A couple of weeks ago, I saw the trailer for a new show called The First Lady. It tells the stories of three women who were married to American Presidents, in three different historical eras. I thought it looked promising, though I also quickly concluded that this show is essentially just The Crown -- but American. As in, the main theme of the show seems to be the private struggle that each of these women must endure as they confront the often-suffocating expectations of their public roles. And it is a struggle for them to maintain their own authentic identity, even while their sense of duty compels them to play the part that they are expected to play. That is more or less the same theme as The Crown, which tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II, throughout the many different historical eras of her reign.
But there is one key difference between a politician’s spouse and a monarch. The spouse of a politician will have countless moments where they must choose to continue supporting their partner’s quest for political office, while a monarch is literally born into their role. Granted, a monarch could choose to abdicate, but that is really the only option they have, and it is an extreme one. But the spouses of politicians had to continually strive to get where they are. Indeed, at one point in the trailer for The First Lady, President Gerald Ford, played by Aaron Eckhart, sneeringly tells his wife Betty Ford, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, that “you knew what you were getting into”.
There is a similar dynamic with regards to faith. For a long time in Western society, people were simply born into the Christian Church, or into some other religious tradition. They could always choose to renounce the faith they had been born into, but that was viewed as a fairly extreme option. And while that pattern has not completely died out, it is becoming more and more common, and expected even, for people to make their own choices about the religious identity they construct for themselves.
This change isn’t necessarily good, since it embraces the hyper-individualism that is perhaps the least laudable aspect of modern Western society. But at least those people who have chosen to be Christians, or to be something else, will be aware of all the countless moments where they could have chosen something different, but they chose to be what they are. So when the life of faith gets hard, those believers will likely prove to be more resilient than previous generations were, since they will have always known what they were getting into. And that resilience is what will help keep the Church strong, even as fewer people are born into it.