I watched the first season of Becoming Elizabeth on Starz. Well done, although the cruelty that is presented (necessary to the story as it conveys the events and the times) appeals less and less to me as I age. Maybe I’ve grown as a disciple of Jesus; maybe I’m just more sensitive to pain and mortality as someone who can get a senior discount.
Anyway, the series is in the tumultuous years following the death of Henry VIII. There is all kinds of maneuvering and manipulating for political power, which is neither old or new, just the nature of the beast.
The series humanizes and tries to keep an even hand on the portrayals of Henry’s children and successors, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth. They all have forces shaping and trying to shape them, and their reactions and trajectories make sense even if the viewer doesn’t like what they do.
One thing over which I’ve stumbled is the abundance of conversations in which characters flit from professions of familial, political and/or romantic love and loyalty to explosions of hate and enmity. Is that a Brit kinda thing? Typical of period dialogue? Just overwrought script writing? Or is that the point about politics – the best one can have are frenemies? Probably that last – one of Elizabeth’s becomings is her awareness that almost every interaction is one person’s attempt to use another. That seems to be the atmosphere in which the political elites exist.
Which brings me to current American squalor, the idolatry of politics. As better commentators have written, political movements are the new religion seeking to push out all else, as in the Protestant vs. Catholic struggles of Elizabeth’s time.
The verse from The First Letter to Timothy in the picture above calls on Christians to pray for those in authority. Anglicanism (historically created by a “settlement” under Elizabeth’s reign) has tended to honor this by including prayers for those in authority in the services of The Book of Common Prayer. And I have to say there is something calming in the transcendent nature of those prayers – the names and parties of office holders change but the prayers of the church remain the same. Where I live, the President (a representative of the left) and the Governor (popular on the right) are prayed for by name in the same sentence of The Prayers of the People.
What strikes me about the verse from Timothy is the goal: that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. It is hard for Christians when the world around us is caught up in politics. Passing things get raised up as ultimate things, which is to say, idols. Relationships fray and come apart – victory supplants love. The kingdom of God abides but it is obscured by all the drama.
Political transitions or any other destabilization is dangerous. The frenemies more readily drop the f and r. This is perhaps why prayer for those in authority is exhorted. Pray that they stay healthy, that the times over which they govern are not too complex, and give thanks that things are stable.
Those are opposites of what we have now. The President is manifestly unhealthy (even left leaning news outlets are raising the he’s too old to run again theme), there are significant and complex problems at home and abroad, and the culture is fragmented.
How can Christians “UNbecome” worshippers of politics? That’s not an easy one to answer. I know that there’s plenty in the news to keep me angry, suspicious, worried and any number of other un-Christlike qualities.
At the same time, one has to wonder how far to withdraw, if at all, given the power of politics to inflict harm on one’s neighbors. Is it loving to proclaim indifference or neutrality while others are victimized?
These are not new questions. But any fair read of The New Testament tells us that the followers of Christ did well from outside of political power and any fair read of church history shows us how we compromised the faith once we were on the inside.
The truth is we are all going to err, some by getting too involved and compromised and others by leaning uninvolved and uncaring. Which is why we continue to need the church to remind us, again and again, of the transcendent kingdom of the Lord who forgives – but who will one day return to end the confusion and destroy the destroyers of the earth (Revelation 11:8).