Fidei Defensor

Reverend Dr. Andrew Teal is fellow, chaplain, and full member of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at Oxford University. The following is an edited summary of his keynote address delivered at the ICLRS 29th Annual International Law and Religion Symposium, 4 October 2022.

Our Responsibility to Each Other

Years ago, before flying to Utah for an extended visit, I received a message asking me to call on my now-departed, dear friend Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, a very significant scholar of the Eastern Orthodox Church. He gave me a command—quite literally a Metropolitan command—and his blessing to enable me to strive to fulfil it: “Go,” he said. “Go and really listen; go and understand; go to love and to bring Love.”

The faith traditions that some of us represent at this Symposium have a similar context for the vision of life. In the grand scheme of things, each human soul has an inalienable dignity. We are known before we are formed in the womb, the prophet says (Jeremiah 1:5), and we are invited to assent to the will of divine Love in our mortal journey. Through the trauma of birth, we come into a variety of contexts in order that we may, in Archbishop Kallistos’s words, really listen, really understand, and learn to love. We spend a lot of time individually planning and plotting for our personal careers and flourishing. But we soon learn all of that is but preparation for a more profound vocation and responsibility to each other and to our world. Often it is trauma, rather than virtue itself, that prompts us to that awareness. Failure and pain can be paths to truth.

Calling Out and Redeeming

Life and death call us out, if we are people of faith or principle. That is perhaps why Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the nature of the Church at Vatican II, for example, describes the Church as all practicing Catholics, all baptized people, and “all people of good will.”[1] Such an openness aims to be inclusive, rather than making anonymous Christians of good Hindus, Muslims, Jews, or agnostics. It is to say, We’re all part of this project, but more significantly, We’re all part of one another. It reinforces the intuition of people of God in many faiths that God is interested in forming and restoring souls and shaping our civic international life; the structures, communities, and processes of our world really matter to God. Freedom, truth, and religion are pivotal and foundational.

In this Symposium, we have heard stories of persecution articulated eloquently. The urgency we have all felt that these things must be stopped—and stopped now—has been a prophetic experience. We have also been prompted to consider what the role of religion is, not only in calling persecution out as evil but redeeming it. There is a process of setting right ancient wrongs, and we’re invited into that mission in this Symposium.

I met Desmond Tutu only once. To my surprise, he commented that it was much easier to be a Christian, to know the difference between right and wrong, in the South Africa of apartheid. You could see injustice and cruelty and know they were not right. He wasn’t saying that everything is lovely in apartheid situations or in oppression—far from it. But in that context, one could look and discern what was right and what was not. He thought he had faced his biggest task in calling out injustice and being an international figure. But the bigger, much harder job came in the next phase of South Africa’s life, with power sharing and then the election of Nelson Mandela as president. There was a new, important agenda—that of making sense, of redeeming understanding. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission met with tears, fears, tremblings, and hopes, often shot through, as we’ve heard in this Symposium, with resilient faith bursting into song amid the despair and horror. The journey that was hard to redeem was necessary in order to build a new justice. It took energy and renewed commitment every day. Sustaining peace is not cheap. But as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said, “If you think it’s expensive, just look at the alternative.”

A Monarch’s Example: Fidei Defensor

My message might seem the sentimental journey of a privileged English man, inviting the world into his conceit. I’m going to ponder the model of governance and peacebuilding of Queen Elizabeth II who, for 70 years, tried to understand and redeem centuries of human trauma in her own nation, the wounds of expansion across centuries—the colonies, an empire, and then a commonwealth—with all the exploitation and violence that went with that journey, including the continuing issues of competing nationalisms on the island of Ireland. She didn’t go into it with her eyes closed, but she went into it with a promise and a faithfulness.

We can’t carry the illusion of Britannia ruling the waves as an unmitigated glory. As we think about the notion of a monarch, and that of a person rather than a written constitution, as the basis of British polity, I am to some extent aware of its provocation to some. I am not advocating monarchy for all nations, but I do want to reflect and appreciate the model of a leader who, at her coronation in June 1953, promised to be faithful. She gave her allegiance to God before getting allegiance from anyone else. She was a person who had that vision, and her nation was reconsecrated in that coronation ceremony.

That considers the basis of religion, and her religion in particular, as an example of staying empty—remaining humble enough to be filled and replenished by the grace of God daily, to face the changes and chances of the world she had to govern. This Symposium has bid us to learn a new humility with one another. God can fill us, as I believe He filled her, with gifts of grace, commitment, forgiveness, joy, and tireless commitment to searching for peace and reconciliation, despite (as one speaker put it, quoting Leonard Cohen) the “crackedness” of our humanity and history: “There is a crack . . . in everything / That’s how the light gets in.” There are certainly examples of abuse of leadership among monarchs and elected leaders—when monarchy veers into absolutism or some elected leaders drift towards tyranny—as well as distortions and corruptions of written constitutions, themselves imperfect. My aim is to celebrate what is happening here at this Symposium, to consider the personal meanings and significance of our building a peaceful and beloved community together.

