Reflecting on Queen Elizabeth II’s Death as Africans

This entire article is written by Hans Ngala and was originally posted on TGC Arica.

Queen Elizabeth II died on the 8th of September, at her private castle in Balmoral, Scotland, aged 96. Her son, Prince Charles, has now been announced as her successor, choosing the regnal name King Charles III. The death of Queen Elizabeth—the longest serving monarch in modern British history—has shaken the world like few other events have in the last decade. But how should African Christians react to the news?

Tributes from Around the World

Condolences and tributes poured in from Western leaders including US president Joe Biden, who described Queen Elizabeth as one who “defined an era” and called her much “more than a monarch”. He said, “Today, the thoughts and prayers of people all across the United States are with the people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth in their grief.” U.N. Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, also acknowledged her as the United Kingdom’s “longest-lived” and “longest-reigning Head of State.”

These tributes were far from unique. Most leaders from around the Western world took the opportunity to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth.

How Have African Leaders Reacted?

Africans, on the other hand, have expressed mixed sentiments. After all, the Queen’s country colonised swathes of Africa for centuries.

Several African leaders paid tributes to her. For example, Moussa Faki Mahamat, President of the African Union Commission, sent “deepest condolences…to the Royal family and the people of the United Kingdom and the countries of the Commonwealth.”

Simultaneously, others took a more critical view, highlighting Britain’s colonial actions and its terrible legacy. Though Queen Elizabeth wasn’t personally responsible for colonising Africa, many deem her office responsible for the slavery that enriched the British empire. One such example was Nigerian-born professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Uju Anya. She went as far as saying that she wished the queen an “excruciating death.”

A similar sentiment was expressed by South Africa’s controversial opposition leader, Julius Malema and his Economic Freedom Fighters (the EFF party). He stated that the Queen was “head of an institution built up, sustained and living off a brutal legacy of dehumanisation of millions of people across the world.”

The Queen remains a polarising figure and loyalty to the British crown has recently plummeted, not just in Africa. Barbados removed the Queen as their head of state in November 2021. Her death has brought up discussions about reparations and demands for a formal apology for the slavery that enriched Britain.

How Should We Respond to Queen Elizabeth II’s Death?

Slavery and colonialism are core issues. In many ways they have defined Africa, not only because of their duration but also because of the human toll they exacted on Africa. Though this is the backdrop for many Africans, we must ask what the Christian’s approach should be. Such an approach doesn’t deny what her empire stood for. Yet it is still appropriate to mourn her.

Queen Elizabeth wasn’t necessarilya personal “enemy” of the African people. But given the animosity that many still feel towards her, even in death, Jesus’ admonition to love and pray for our enemies applies (Matthew 5:44). Furthermore, African Christians should remember that we share a common faith with her, a practising Anglican. She herself once said, “For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.”

Whether we see her as an enemy of our continent or a fellow believer, our response as Christians is the same.

Three Responses

1. Never Rejoice over Death

Christians should never rejoice in the face of calamity or death. “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the LORD see it, and it displease him” (Proverbs 24:17-18). God himself mourns death: “As surely as I live, says the sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?” (Ezekiel 33:11). God’s desire is that no one should perish but all should come to the saving knowledge of Christ.

2. Desire Reconciliation

African Christians must pray for reconciliation. This doesn’t mean pretending colonialism didn’t happen. Nor does it make light of slavery and its devastating legacy in Africa. Across the former British empire, countless people suffered and died. Yet God exhorts us to pursue peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). By doing so we express Christian love and imitate Christ. We have the opportunity to be shining lights, in a hate-filled world.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa during the 1990s fleshed out a Christian response to the evils of Apartheid. This is an example of how the sins and evils of colonialism and slavery could be dealt with. In the book of Amos, God unpacks the sins of evil empires, exposing them, even those of Israel.

3. Pray for forgiveness

Finally, we should pray that there would be forgiveness and healing in the hearts of former British colonies, where animosity is the most natural feeling. Where it’s very justifiable to hate the crown. In our prayers we must ask God to work both in our hearts and in those people that still suffer the effects of colonialism and slavery. Whether any kind of restitution is offered, Christ calls each of us to forgive Britain for even the most painful parts of its rule.

We Will All Face God’s Judgment

Queen Elizabeth II’s death is a monumental event. It’s also a reminder of our own mortality. For all of us are “destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Regardless of how much status, power, and wealth we possess, it would all mean nothing if we didn’t live for Christ (Mark 8:36). Though imperfect, this appears to be how the Queen lived, with a modest faith despite her monarchial might. So who among us is without sin? Who dares pick up the first stone?

Franklin Graham acknowledged the Queen as “a true friend of the Christian faith.” In spite of her enormous wealth and power, she nevertheless acknowledged a king far greater than she was—or could ever be. He is our king too. What matters in the end is whether our God can say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

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