Don’t worry, I’m not about to get into a debate or discussion about the details of Prince Harry’s book. I’ve chosen not to buy or read the book. The little I’ve heard in press commentary has put me off. It doesn’t sound like something I’ll find helpful and I suspect that will be true for most of us.
However, the title of the book fascinates me. It comes from the idea that with the monarchy being hereditary, there was a need to protect the line of descent should a King or Queen die or abdicate without an heir of their own being in place. The second child becomes the heir. So, George VI was in fact “the Spare” who stepped in when Edward VIII abdicated.
With that one exception, it seems that “Spares” in modern times haven’t faired so well. Princess Margaret battled her demons, of Prince Andrew, the less said the better and now we have Harry. In fact, despite the book title, Harry never really became “The Spare.” Because he has never been second in line to the throne, this would only have happened should Prince Charles had come to the throne before William and Kate had children. Now that William is heir, there is a clear line of succession through George.
In fact, there is something true of Margaret, Andrew and Harry, there has not been a serious prospect for any period of time that any of them would come to the throne. It’s not just that they are/were “Spare” it’s that they were in effect, to use an equally horrible term “surplus to requirements”. As potential successors to the King, they are redundant.
Now, whatever we may think about the rights and wrongs of Harry’s book and whatever we think of monarchy, I’m sure most of us could muscle up some sympathy for him. It is hard to understand the kind of world where you are part of an extended family where there are private relationships but also a public and official role. It must be hard as that family/institution extends to carve out your own identity and role and then being aware that this can change at any point. You go from being one of the star attractions, the main players to the bit part role of a “minor royal.”
Here’s the thing. I’ve had the experience of being made redundant, of in effect being surplus to requirements. It’s an unpleasant and horrible experience but the language of “spare”, “redundant”, “surplus to requirements” should have no place in a family. It is destructive, horrible, dehumanising language.
This may of course beg questions about how the monarchy functions. Some people may even see it as one of the reasons why they would prefer to see the monarchy replaced. I also don’t intend to get into that debate today. However, what I wanted to alert us to is that this kind of thinking should have no place in the church. Whilst I doubt we’d ever use the language, I wonder if we can sometimes treat people as if they are the spares, on stand by for if needed. I suspect too that we can treat others as redundant and surplus to requirements. This should not be so because it goes against the Gospel. Kristi Mair has written this beautiful twitter thread which is worth a read through.
Her conclusion is that there are no Spares in God’s family. Christ is of course the only begotten son, the firstborn, the heir. However, as the eternal son, he needs no “just in case” spare. Instead, get this, we are including in him so that in Christ we become co-heirs. That’s incredible. Let’s make sure that this Gospel truth we believe is reflected in our language and culture.