Updated: May 17
A week ago I wrote to you about some interesting Jewish aspects to the coronation of King Charles III, including the coronation oil which was prepared in Jerusalem and Bethlehem and the special arrangements which were made to facilitate the attendance and participation of Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis.
Like many of you I woke up very early last Saturday morning to watch the coronation live before getting ready for shul. One of the things which struck me about the service -- and make no mistake, it was very much a church service -- was the attempt to recognize the reality of the UK’s multicultural and multireligious nature in the context of the fact that the Anglican Church is still the state religion and the monarch is not only head of state but also the head of the church.
During the coronation the King took an oath administered by the Archbishop of Canterbury: “Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?” The King then responded “All this I promise to do. The things which I have here before promised I will perform and keep. So help me God.”
Then there was a further oath: “I Charles do solemnly and sincerely in the presence of God profess, testify, and declare that I am a faithful Protestant, and that I will, according to the true intent of the enactments which secure the Protestant succession to the Throne, uphold and maintain the said enactments to the best of my powers according to law.”
Before administering the oath, the Archbishop of Canterbury did note that the Church of England seeks “to foster an environment in which people of all faiths and beliefs may live freely.” Nevertheless, the King had to swear to maintain the special status of the Church of England and he also had to swear that he, himself, is a “faithful Protestant.” During his decades as Prince of Wales, Charles has been involved in interfaith dialogue and shown serious interest in Greek Orthodoxy (his grandmother, the father of the late Prince Philip, became an Orthodox nun when she was widowed), Islam, and Judaism -- he was a close friend of the late Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. He had mused about swearing to be the “Defender of Faith” in general rather than the “Defender of the Faith” but in fact changing his oath would have required an act of Parliament.
Despite all this there was participation by non-Anglican clergy and laypeople. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak read one of the Gospel passages, and I found it quite jarring for a Hindu to declare at the end of the reading “this is the Word of the Lord,” something he is unlikely to actually believe.
While the service was both interesting and beautiful, it once again demonstrated for me the incoherence and mess which results from the mix of religion and state. If I were a British Jew I would have felt that the service made a statement that I am less than fully equal; and if I were a British Anglican I think I would have been equally disturbed by the use of sacred rituals to further state power. Separation of religion and state is good for both religion and state.
As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoons from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building. Please note that this coming Thursday, May 18, my drop in hours will start at 3 rather than 4 due to an unavoidable schedule conflict.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian