Monday, September 15, 2014

21 bishops now demand aid and asylum for Iraqi Christians


It is, sadly, now too late to save Mosul. But there is a further letter in today's Times demanding Government action to aid or offer asylum to the persecuted, suffering and displaced Christians of Iraq:
Christian ‘exodus’

Sir, We urge the government to promote a co-ordinated approach towards the estimated 100,000 displaced Christians around northern Iraq/Kurdistan, many of whom have nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Their fate is now in the hands of outsiders after a forced exodus from areas they have inhabited since New Testament times. Western non-government organisations and churches are providing immediate aid, and the response by UNHCR, the Department for International Development and the British public has been substantial; however this level of aid cannot be sustained, and a longer-term solution is required.

Many of the displaced Christians and Yazidis have no confidence that a political or military solution will lead to their being able to survive back in their home territory. Many Christians are looking to find asylum in other countries. Australia, Canada, Sweden, Germany, France and others have proved remarkably generous but not, so far, the UK, despite it being a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and a member of the UN Council of Human Rights.
The letter is signed by 13 bishops, who, when added to those who have already called for Government action (still, shockingly, without any substantive response from either No10 or the FCO), brings us to 21. They now include:
Justin Welby, Canterbury
John Sentamu, York
Nick Baines, Leeds
David Walker, Manchester
John Inge, Worcester
Mark Rylands, Shrewsbury
Jonathan Gledhill, Lichfield
Geoff Annas, Stafford
Clive Gregory, Wolverhampton
Jonathan Clark, Croydon
Pete Broadbent, Willesden
Graham Usher, Dudley
Steven Croft, Sheffield
John Pritchard, Oxford
Donald Allister, Peterborough
Andrew Watson, Aston
Robert Innes, Gibraltar
Robert Patterson, Sodor and the Isle of Man
Andrew Proud, Reading
James Langstaff, Rochester
Colin Fletcher, Dorchester
Ordinaries and others include:
John Hall, Dean of Westminster
Still not quite equalling the number of bishops who complained about the existence of food-banks, but we're getting there..

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ian Paisley – the Last Great Protestant – is dead


The Rt Hon Rev'd Dr Ian Paisley, the Lord Bannside, has died and passed into Glory. Whatever you may have thought about him - however he may have inspired or irked, attracted or repelled,  appealed or disgusted; encouraged or disappointed - Ian Paisley was undeniably one of the towering religio-political giants of the modern era. To those who appreciated, respected and loved, he was an inspiration; a shield and defender; a prophet after the fashion of Jeremiah; a fire-and-brimstone preacher whose task it was to expose the vipers in our midst, curse ecclesiastical error, rail at whited sepulchres, and faithfully assist the Lord in dividing the goats of damnation from the sheep of eternal salvation: “Make way in the Lagan Valley a highway for our Protestant Queen!”

Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, Foxe, Knox, Wesley, Whitefield, Spurgeon... Paisley. He would balk at the proposition, but it is no exaggeration to say that he now takes his place in a long line of Protestant Greats.

Ian Richard Kyle Paisley was born into a Baptist manse and steeped in Unionist politics. He was educated at the South Wales Bible College, the Reformed Presbyterian Theological College in Belfast, and Bob Jones University in South Carolina, where he earned his doctorate. Disillusioned with Ulster’s newspapers, churches and political parties, he founded one each of his own – The Protestant Telegraph, the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, and the Democratic Unionist Party, which were basically all one and the same. Such arrogance and hubris is usually a recipe for spiritual oblivion and political obscurity: for Ian Paisley, they led to him becoming an MP in Westminster, an MEP in Brussels, an MLA at Stormont, and First Minister of Northern Ireland.

Like Moses, he spent 40 years wandering in a wilderness of Anglo-Irish appeasement and Good-Friday obfuscation. But, unlike Moses, he lived to lead his people into the Promised Land of power-sharing and peace. And he did bestride Ulster like a colossus, Bible in one hand and ballot papers in the other. If you believe the British media, he was a much loathed and embittered bigot. If you bother to listen to reports of his name and accounts of his reputation in North Antrim, in the whole of Belfast, or even in the whole of Northern Ireland, you would hear people from both sides of the sectarian divide talk fondly of the "Big Man" as a loyal servant; a great soul of humility; a man of honour who had time for people; a pastoral disciple of the Lord who prayed, listened and cared. 

He also wrote dozens of books, preached thousands of sermons, (even about His Grace), and founded a European Institute for the understanding and propagation of Protestant Christianity. Imprisoned in 1966 for provoking a riot, in solitary confinement he wrote the highly-regarded Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans. The scope of his life is epic; indeed, it is the stuff of Hollywood (and ought to be). In a nebulous age of ubiquitous relativism, there simply aren’t any politicians left who have risen to the most senior echelons of power without compromising their Christian beliefs.

And Ian Paisley was a "No Surrender" Protestant Christian, of that you could be in no doubt. So Protestant, indeed, that he would dare to display in the chamber of the European Parliament banners denouncing Pope John-Paul II as the Anti-Christ. In his final speech there, he called the institution "the new Tower of Babel". For him, priestcraft, superstition and papalism were synonymous with corruption, deception and desecration. This was his historical theological conviction: it was also his political motivation in the preservation of liberty, justice and truth.

