December 8th, 2010
03:26 PM ET

My Take: A Royal pain

Editor's Note: Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio is ordained in the Episcopal Church and has taught a variety of educational institutions, including Yale University. She is also the author of "God and Harry at Yale: Faith and Fiction in the Classroom."

By Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio, Special to CNN

While the rest of the world seems buoyed by prospects of a fairytale royal wedding, I find myself asking the following: why do Kate Middleton and Prince William bother me so much?

At first I thought it was something about them in particular.

Perhaps it was their incongruities with other famous pairs: Kate has yet to make the kind of gaffes—cue the use of alcohol, drugs, and prostitution—that humanize (and demonize) others in the public sphere, while William, unlike other members of his family, actually seems to have a career whose success depends more upon his hard work than his title.

Especially compared with the precedent set by other members of the royal family—see Camillagate and the public relations hurricane known as Sarah Ferguson—William and Kate are a refreshing change.

Lest we the public forget this, the media crafts such a flawless sculpture of their relationship that the duo seems more like porcelain figurines than real people.

I eventually concluded that my concern lay not with William and Kate but rather with the monarchy and its theological significance. Why should a king or queen care about theology?

This reason is this: since the time of Henry the VIII, British sovereigns have held the title of Supreme Governor of the Church of England — in other words, head of a Christian denomination. Today this decoration is largely symbolic, yet it still would be reasonable to assume that the royal head and his or her family would abide by Christian ideals, given their position in the State Church.

And yet, my concern is that the monarchy as an institution works against certain fundamental Christian beliefs.

Consider free will. Central to Christianity is the idea that God created humans with freedom, yet those born into the royal family are birthed not so much into freedom as a destiny—to one day be king or brother to the king or two cousins once removed from the king and hence never to be king.

In other words, the free will God offered to humans is denied within the monarchy. Those born as ‘commoners’ find their free will limited as well: they may pursue any profession of their choosing, they may marry anyone they like, but they will never attain the status of the reigning monarch.

It’s the difference between American parents who can say to their child, “You can do anything in this country if you work hard,” and British parents who must implicitly admit, “There are some things that, no matter how hard you try, you can never achieve.”

That glass ceiling seems contrary to the spirit of Christianity, and yet, the royal family does nothing to break it.

The misogynistic structure of the monarchy is also problematic from a Christian standpoint. If Kate and William birth a girl followed by a boy, it is the boy who will ascend the throne. If they are parents to three charming female prodigies and one antisocial boy with uninspiring intellect, it is he who will be privileged. Such a system of succession implies that women are not made in the image of God equally with men but rather are inferior, a last resort.

This is particularly ironic when one considers that it was the first Queen Elizabeth who established a stable Church and civil government following years of unrest inaugurated by her father, Henry VIII. Yet nonetheless, women are not given an equal opportunity to become figureheads, nor, I might add as a footnote, is the current reigning monarch doing much to prevent the unequal treatment of women within the ordained hierarchy of the Church of England, but that discussion is best saved for another post.

Finally, the royal family needs to ask itself whether it strives to be true stewards of God’s creation and whether its actions exemplify love of neighbor. For instance, is it necessary to have an engagement ring worth half a million dollars, more than a majority of families in the United Kingdom save during their entire lifetime? Is it necessary to live in multiple mansions with heating bills that must reach into the tens of thousands each month, to charter yachts that deposit toxins into oceans, or fly private jets that leave a carbon footprint the size of a brachiosaurus? Does this lifestyle serve the British people who not only pay for such excesses but who do so when they cannot afford to pay for their own basic necessities? Put more succinctly: it is difficult to justify this lifestyle in terms of Christian values.

Even more difficult when one is said to be the figurehead of a denomination.

William and Kate’s engagement signifies the emergence of a new generation of royals who will assume all the rights and responsibilities sovereignty entails. They may follow the established the tradition or forge a new kind of monarchy in which leadership is not predetermined, both genders are given equal opportunities, and stewardship and love of neighbor are valued above personal luxury.

