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Queen Elizabeth II: A General Conference Double Standard


On the day of her death, the Trans-European Division news service published an article titled, “In Memory of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.” It was republished by the General Conference’s Adventist News Network. In it, church leaders celebrated her “legacy of faith, commitment, and service.” Concluding the article, Audrey Andersson, a general vice-president of the General Conference, stated that Queen Elizabeth II’s “life of service was grounded in her deep personal faith. Her sense of duty to God, the country, and the Commonwealth was a source of stability and hope in difficult times and an inspiration for many.” However, judging by comments and reactions on social media, while Queen Elizabeth II’s death is regrettable, how her story is told is a contentious issue even among Seventh-day Adventists around the world.

The global story of the late Queen Elizabeth II dates back to 1952 when, after the death of her father, King George VI, the 25-year-old was called upon to assume the throne. As queen of the Commonwealth, she become head of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the United Kingdom as well as ceremonial head of 56 additional sovereign countries. Her reign as a constitutional monarch coincided with major political shifts such as the decolonization of Africa, the United Kingdom's accession to the European Communities and then withdrawal from the European Union. The number of her realms varied over time as territories gained independence and some realms became republics. Indeed, the story of the decline of the British Empire, decolonization of Africa and the present United Kingdom cannot be told without her. In part due to her longevity, for many British people she understandably remains a legend, a hero, and notable figure in their history.

The fundamental issue is on whether it is possible to mourn without sanitizing the history of British imperialism or the devilish effects of colonialism? The debate that has surfaced focuses on the role played by the British empire in the global South, how it used slavery, exploitation, and plunder to grow itself. That the monarchy was and continues to be a beneficiary of the colonial project is indisputable evidenced by having towns, cities, hospitals, schools, streets, and tourist sites around the world named after former British monarchs including Queen Elizabeth II. For many, even the creation of the Commonwealth was an insidious attempt by the British to maintain hold on former colonies, to preserve and protect their influence.  While her death is very unfortunate, for many in the South, painful memories of plunder, death, displacement, and dehumanization cannot be divorced from her reign or the history of the monarchy. It is what the monarchy stands for that irks many, the obscene wealth acquired by the empire through violence and dehumanization of millions across the world. This is why while many sincerely say “rest in peace,” they are quick to acknowledge that the institution Queen Elizabeth II stood for left no peace in many parts of the world. This is not an insensitive celebration of her death, but a call for balance and honesty as we reflect on her legacy. The effects of the monarchy and the British Empire continue to be felt in the former colonies. But understandably, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison.”. Therefore, the obscene oppressions and exploitation upon which the British monarchy is built on cannot be overlooked even as we mourn the passing of a sister, mother, grandmother, leader, to some. 

Therefore, the challenge is for Adventist leaders at all levels to appreciate that how the passing of Queen Elizabeth II is portrayed and received is not universal. While mainstream media has been amplifying this into a global event, caution is needed for us to avoid being tone deaf or appearing to ignore the painful realities of history. Many in the former British colonies have seen our local heroes vilified or ignored in Western media, but are now being called upon to celebrate the life of a person who headed an institution that brought misery upon them. Added to this is the whole idea that royal privilege goes against the gospel that promises freedom and equality. To have a group of human beings still believing that they are of royal birth, that there’s something genetically noble about their bloodline that entitles them control, contradicts everything Jesus stands for. 

Looked at closely, Queen Elizabeth II may be a hero and legend to some, but there’s a need to be sensitive to those who see otherwise. Identity issues clearly remain unresolved in the church, and the death of Queen Elizabeth II further exposes how much we are polarized. Race remains an issue. Many in my part of the world, the global South, are expecting the church to acknowledge history, challenge the present, and also give equal attention to their local stories. 

The handling of the conflict in Ukraine is another case where we saw official statements and calls for prayer being issued by the church leadership which was not the case with tragedy in other parts of the world. As we speak, Pakistan is flooded, East Africa is facing a devastating drought and famine, Northern Mozambique remains unstable. Where are these stories in Adventist media? Which General Conference leaders are speaking publicly about this news. It is this double-standard that increasingly invites harsh commentary and reaction from church members in the global South. There’s an agitation for the church to speak more about social justice issues using her moral influence and convening power. If we as a church can “celebrate” the good in our society, then we should equally be honest and challenge the bad. This is a call for sensitivity to the need to balance narratives related to political figures regardless of their race, nationality or how mainstream media portrays them. 

For those in the global South, this is also a challenge to tell our own stories and celebrate our heroes. May the following words by Chinua Achebe in his book titled Things Fall Apart (1958) resonate with us, “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.” 

Admiral Ncube is an Adventist Zimbabwean writing from Gaborone, Botswana, where he is a humanitarian and development professional.

Image: Oluwole Omofemi, Her Majesty The Queen, 2022. Screenshot from a short video filmed in Nigeria by Tatler UK introducing the work for their Platinum Jubilee cover. 

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