Is it wise for the Christianity of the Coronation to be so diluted in the name of diversity?

It is now almost 30 years since the then Prince Charles caused a real firestorm by indicating that as king he wanted to see a fundamental shift in the relationship between Church and Crown.

In a famous television interview, he suggested that he would rather drop the long-standing “Defender of the Faith” title that, as head of the Church of England, has been held by all monarchs since Henry VIII.

Instead, mindful of the multi-religious nation that the United Kingdom was already becoming, he would prefer to be known as ‘Defender of Faith’ – a protector of all religious beliefs.

Understandably, many religious pundits were alarmed by his modernization plans, warning that they would put him inexorably at odds with centuries of tradition, with the establishment, and with his own mother’s beliefs.

Since his 1994 interview, Charles has withdrawn his ‘Defender of Faith’ ambitions – instead making it clear that although he was head of the Anglican Church, he would still act to protect other beliefs.

Nearly 30 years ago, the then Prince Charles caused a storm by signaling that as king he would like a fundamental shift in the relationship between church and crown.

It is a testament to his sincere desire to encourage religious harmony that barely four weeks before his coronation ceremony, he is still struggling with how to ensure that his new role is consistent with the many non-Christian religions in his realm.

But Charles, not only our King but also titled Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, must ask himself a simple but profound question.

Is it wise to water down the Christianity of the coronation – an ancient ceremony that dates back more than 1,000 years – to include other religions in the name of diversity?

His natural and generous instinct is to actively involve them in the May 6 coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

As he said in his TV interview thirty years ago, “I happen to believe that the Sovereign’s Catholic subjects are as important (as Protestants), not to mention the Muslim, Hindu, and Zoroastrian.”

Of course, during the never-before-televised Accession Council and Proclamation last September, he was indeed formally announced as a Defender of the Faith.

A week after that, however, the new king made his own mark on interfaith dialogue when he told faith leaders in a Buckingham Palace that he was “a committed Anglican” but that he had “a personal duty to protect the diversity of our society.” land’ and ‘protect space for faith itself’.

However, a friendly speech in the palace is one thing.

Instead, mindful of our multi-religious nation, he would prefer to be known as

Instead, mindful of our multi-religious nation, he would prefer to be known as “Defender of Faith” – a protector of all religious beliefs. Pictured: King Charles III sits on the floor in the prayer hall during his visit to the newly built Guru Nanak Gurdwara, Luton

Trying to express those feelings in the context of an Anglican coronation service is another thing.

The problem is that Charles wants to modernize, but tradition also matters.

You can’t just turn the coronation service upside down at the whim of a king, even if he is Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

Anglican canon law effectively precludes representatives of other religions from being actively involved in Church of England services if those religions do not accept the holy trinity of Christian doctrine – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

People will point to other occasions where other religions have been involved in Christian services.

For example, at Llandaff Cathedral, in Cardiff, during a service of remembrance following the death of Elizabeth II, and attended by Charles and Camilla, a Muslim representative offered the prayer:

‘We hold before you, our most merciful King Charles the Third.

“May your wisdom enlighten him, your enlightenment guide his heart, and your truth inspire his words and deeds.

“May he serve in righteousness and truth, do justice.

But the cathedral is part of the Church in Wales, not the Church of England.

Moreover, even that innocent prayer would be anathema to those who wish to uphold the thirty-nine articles of the CofE, which declare that salvation comes through Jesus alone.

So what about the annual Commonwealth Day services held at Westminster Abbey, you may ask?

They have been leisurely affairs, involving different religions, as the abbey is a royal property, directly responsible to the Sovereign.

But for a coronation, the abbey falls under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury, not the Dean.

And with Justin Welby’s every step now being scrutinized by his hard-line, traditional critics in the global Anglican Communion, it’s unlikely the archbishop will warm to moves to make the coronation a multifaith extravaganza rather than a religious service representing the Church of England as an established church.

These serious tensions between modernization and tradition explain why the coronation order of service has still not been made public, with so little time to go.

But even if the non-Christian representatives of the faith do no more than process – as they did at the late Queen’s funeral – or hold candles, the King can take comfort in the undoubtedly diverse congregation, with so many places for representatives of charities connected to the Royal house.

And the politicians in attendance, such as the new SNP leader, Humza Yousaf, a Muslim, and the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, a Hindu, will represent just how different a country Britain is from the last coronation in 1953.

It is speculated that the king will hold a separate, separate ceremony where other faith leaders would take an active role, which would be perfectly appropriate.

What is extraordinary, however, is that this debate over the coronation service itself was pushed to its limits when its planning began more than 10 years ago.

Memo to Lambeth Palace and Buckingham Palace: Start thinking about the next one now.

It’s perfectly reasonable to want a service that reflects contemporary Britain, but don’t be tempted to turn our monarch’s coronation upside down and inside out just like that.

This is an occasion where even the most secular people can be moved by sacred liturgy, beautiful music and fantastic ceremonies.

It happened with the funeral of the late queen.

The tradition must be continued.

Catherine Pepinster is the author of Defenders Of The Faith – The British Monarchy, Religion And The Next Coronation, and is a former editor of the Catholic magazine The Tablet.