Could such a vision ever become reality? Well, this pair has consistently been a revitalizing and unique presence within the royal family. My hope is that they will continue to be, by fully embodying not only their civic but also their Christian obligations.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Anglican • Christianity • Church • Church and state • Europe • Opinion • United Kingdom

soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. No One Really

    And... Prince William has his own career?!?!?!
    He's a pilot in the military his family owns. How is this, in any way, the career of a self made man? His brother, is in the Blue and Gold regiment. (Blue for blue blood, gold for nobility.) It's a special regiment for aristocrats and royals, just to make sure none of them get hurt in real war.
    I'm sure they cool guys, but they ARE NOT self made.

    December 22, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  2. No One Really

    Why is this on CNN? No wonder the ratings are in the tank?

    Read Thomas Paine, if you want a logical dissection of a monarchy.

    December 22, 2010 at 9:56 am |
  3. RightTurnClyde

    Having read most of the posts (and the article) it is safe to say no one of the posters has the slightest understanding of church history, American history or more importantly English history. Even their "notions" about Henry VIII are false. The "problems" in the Roman Catholic church which began about the time John wrote Revelations ultimately caused a Reformation (about 1500 AD) from which the Anglican church emerged. American Calvinists were hanging witches in Salem, looking down their noses in tidewater and raising Caine in Kansas so they too are flawed. Will an American Episcopal church then lament the foolish prince Charles (homely too) while overlooking the tumult and insanity of the same decades in N. America? In true Christian spirit we ought not to be judging "1Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. 3And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. " ... courtesy of King James in 1611 AD (a British Monarch who protected the faith)

    December 20, 2010 at 4:07 am |
  4. RightTurnClyde

    I would have supposed that an ordained female Episcopal priest who is a Yale alumni would have a much better understanding of the origins of the Anglican church, the role of the monarchy and the events leading to split (beginning as far back as Becket). Yes the contemporary monarchy seems equally ill informed of its history and role in the Anglican church. The structure and flow of this article reveals much more than I would have guessed about what has happened in the Episcopal church in recent decades. It seems to have been co-opted by socio-political motivations and to have put faith on the read burner. This is quite an eye opener.

    December 20, 2010 at 3:33 am |
  5. CindyG

    I find it rather amusing to read an 'ordained' female speaking about christianity and her disdain for royalty in England and being borderline distasteful for her.
    First off, the bible specifically says women are not to be ordained in the first place. Secondly, the bible is completely full of Kings and their legacies and in fact the god of the bible not only set them in that place but basically demanded all of the followers of the bible bend the knee to them as well. The bible is a book of stories written by men trying to bind together peoples who were drifting off to other 'religions', it is full of slavery, racism, incest and continues to treat women as property. Faith and belief in a higher power is one thing....using that belief to trash other people and ideas one doesn't like that are exactly what is expected in the bible is hypocrisy.

    December 17, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  6. Elizabeth

    Didn't they change primogeniture a few years back so that the oldest always inherits the throne whether it's a girl or a boy?

    December 13, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  7. John1

    "...it is difficult to justify this lifestyle in terms of Christian values."
    let me quote Chris Johnson's response:
    "Such a criticism is particularly rich coming from someone who is part of a denomination currently spending millions of it dollars suing conservative Anglican Christians out of their meeting houses, something that is also “difficult to justify…in terms of Christian values.” http://themcj.com/?p=17216

    Lots of anger here, little sense.

    December 13, 2010 at 10:34 am |
  8. Maureen

    I couldn't give two figs what someone in the UK thinks of the US governmental system. If I really want to worry about theirs, I'll move there, become a citizen, and pay taxes; or get employed as an analyst by the US government.

    So this whole column is a nosy bit of kibitzing, by someone who doesn't have the guts to reject Episcopalianism because of its historic roots in the Church of England; but does have the chutzpah to whine and cry about her ultimate religious head in public, by making digs at her boss' grandkids. Classy.

    December 11, 2010 at 9:41 am |
  9. Martha

    I agree! It is inquitious that every single commoner cannot become monarch. Just as I am deeply offended by the fact that I am not nor can I ever become President of the United States of America, due to the footling trifle that I am not an American citizen, nor resident within the United States.

    Really, if you wish to make a point about wastefulness, fantasy, the popular media constructing a PR event or the like, go ahead. But trying to tie in restrictions on monarchy with the notion of free will? That is rather like saying if every single pupil in a school is not Principal, this is a denial of free will.