On pound coins is written the name of our late Queen, “Elizabeth II,” then “DG Reg FD” which means “By the Grace of God, Queen, Defender of the Faith” (Dei Gratia Regina Fidei Defensor). So, even on the currency of the United Kingdom, you have this reference to God, the grace of God, and the role of the Crown as a defender of the faith.

What does “Defender of the Faith” (Fidei Defensor) mean?  It was, ironically, given by a Pope to a Catholic king who became a Protestant and took the title with him! I think this is one reason the Catholic Church does not endow saints until they are well and truly dead, in case they go the path of Henry VIII! But the British constitution, unlike the American for example, is not explicit. It’s personal; it’s embedded in the person of the monarch. At the Queen’s Coronation, as well as crowning her, the Archbishop of Canterbury put the annulum or “seal of kingly dignity” upon her finger with the words echoing the notion of “Defender of the Faith”:

[A]nd as you are this day consecrated to be our Head and Prince, so may you continue steadfastly as the Defender of Christ’s Religion.[2]

Before her coronation, Queen Elizabeth asked people of all faiths to pray for her and assured them that she would protect their liberty in society—that liberty isn’t license, but people of faith deserve the protection of the state. In a 2012 address at Lambeth Palace, to the Archbishop and General Synod, she commanded, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, that it was a task of the Church of England to protect and promote religious liberty in her realm. Her successor, King Charles III, similarly has always had interfaith commitments. Years before he became King, he indicated that he wanted to be known as a defender of faith, in addition to his role as Defender of the Faith. He appears to recognize that, within the context of his position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, he can command the Church to protect and defend all faiths.

If you watched the funeral of Her Majesty, you might think England is rather a religious country.  England’s 2021 census results have not yet been released,[3] but figures from the years 2001 to 2011 are shocking. Christianity has declined 12 percent to 59.5 percent. Some 37.6 million Britons identify themselves as Christian, 2.8 million as Muslim, nearly a million as Hindus, nearly half a million as Sikhs, and approximately a quarter million as Jews and as Buddhists, respectively. The big change was that the number of individuals identifying themselves as having “no religion” went up nearly 10 percent to 20.7 million people.

Despite these figures, the death of the Queen seems to have revealed a deep religious pulse in the United Kingdom. Especially encouraging is the use and discussion of the notion of the God in which she believed—not just any old God, not just a tribal deity for the English, the Welsh, or the Scots, but the God of all the world. And that is not a function of the empire or commonwealth of which she was the head. There seems to be something almost peculiar happening—a sense of religious uplift after the Covid pandemic. In Oxford colleges, at least, there has been significantly increased interest in the life of the chapels and questions of faith raised in spiritual exploration. So, although the statistics are depressing, the recent experience has been quite surprising.

The title Fidei Defensor means the person and principles expressed in ensuring and safeguarding freedoms are rooted in the Crown—the person who embodies the nation. But Defensor doesn’t and shouldn’t mean defensive, in terms of a negative, territorial view of things. The intention is to prompt respectful debate. The question is, does it? Or does it just tie up religion with matters of state? The title has been the backcloth to several important legal and constitutional changes and priorities in the United Kingdom, particularly with race relations. Queen Elizabeth II was reigning queen throughout the vicissitudes of world events, including the coming of people from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and India via Uganda, and people from Jamaica and the Caribbean on the Windrush. As head of the Commonwealth, she has tried to be a brake on rigorously exclusive attitudes towards immigration.

The Queen also presided over the prohibition of hate speech, which differs from U.S. hate speech standards. When I first attended a General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, four or five years ago, I was quite surprised that there were people outside the Conference Center, dressed as Satan and other characters, shouting abuse at my new Latter-day Saint friends. I thought, “Well, I’ll go and sort them out. I’ll tell them that Latter-day Saints are nice people.” That was a mistake; they didn’t recognize my collar as authoritative.

This year, when I attended General Conference, possibly the same person who shouted at me last time, said, “You’re all going to hell, Latter-day Saints. And you [gesturing to me]: you’re worse than them all.” I thought, “Thank you. I’ve made it. I have a badge of honor.”

In the United Kingdom, there is a promotion and safeguarding of so-called “protected characteristics.” You cannot be denied a job or be discriminated against in any way because of your race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, among other characteristics. The Queen has been ahead of all this change and made sure that religion remains a particular protected characteristic. We cannot demean other people: they, like each of us, are in the image and likeness of God.

A More Excellent Way

People might ask, does inclusion promote reluctance? Is the Church of England really just not very good at mission because everyone is assumed to be “in?” We perhaps have a tendency to be reluctant about sticking our neck out. But there is a more excellent way.

Lesser ways include the tyranny of woke: a policy that stipulates, “Unless you think the same as I do, without any explicit reasons, you are lost forever.” There is no place for this in the academy or interreligious activity. There is also the arrogance of being right: “I’m right; the person protesting outside is not.” In contrast is a more excellent way: the imperative and virtue of dialogue (with all the dangers that go with it), moving from tolerance, to understanding, to friendship, to mutual advocacy and looking after one another.

