It’s hard to think of anyone else in public life who, over the years, has endured as much criticism and disdain as the new Queen Camilla. And yet she has never struck back.
Following the death of Diana in the 1990s, she was famously dubbed “the most hated woman in Britain” by the press. Much more recently she was accused by Prince Harry of leaking private stories to reporters.
But her response in every case is not to respond. She chooses to not say anything.
Why was she the most hated woman in Britain?
Remember the infamous “three people in this marriage” interview with the much-loved Princess Diana? It made Camilla an easy target for our press. In fact, she ended up with cameras and reporters besieging her house night and day for years, and with no royal protection squad to fend them off.
That BBC interview sealed Camilla’s reputation as villain and marriage wrecker. In fact, as we now know, Charles and Diana’s marriage was headed for disaster the moment that Charles was refused permission to marry Camilla. Of course, Camilla bears some responsibility, but, since then, what is remarkable is the way she has redeemed her reputation from being “the other woman”. Both in the past and more recently. She could have made counter-accusations, she could have fallen into self-pity, she could have lashed out. But she consistently chose not to.
Today she is becoming known for her charitable works, including empowering women who have suffered sexual or domestic abuse, and in particular, her efforts to increase literacy among Britain’s children. Her attitude to the trials and hardship summarised by her friends is “don’t make a thing of it — it will settle down”.
All quite different to the approach of Harry and Meghan. They wish to retain their privacy while at the same time making headline-grabbing accusations about the royal family, some of them about Camilla. None of us know the truth of these accusations. They may be true or false or (probably) somewhere in between. We’re not talking here about accusations, made over many years, but how Camilla has responded.
And her response – along with the late Queen Elizabeth, King Charles and Prince William — is a powerful illustration of turning the other cheek.
What does it mean to “turn the other cheek”?
Jesus often made paradoxical comments that surprised people and still do today. They make us think harder than if he stated a plain truth.
In Matthew 5, he makes a series of extraordinary statements including this:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”
On the face of it, this sounds like an instruction to make yourself into a doormat – let people take advantage of you, But that misses out the core of Jesus’ teaching — which arises from the nuances of his culture.
For example, a Roman solider could legally demand that a citizen carry his pack a mile –you had to comply. But no further, that was the limit of the law. Imagine then the soldier’s confusion if a citizen insisted on carrying his pack two miles. It breaks protocol, it turns the tables.
Similarly, causing someone who owed you money to appear naked by taking their coat and shirt (most likely all they had on) was taboo. There were laws to protect the poor from losing everything they had. If you caused any kind of nakedness you were regarded as the aggressor. It exposed the injustice of the situation for all to see.
So, turn the other cheek, is not a call to weakness, to do nothing. It’s a command to not respond in kind, to find another way. Not flight, not fight, but a third way. Through history this third way has been proven. Gandhi, in formulating his militant campaign of non-violent resistance against British rule in India, quoted these same words of Jesus.
Turn the other cheek, is not a call to weakness. It’s a command to not respond in kind, to find another way
Paul echoes this counter-cultural idea in Romans 12 where he tells us to not repay evil with evil, but to overcome evil with good. “Heap hot coals on your enemy’s head”, says Paul, in doing so they will burn with shame.
Done well, turning the other cheek is a powerful response.
How will we view Camilla?
Camilla has certainly made mistakes in the past, as we all have. And we don’t know what Camilla believes when it comes to faith. She may be a Catholic Christian according to some sources, but she may not.
But, according to our Gospel, we are not defined by our mistakes. It’s what we do afterwards that counts. And, over the past years she, along with other members of the family, has demonstrated that the best response to a smearing attack on your character is to say nothing – let the public make up their own minds.
Turning the cheek takes strength and resolve. It’s so easy to do the opposite, especially in a world where the knee-jerk, instant response is normal. And it seems to be doing her standing a lot of good. Maybe Camilla can never be the Queen of Hearts that people imagined Diana would be. But she has gained respect and admiration. She has shown there is strength in restraint, power in silence.
And it’s a reminder for us. Sometimes, the most potent and Christ-like response we can make is to not respond.