    December 11, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  10. Auggie

    Just to clear up a couple of things, the author failed to mention that there are NO royal yachts any longer - HMV BRITANNIA was decomissioned in the winter of 1997 by the government at that time, as it was deemed to be too old and too expensive for a refitting (launched in April of 1953). Also, The Queen is notorious for not spending money on herself or any other person; the Civil List continues to be parred down every year and one might remember that it was indeed Prince Charles that put The Queen Mother on a strict financial diet back in the '90s. The Queen was very much opposed to the divorce settlement between her son and Diana (reported to have been $45.2 million, along with housing and staff allowances,but wanted to stop all the bad press) so she is keenly aware of how much her government is costing the taxpayers. Sandrigham House and Balmoral belong to her personally and the upkeep comes directly out of her pocket, so take the advice of a fellow jounalist and check your facts before posting them. This information is readily available, so please don't offer an excuse of why you didn't bother to do the research beforehand.

    December 9, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
  11. Leona

    Um, your writer is a bit behind the times. The order of female succession to the British monarchy was changed a few years ago. Any elder daughter of William would have precedence over a younger brother. Check your facts before shooting off your mouth.

    December 9, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
    • AK

      Apparently, there is talk of changing that law but currently royal succession still has younger male children bumping older female children. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13106457

      May 7, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  12. Susan

    Royals used to be raised to put their country first. For the sake of their country they only married other royals who were raised to sacrifice their own happiness for the benefit of others. For example Edward VII wife, Alexandra, was raised a royal and, therefore, always behaved with dignity in spite of her husband's philandering. Alexandra is only one of numerous royal spouses through the centuries who made the appropriate sacrifices in exchange for a privileged life. Certainly Diana was not raised this way, nor was Fergie, nor was Kate Middleton. Now that monarchs are routinely marrying "for love", they are causing scandals, divorces, and gossip. There's nothing royal in this kind of behavior. William, get the royals back on track and marry someone raised as a royal.

    December 9, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
  13. walison natalicio silva

    My religião is The Bahá'i Faith. It is so big as Christianity, Islam and others. Write about it one day.

    December 9, 2010 at 5:07 am |
    • Reality

      Religion Adherents
      Christianity 2.1 billion
      Islam 1.5 billion
      Irreligious/agnostic/atheism 1.1 billion
      Hinduism 900 million
      Chinese traditional religion 394 million
      Buddhism 376 million
      Animist religions 300 million
      African traditional/diasporic religions 100 million
      Sikhism 23 million
      Juche 19 million
      Spiritism 15 million
      Judaism 14 million
      Baha'i 7 million
      Jainism 4.2 million
      Shinto 4 million
      Cao Dai 4 million
      Zoroastrianism 2.6 million
      Tenrikyo 2 million
      Neo-Paganism 1 million
      Unitarian Universalism 800,000
      Rastafari Movement 600,000

      December 9, 2010 at 7:15 am |
  14. Lynda

    Something that irritates me, when refering to the President of The United States, he should be addressed as Mr. President or President Obama not "Obama or Mr. Obama" Even if you don't like the man you should respect the Office.

    December 8, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
    • NL

      Respect for the office died out with John Wayne. When Kennedy was elected he said "I didn't vote for him but he's my president, and I hope he does a good job." We could all use some of that kind of patriotism nowadays.

      December 8, 2010 at 8:09 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Lynda: It doesn't really bother me that the President is referred to as "Obama" or "Mr Obama." There are much worse things people have called him. But in all honesty people called Dubbya lots of things that weren't exactly respectful to the office. I care less about how one refers to him as much as honestly discussing the good or bad things he does.

      December 9, 2010 at 9:20 am |
  15. BeenThere

    I would have thought that citizens of the US had settled this issue over 200 years ago. I don't see that it's any of my business how Great Britain governs itself, or what the relationship is between their royal family and the Church of England. With all the problems in our world, it seems to me that worrying about the fact that an ordinary English child cannot aspire to the claustrophobic role of figurehead is a waste time and energy. Parents in England ought to thank God that their children cannot aspire to be king or queen and rejoice that they can aspire to the offices which wield power and can make the world better.

    December 8, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
  16. HotAirAce

    As much as I'm an atheist, and would like to see a complete separation of the monarchy and the CofE, I think the current queen is fine. She, and her predessors, have provided much continuity and stability over many years, even taking into account the numerous family fueds and religious flip-flopping. They are as culturaly relevant, for the brits, as pope-a-dope is to his sheep. Whenever things get really bad, they are a great rallying point. A significant difference though is that the citizens of the UK could have removed the monarchy years ago but choose to keep it, while we will probably be saddled with pope-a-dope and his ilk for many years to come.

