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Opinion What Queen Elizabeth meant for White Christianity

On June 2, 1953, Queen Elizabeth II poses on her coronation day, in London. (AFP via Getty Images)

Whew, the last week has me royally exhausted. Apparently, multiple planets are stuck in Gatorade. So, if the vibes seem off, maybe that’s why.

Speaking of momentous shifts, the passing of Queen Elizabeth II has brought out a flood of emotion around the world, and it’s all been dizzying to process. For many, the queen and her family are symbols of the rapaciousness of the British Empire, which I discuss in my latest column.

As a former evangelical, though, I’ve also been thinking about the religious symbolism of Elizabeth.

The religiously devoted queen was “Defender of the Faith” and the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. According to Tablet Magazine, a Vatican official called Elizabeth “the last Christian monarch.” Historically, monarchies like the United Kingdom’s have not just been symbols of empire — they have been symbols of a White, Christian global empire, with the divine right to help spread the kingdom of God to the “darkest” corners of the Earth.

We all know that Christianity was a central part of the colonizing mission to Africa. British Protestant missionaries made it their duty to “save” the souls of Africans. From the early 1900s on, British missionaries set up schools and received government support from British colonial offices. Africans were forced to disavow their own spiritual traditions and cultures. In 1957, on her first trip to America as monarch, Elizabeth made a Southern Baptist missionary to Nigeria, May Perry, an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

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But things are changing. While today Christianity broadly remains the largest religious tradition in Africa (with Islam second), more and more Black people and Africans are rejecting White colonial Christianity in favor of more African spiritual traditions.

On our side of the pond, Elizabeth had a long connection to White evangelicals. She developed a close relationship with the late fundamentalist pastor Billy Graham, who was known for his revival style of preaching and was one of the most important religious figures of our time. Graham is widely credited with merging White evangelicalism with politics beginning in the 1950s and '60s. Her religious devotion and relationship with Graham were certainly played up in the Netflix’s hit series “The Crown.”

But there’s another part to this, too. To many evangelicals — and far-right figures — Elizabeth represented an ideal picture of what a Christian woman should be.

In an intriguing essay for Baptist News, columnist Greg Garrett tackles the topic of the queen, womanhood and nationalism. Garrett cites the reactions of notable religious figures and conservatives to the queen’s death.

Albert Mohler, leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that Elizabeth stood against creeping immorality and liberalization. Conservative radio and TV host Dana Loesch called her the “unwoke Christian Queen.” Owen Strachan, formerly of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, said of the queen, “What an example of decorum, duty, dedication to traditional principles, toughness, womanhood, and British classiness.”

Garrett writes that conservatives’ “reverence for the queen allows them to freeze the image of womanhood in the 1950s, when Elizabeth assumed her crown. Even this powerful woman — the Queen of England! — did not speak out of turn or contradict her betters (that is, the men, who counseled and actually ran the country).”

And to that end, the queen never apologized for the colonial ills that were carried out in the name of the faith she was so devoted to.

Considering the rise of authoritarianism and Christian nationalism, and increasing restrictions on women’s bodies, it’s no surprise that to many far-right American evangelicals, Elizabeth was the perfect woman — a symbol of Christian imperial power who stayed largely quiet on politics and was deferential to men who did the “dirty work” of running the government.

Just as missionary schools in British colonies helped carry out the Christian agenda, evangelical, right-wing groups are attempting to install the Kingdom of God in America by influencing school board races, eliminating discussions of racism and LGBTQ issues from schools, and outlawing abortion. And on the extreme side, white supremacist groups in both the United States and Britain still continue to use Christian and English symbols to adorn their hate-filled agendas against non-white, non-Christian peoples.

Alas. A queen might be dead, but the legacy of white Christian supremacy lives on.

Global Radar: Giving back the Kohinoor diamond

Now that Elizabeth has passed, the internet has been filled with calls for the British to give back the loot they stole from their colonies.

People are recirculating a years-old clip of British comedian John Oliver addressing the controversy over Britain’s ownership of the famous Kohinoor diamond, which Indians say belongs to them. But the British are holding on to the massive diamond, one of the crown jewels, for dear life. As Oliver says, “All our greatest possessions are stolen,” he says. “The British Museum is basically an active crime scene.”

The Kohinoor’s history is complicated and bloody. Since its discovery in India in the 1300s, it has changed hands between Indian, Afghan, Iranian and other rulers as a result of invasion and conquest. Britain came into possession of it when 10-year-old Maharaja Duleep Singh was deposed and the diamond was turned over to the British East India Company.

I’ve written about Britain’s selfish refusal to give back its colonial loot plenty of times before. And all jokes aside, it's a source of deep pain and humiliation for formerly colonized people to see their artifacts held hostage in their oppressors’ museums and crowns.

But now that the queen, whose reign overlapped with the end of the colonial era, is gone, should it not be time for Britain to relinquish some of its ill-gotten gains? I think so.

Home Front: Cheers and jeers for a Black mermaid

The trailer for Disney’s remake of “The Little Mermaid” is out, starring singer Halle Bailey as the fish-tailed, red-headed Ariel. We have crowned a new (fictional) underwater princess, and she’s Black! Watching the trailer almost made me cry:

The visuals are stunning, and on top of that, Halle’s Ariel is appearing underwater not just with reddish, hair but with locs!

Her hair might not seem like a big deal but it is. It takes me back to last year when the International Swimming Federation would not allow swim caps that accommodated natural Black hair or hairstyles for Olympic competitions. The message to Black swimmers? Their full Blackness did not belong in the water.

Mothers have been posting videos of their daughters reacting to the new Black mermaid. The girls’ responses are just adorable.

But there has been a racist backlash to the casting — of course there has — with claims that Disney is “messing up" a beloved tale by changing Ariel’s race. Others have doubted whether Black people can really be (fictional) mermaids. Excuse me? Generations of White slave traffickers tossed our ancestors into the sea, African migrants continue to be left to drown in the Mediterranean, and they have the gall to wonder whether Black people can transform into sea creatures. *ancestral eye roll*

Just like I wrote last week, it’s exhausting and probably futile to have to convince mostly White people that Black people can be and do anything and everything, in fiction and in the real world. And I’m already royally tired this week.

I encourage people to learn more about the West African traditions of Black female spirits and orishas (deities) of the water who existed long before Disney was a thing. Many of us grew up learning about Mami Wata spirits who exist in the ocean or lakes. In the Yoruba Ifa spiritual tradition, Yemaja is the orisha who rules over the ocean, motherhood and abundance. And Oshun is the female orisha who rules over love, sexuality and fresh waters, such as lakes and rivers.

So yeah, when it comes to water and the Black imagination, we Black/African women find ourselves right at home.

Cat’s Corner: Artemis is off to the vet

And he’s not too pleased about it. Don’t worry, he passed his checkup!

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