Government-Supported Religion

In The U.K., The New King Is Defending A Dwindling Faith

  Rob Boston

I was traveling last weekend and turned on the television in my hotel room Saturday morning for a few minutes before heading out for my day.

Many of the channels were carrying stories about the coronation of King Charles III, and one of them was airing a piece about the role religion played in the event.

I watched for a few minutes, transfixed. The pomp and ceremony were somewhat overwhelming. At one point, several people in elaborate costumes put a screen around Charles so he could have a private moment to commune with God.

A Church In Decline

The king, after all, is the “defender of the faith.” But in the case of the new monarch, there’s not much left to defend these days. The Church of England has been in steep decline for decades. Just 14% of Britons say they belong to it. According to some surveys, the largest “religion” in England isn’t a religion at all: It’s “unaffiliated” or “none.”

The new king’s coronation ceremony recognized the multi-faith nature of the United Kingdom, and Charles has applauded pluralism on several occasions. His coronation included participation by Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh leaders. (Given the trends under way in the country, it might have been a good idea to invite an explicitly secular figure.) But at the same time, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, stressed that “the coronation is first and foremost an act of Christian worship.”

Time For Separation?

In a piece written before the coronation, Jacob Lufner, a columnist with Religion News Service, speculated, “It will be fascinating to watch Charles continue to recalibrate the relationship between church, state and subjects, and, as far as we are allowed to see, to watch him negotiate these questions for himself until this last Christian king exchanges his earthly crown for a heavenly one.”

There’s one sure way to do that, but, unfortunately, few people in power in the U.K. seem interested in pursuing it: acknowledge reality. Put a healthy distance between religion and government – and let the new king know that defending any faith is no longer a part of his official job description.

Photo: Flanked by faith leaders, King Charles III is crowned at Westminster Abbey. Photo by Victoria Jones, WPA Pool/Getty Images

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