Like most of the world this month, trapped in my house, caught between winter, spring, and the confusion of a global pandemic, I dove into the delicious drama of British royal life. I don’t normally pay attention to The Royal Family but an exclusive tell all interview with Oprah Winfrey was just too hard to pass up.
I don’t intend to comment much on the interview itself. But there was one moment in particular that shocked me. It also shocked Oprah. It was the moment where Harry Windsor, Duke of Sussex, son to the future King of England, explained that as a member of the ruling family of the United Kingdom, he felt completely and utterly trapped.
Oprah stared at him, mouth agape, before asking him to repeat himself. Because how?
How can one of the most powerful people on earth say that they are trapped? He has resources beyond imagining. Surely he is just ignorant. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be a regular person with a minimum wage job, a broken car, debts, and medical expenses. Right?
But actually, that’s not the case. I was incredulous at first, but the more I thought about it, I realized that Harry is trapped. His whole family belongs to “The Firm.” The institution of The Royal Family. Because the power The Royal Family has only happens as a result of the construction of an institution.
And as long as people perpetuate the belief in the institution, it maintains its power.
Interestingly, the King or Queen of England is the leader of another institution: the Church of England (shout out to The Crown for that little nugget of knowledge). Why is the Queen in charge of the Church of England? If you remember from History class, the Church of England wanted to split away from the Institutions of the Papacy and Catholicism in Rome when King Henry VIII wanted a divorce without getting excommunicated (See English Reformation on Wikipedia). The English Reformation also came around the time of the Protestant Reformation, where much of Modern Western Christianity draws its roots.
You can see the pattern that emerges: people groups escaping from an institution in which they feel trapped, only to create a new institution in which people feel trapped. This is because Institutions enhance power, but it comes at a terrible cost. Look no further than the current Institutions of American Christianity and you see examples like Ravi Zacharias, Ted Haggard, John Ortberg, Bill Hybels, and more.
Institutions perpetuate worldly power dynamics, and their effects are devastating. It is no coincidence that the message of Jesus was in direct opposition to these systems. “Give to everyone who asks,” (Luke 6:30), “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul,” (Mark 8:36), “For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these,” (Matthew 19:14) just to name a few. From this perspective, you can see that Jesus knew what was going to happen, how the world might subvert his message. So he reiterated over and over again that his Kingdom was not an institution of power, but rather it belonged to lepers, children, the poor, and the marginalized.
He was deliberate in creating small familial communities focused on openness, sharing, and processing needs and social issues as a community. These groups were in constant movement, impossible to pin down, and unstructured. The religious and political leaders rightly recognized this way of life as a threat to their worldly power dynamics, their institutions, and killed him for it.
However, institutions fade as worldly powers shift. Right now we are on the precipice, seeing this old way and knowing that it is broken. Like Prince Harry, seeing the brokenness in his own Royal Family, mourning it and moving into a new way.
We can shear the withered branches and grow in a new direction, away from power and patriarchy and toward equity and freedom.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, our family has rediscovered the power of these small communal gatherings. There was no more “big church,” instead we had one or two families in our Covid bubble. The result was deeper and more meaningful relationships, more diversity and less leadership structure.
There was better food and more laughing. No one was ever bored and no one’s needs were overlooked. It felt more real than “church.” Because it was more real. Because there was no institution that tried to structure our thought patterns and belief system.
It was just people loving each other.