    A little more personally, the queen of England is also the queen of Canada. After witnessing a number of visits by the queen and members of her family, and the genuine affection Canadians (OK, mostly the older ones) have for her, I wouldn't think of joining a "scrap the monarchy" campaign. She really does appear to a very nice lady and at the worst is "mostly harmless." (with all due credit to Douglas Adams). I do reserve the right to flip-flop when her successor becomes known...

    December 8, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
    • Sumerian Dude

      You're not going to start singing "O Canada" or something, are you? 😛

      I agree with you about the Queen, but for all the protesting during the Perp's visit, she did not seem to do much to him.
      In fact, he and his people seemed a bit too relaxed afterwards, like he had been given a pass on being held accountable.
      The CE is too similar to the CC. The Queen keeps her own counsel, though. She hasn't asked me anything so far....you?

      December 8, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
    • NL

      The Queen is exceptional, I agree, but William still likes to take military helicopters out for joyrides. Perhaps it's best for that family if the monarchy stops being active after her death. Haven't they suffered enough?

      December 8, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      @Sumerian Dude

      Nah, I'm not too big on jingoism in general and O'Canada in particular 'cause it has god in it. You should see the reactions of people around me when I respond with "There are no gods" when god is voiced.

      And no, she hasn't asked for any assistance from me.

      December 8, 2010 at 8:18 pm |
    • Reality

      Time to put the divine right of kings and queens on the myth pile. Disband the group and turn all their fancy palaces into museums!!!

      December 8, 2010 at 11:41 pm |
    • Frogist

      To be honest, I haven't thought much about the royals. They seem basically figureheads with little real power. They are nice for gossip and reminiscing about Diana, but other than that... True, British monarchy isn't usually great for women. True, rich people spend more than they should. Why this stuff should be leveled on a family and church that holds so little real relevance feels like the author is desperately looking for something to not like them about. All I can say is I wish William and Kate all the best on their marriage.
      BTW Wasn't it Harry who liked helicopter rides? I could be wrong...

      December 9, 2010 at 9:29 am |
  17. Reality

    And exactly why would anyone ever consider being a member of religion founded by a king who killed two of his six wives and a saint, St. Thomas More aka A Man of All Seasons?

    December 8, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      That would be the same thinking used by anyone that would consider joining the rcc given all the shenanigns past and present pope-a-dopes have engaged in. Anticipating a challenge to prove the foregoing assertion, pope-a-dope apologists merely need to google using something like "bad behavior by popes" to do their own homework.

      December 8, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
    • LetoAtreides

      Personal immorality rather than religion is the cause for King Henry VIII's behavior. Lots of people in history have committed evil in the name of all sorts of good people, causes, and religions or even by their own name. Do we discard an entire faith because that person used it for their own evil ends? That's not a valid rationalization.

      December 9, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
    • markymerlot

      The groundwork for the Anglican Church had be laid before Hank 8, with Wycliffe and the Lollards (similar in thinking to Luther); he simply accelerated the cause.

      December 9, 2010 at 7:36 pm |
  18. Rocko

    Is it just me or does the author resemble a young Queen Elizabeth more than we have any right to expect? Is she a young offshoot of the Haus of Windsor or something? Anyone?

    December 8, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
    • Sumerian Dude

      I would have said Princess Anne.

      December 8, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
    • Frogist

      I was thinking Sarah Silverman...

      December 9, 2010 at 9:10 am |
  19. Sumerian Dude

    As much as I like the idea of a monarchy, a meritocracy would make tons more sense from a practical standpoint.

    If only there were truth in the merits of a genetic dynasty! But genetics is mostly a crapshoot. As is our environment.

    The Church of England, like the Catholic Church and all the other religions is full of complete and utter nonsense.
    No government based on religion can withstand honest scrutiny, for all the religions we have are fraudulent.

    December 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
  20. Bob

    I'll be the first to say it. Intellectual adults don't give two cruds about what star is sleeping with who, marrying who or where they're hanging out.

    I wish the US could get out of this "Star culture" nonsense. If it doesn't affect your life, why bother?

    December 8, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.