This more excellent way is a big change from seeing persecuted communities as different from us and, therefore, not worthy of our respect. We find in place of such attitudes, love, justice, and the recognition of global needs. Individual rights are so readily prioritized in the West above our responsibilities to a global set of values—to protect the environment, to prevent war, to be aware of the potential weaponization of gas and electric, to address issues about food and water, and to challenge the hierarchy of the individual at the top place on the list. Much of our world seems to prioritize and shout the urgencies of the individual. The poorest and the issues pertaining to the wellbeing of our planet can get lost. In all of this, we must set out on a new journey. Spiritual nostalgia won’t suffice.

There are wonderful examples of kindness, such as Christians protecting a mosque in New Zealand after an outrage surrounding it. There exists a paradox of unexpected reciprocity in solidarity, where all are protected. We grow closer one to another, and we grow the closest when we are friends.

Building Peace for the Living, the Dead, and Those Who Lie Ahead

As we have reflected on the role of religion in peacebuilding and peace maintaining at this Symposium, it hasn’t been an entirely comfortable epiphany. There exist some very raw wounds among those we have heard from and their communities. There is no immediate cure from this pain because it is meaningful. Sharing it is an imperative prompt for all to reach together for the energy to sustain that wild hope of human flourishing. I give my thanks to the people who made this Symposium possible and who have worked and prayed with such commitment to bring us together to see the truth, and to help us find the strength to make choices for the truth to set us free.

We cannot be naive enough to think that, at the end of the day, it’s all going to be all right now. It isn’t. But virtue, even intended virtue, does bring life and light to places where indulgence and moral self-interest has brought fog. The role of religion in peacemaking does provoke hope amongst all the despair. It’s not that everything is going to be okay straight away. It’s not simply to advocate a view that there will be pie in the sky when we die and we just have to wait. We need the urgency, brought to us by our Symposium speakers, to provoke us from our luxury to realize that religion is not the icing on the cake. It is the foundation of a just society with stability and peace.

We have heard that “Freedom is the tender daughter of Mother Truth.” And we are talking less about freedom from (for example, the familiar adolescent objection “You’re not the boss of me. You can’t tell me what to do.”) than freedom to: freedom to serve, freedom to listen, freedom not to be so defensive, freedom to love.

A new book has been published by Pope Francis, titled A Wound Full of Hope: Remembering Those Who Have Gone Before Us. Some of our faith traditions regularly pray for those whom we count as dead, through requiems, through temple ordinances, and through our personal prayers. The faithful’s mission and responsibility to each other extends beyond the veil between us and our dead. We are not called to avenge the dead, neither must we forget them. We are called to build peace for the living and the dead.

Faith traditions in different ways acknowledge an enduring duty of honouring those whose mortal journeys are ended, some violently. It is a testimony that the network of relationships we are committed to building is not just for the oligarchy of the living but is also for those who have gone before us, and it prepares the way for those who lie ahead.

The pain and tragedies we see can fuel retribution and spiraling violence. But seeing others as enemies with whom we do not want to have a relationship damages ourselves. Our vigilance is the antidote to the temptation of vigilantism. Our faith traditions offer us no escape from the ultimate destiny of being in relationship with those whom we demonize, distrust, or hate. The prophetic crying out, that necessary first step in resolving injustice now, is indispensable in the building of peace, which requires our commitment to this prophetic justice.

I thank all those who model that virtuous cycle by your presence and your commitment to the world. May God take all our meagre offerings to feed and heal the world through them.

[1] Lumen Gentium I.3, 13–16 (1964).

[2] The Music with the Form and Order of the Service to be Performed at The Coronation of Her Most Excellent Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at 68 (1953).

[3] The statistics have since been published for England and Wales. These are in dramatic contrast to the world picture of religious presence—not least the continued growth and world presence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The latest national census of England and Wales (2021) is as follows:

The religion question is voluntary; 94.0% (56.0 million) of usual residents answered the question in 2021, an increase from 92.9% (52.1 million) in 2011.

For the first time in a census of England and Wales, less than half of the population (46.2%, 27.5 million people) described themselves as “Christian”, a 13.1 percentage point decrease from 59.3% (33.3 million) in 2011; despite this decrease, “Christian” remained the most common response to the religion question.

“No religion” was the second most common response, increasing by 12.0 percentage points to 37.2% (22.2 million) from 25.2% (14.1 million) in 2011.

There were increases in the number of people who described themselves as “Muslim” (3.9 million, 6.5% in 2021, up from 2.7 million, 4.9% in 2011) and “Hindu” (1.0 million, 1.7% in 2021, up from 818,000, 1.5% in 2011).

Religion, England and Wales: Census 2021, Off. for Nat’l Stat. (29 Nov. 2022). Within the decline among Christian denominations, the Church of England, the tradition the monarch “defends,” has declined about 3 percent between 2015 and 2020, indicating the probable extinction of the denomination in England by 2060.