By: Jojo Ruba
Many Canadians and other loyal subjects of the British Commonwealth are celebrating the birth of the newest royal family member this week. Even before he was born, the royal baby boy had already been stalked by international media, tweeted worldwide and had a Facebook page (just under 7500 followers last time I checked). Millions care about every detail of his life.
It’s hard not to be a little jealous of the little tyke. Simply by inheriting his father’s DNA, he is entitled to wealth (the Royal Family’s net worth is about half a billion dollars, not including British property they use, like the crown jewels), fame and prestige. Oh and of course, as the son of Prince William, he is conceived and born to be the head of a commonwealth of billions of people.
What is lost in much of the hype about the baby is that little George is also going to be the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. It’s mostly a ceremonial role consisting of appointing high-ranking church members (who are actually chosen by the Archbishop of Canterbury and others) and showing up to official functions. Yet unlike his political position, which is just as symbolic, his church leadership is mostly ignored by the public.
This has a lot to do with several factors, the least of which is the general spiritual situation in commonwealth nations. Studies consistently show how the once national church has lost much of its influence. According to one study, from 1968 to 1999, church attendance dropped from 3.5% of the British population to 1.9%. Another report suggested that Sunday attendance could reach just 350 000 regular attendants by 2030 and 87 800 by 2050.
The same trend is happening in Canada. According to a report released by the Anglican Church’s House of Bishops, between 1961 and 2001, Anglican adherents dropped 53 percent, from 1.36 million Canadians to 642,000, a loss of 13,000 members each year. And these adherents aren’t just joining other churches. Church attendance across almost all Christian denominations is dropping.
According to a study done for The Huffington Post Canada, 51 per cent of Canadian respondents said they never attend a religious institution. Just 12 per cent said they attend weekly, with attendance highest among youth in central Canada (23 per cent) and lowest in Quebec (3 per cent). The Huffington article points out that this reflects what Statistics Canada found in 2005. In their study, they found that 33 per cent of Canadians aged 15 to 24 had never attended a religious institution, compared with 25 per cent in 1985.
But numbers only indicate the results of what most people in secular societies will already tell you: that spiritual considerations play little role in their lives. They’ve stopped coming to church because spiritual issues just don’t matter to them or aren’t as significant or entertaining. If they think about church in general, they don’t see it as providing reasonable answers that actually are relevant to them.
Theologian, Leslie Newbigin wrote that this modern indifference to religion is explained by how faith has become privatized. He explains that the “public world is the world of facts upon which every intelligent person is expected to agree—or to be capable of being persuaded.” In contrast, the private world is where “we are free to follow our own preference regarding personal conduct and lifestyle, provided it does not prevent others from having the same freedom.”
The problem, according to Newbigin, is that Christianity is not a private faith. It isn’t simply talking about truths for its adherents but instead explains a coherent view of how the world actually works. It very much claims a public voice. When we privatize the faith, he says, we deny a confused and distracted world our only real hope. “And yet the claim, the awesome claim of Jesus Christ to be alone the Lord of all the world, the light that alone shows the whole of reality as it really is, the life that alone endures forever—this claim is effectively silenced. It remains, for our culture, just one of the varieties of religious experiences.” A personal spiritual smorgasbord never to be mixed with public life.
Newbigin is not advocating for a form of Christian theocracy of course. Rather what he’s saying is that if the Christian message is true, then the sovereign ruler of the universe actually arrived in human history. He taught that we are privileged to inherit his likeness right in our own spiritual DNA and that even before we were born He cared about every detail of our lives. He came to tell humanity that we can be royalty and inherit an eternal kingdom far more valuable than any prince can have here on earth.
Relegating those truths to mere personal preference becomes just as tragic as sending the new royal baby to be raised by wolves or as an orphan in a war-torn country. He was not meant for that life just as we aren’t meant to be anything but God’s beloved children. Yet that is exactly the tragedy our culture chooses when we privatize the faith and subsequently choose to be distracted from our churches. We are severely undermining, if not outright rejecting the royal life that we are entitled to.
I wish George and his parents well. I’ll certainly be praying that they provide wise and godly leadership in the many roles they have. But I can’t help echo the words of Michael Reeves from the Theology Network, “To be the child of some rich king would be nice; but to be the beloved of the emperor of the universe is beyond words.”
 Robin Gill, The Empty Church Revisited, (Ashgate Publishing, 2003) page 161.
 Christian Research, Religious Trends(2008), cited in Ruth Gledhill, “Churchgoing on its knees as Christianity falls out of favour”, The Times, 8 May 2008.
 Leslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture, 1986, p19.