbol for decades of tense "multiculturalism" debates in Britain. Drop the "the" and the implication was that Christianity, and the Church of England in particular, would have lost its status as a foundation for English life and culture. The monarch would henceforth defend the IDEA of faith, as opposed to a particular faith. Theological pluralism would be the new norm.

It didn't help, of course, that the Church of England was on the decline, in terms of worship attendance, baptisms, marriages and just about any other statistic that could be cited. Meanwhile, Islam was on the rise. Wasn't dropping this telltale "the" simply a nod to the new reality?

Prince Charles has, fairly recently, stated that his title would remain "Defender of the Faith." However, the cultural identity debates roll on, as witnessed in the stark message of the new report by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life entitled "Living with Difference: Community, Diversity and the Common Good (click for .pdf)." Its bottom line: England isn't Christian. Get over it. Reactions? Click here for commentary from veteran religion-beat specialist Ruth Gledhill and here for analysis by Jenny Taylor of the Lapido Media religious literacy project.

These painful debates loomed in the background during this week's "Crossroads" podcast. This time around, host Todd Wilken and I discussed the many implications of the decision -- by the principalities and powers of the movie theater business -- to reject the use of that Church of England ad featuring the Lord's Prayer before screenings of the new Star Wars epic. Click here to tune in our discussion of all of this.

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A baptism event or a Christian rite of baptism?

It’s a question built on the harsh realities of journalism in the Internet era, when newspapers are thin and reporters often do not have the room in their stories to include essential facts. The question: Is the official version of a story the one that ran in the analog, ink-on-paper edition or the version of the story that ran online?

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