Turning Down An Honour From The Queen

(No, not me: not much chance of that.)
After much resistance, the Cabinet Office has published a list of those who declined awards in either the Birthday Honours or the New Year’s Honours Lists between 1951 and 1999, and who are now dead. It’s not necessarily the usual suspects. Alongside John Lennon‘s famous returning of his MBE and the author J G Ballard who called the honours system a ‘preposterous charade’ are people like Eleanor Farjeon, author of ‘Morning has broken’ and C S Lewis.

What are the pros and cons of an honours system? Politically, presumably any nation wants to celebrate those who have made a significant contribution to that society, but certain questions arise about its current practice. Who is worthy of an honour? Do entertainers and sporting stars rank more highly than someone who has given quiet and dedicated service in a village for decades? (You should meet our children’s lollipop lady.) And is it really fitting still to have honours that take their name from the British Empire? Then there is the royalty question, but while we still have a constitutional monarch as the head of state, that’s not surprising.

From a Christian perspective, there are also questions. Is it right to accept an honour and be associated with (tainted by?) the powers that be? On the other hand, is it an opportunity for witness, and if so, how do we ensure the glory goes to God, not the recipient of the honour? How does it fit eschatologically, when Jesus refers to those who will be rewarded in the age to come and those who have had their reward already?

What do you think?


  1. Two verses from God’s Word spring to mind.

    (1) And Jesus grew in favour both with God and man.
    (2) the Father which sees you in secret shall reward you openly.

    I think we have to aware of false humility – God can exalt. God can bless. As long as we always acknowledge God as our source and accept the truth of his word over our life we can never walk in false humility.

    I think to about Joesph, Esther and Daniel whom God exalted.

    I think also of Paul who counted his status and social standing as dung in light of the knowledge of Christ.

    I think of Saul who had mens honour but lost the annointing of God.

    Persue Christ and him alone. He can exalt. He can pull down.


  2. The Uniting Church in NSW publishes in its monthly magazine the names of church members (and hierarchy) who receive Honours on Australia Day and Queens Birthday.
    The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Diocese (Peter Jensen) lives in a mansion valued at $A15 million, owned by the Diocese.
    The Archbishop of Canterbury welcomes royal persons to a royal wedding and shakes their hands and then conducts the wedding ceremony. Not sure about the plebs though.
    And do not start me on the Catholic Church!

    I hardly think churches (and I’m a member of an Anglican congregation) condoning/silently accepting this sort of behaviour have a right to ‘preach’ in the public square about humility and not accepting honours from the ‘powers that be’. In reading the Sydney Morning Herald’s list of people recognised for various contributions to society there were a number of ‘religious’ people included, who presumably accepted their awards.

    I don’t think it is grandstanding for people who have worked quietly for many years in their voluntary work to be recognised. I would be surprised if many of them would have thought at the commencement of their commitment to helping others “Gee, I might get some sort of award to put on my wall out of this”. If the award is accepted with a recognition it is for the ‘act’ not the ‘person’ then I think there are more pressing concerns for the church to worry about.


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