Some, of course, would call it bigotry. But it is a strange kind of bigotry which will sit down with a terrorist, a sworn religio-political opponent, even a mortal enemy, and work in partnership for peace. When Martin McGuinness became Ian Paisley’s deputy following the St Andrews Agreement, something happened not only politically, but spiritually. The transformation was astonishing; some might say miraculous. Here was the "No Compromise" Ian Paisley of the Protestant DUP not only sharing power with Adams and McGuinness and Nationalist Sinn Féin, but the "Chuckle Brothers" were even praying together.

In failing health, Dr Paisley stood down as First Minister after just one year; he resigned as leader of the DUP after 37 years; and preached his final sermon as Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church after a colossal 65 years. Some 3,000 gathered for the occasion, and they came from the four corners of the Province. Dr Paisley was made a life peer in Gordon Brown’s Dissolution Honours List, taking the title Lord Bannside. In retirement, he had embarked upon his memoirs.

When His Grace met with him last year, there were requests for papers and DVDs which only His Grace possesses. Dr Paisley had publicly announced that he would be "telling some stories that will make some people laugh and others blush". It is a cause of great regret that these may now never be told. His Grace so much wanted to know which "well-known Roman Catholic priest" asked the IRA to assassinate Dr Paisley; which British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland wanted troops withdrawn well before the Troubles were ended; and which member of the Irish Cabinet thought that "had the Brighton bomb succeeded, it would have been better than 1916".

But these matters are now as nothing: they are dirty rags before the Throne of Christ. His Grace’s thoughts and prayers are with Baroness Paisley, and also with Sharon, Rhonda, Cherith, Kyle and Ian Jnr, to whom he sends his sincere condolences.
Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Rest In Peace, Ian.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

God bless America: Obama pledges to "degrade, and ultimately destroy" Islamic State


13 years ago today..

We remember.

Almost in commemoration of the image of that apocalypse, President Obama has made the speech he really ought to have made two years ago. He denies it, of course, but US intervention in Syria and Iraq amounts to the continuation, extension and vindication of the 'War on Terror' begun by George W Bush. He denies it, of course, but by arming the moderates against Sunni militants, he is working with the Assad regime: "my enemy's enemy..", and all that. He denies it, of course, but the terrorist group known as ISIL/ISIS/Islamic State is a Muslim extremist group: they are Islamic, insofar as they adhere to a literalist Wahhabi/Salafist interpretation of the Qur'an, Sunnah and Hadith; and they are a state, insofar as they are carving out, occupying and controlling territory spanning about a third of the states previously known as Syria and Iraq. they don't particularly care whether or not they're recognised by the US, EU or UN. This Caliphate may have no state-like borders, but that's because they intend to go on expanding.

The Islamic State has conquered cities, towns, villages and hamlets, 'cleansing' them of heretics, infidels and apostates as they go. The have taken control of oil fields, military bases, airports and roads. If the disparate occupation of 35,000 square miles of desert doesn't conform to the (post-)modern definition of statehood, they will agitate, terrorise and resist until their Caliph is duly invited to The White House to negotiate land for peace. The Islamic State isn't just a disparate series of psychotic terror cells like al-Qaeda: they are more akin to the Taliban, having claimed and defined a distinct geographic area.

They call themselves Islamic; they call themselves a state. Their legitimacy comes direct from Allah, mediated by Mohammed. They will not negotiate over a nice cup of tea. They will not compromise their divine vocation. So, for the sake of peace, stability, justice, and the preservation of the region's Christians and other minorities, they must be eradicated. It is casus belli. God bless America. 

Here's the full text of the President's speech:
My fellow Americans – tonight, I want to speak to you about what the United States will do with our friends and allies to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.

As Commander-in-Chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people. Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country. We took out Osama bin Laden and much of al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’ve targeted al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, and recently eliminated the top commander of its affiliate in Somalia. We’ve done so while bringing more than 140,000 American troops home from Iraq, and drawing down our forces in Afghanistan, where our combat mission will end later this year. Thanks to our military and counter-terrorism professionals, America is safer.

Still, we continue to face a terrorist threat. We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today. That’s why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge. At this moment, the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain. And one of those groups is ISIL – which calls itself the “Islamic State.”

Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.

In a region that has known so much bloodshed, these terrorists are unique in their brutality. They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage. They threatened a religious minority with genocide. In acts of barbarism, they took the lives of two American journalists – Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff.

So ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East – including American citizens, personnel and facilities. If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region – including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners – including Europeans and some Americans – have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.

I know many Americans are concerned about these threats. Tonight, I want you to know that the United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve. Last month, I ordered our military to take targeted action against ISIL to stop its advances. Since then, we have conducted more than 150 successful airstrikes in Iraq. These strikes have protected American personnel and facilities, killed ISIL fighters, destroyed weapons, and given space for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim key territory. These strikes have helped save the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

But this is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region. That’s why I’ve insisted that additional U.S. action depended upon Iraqis forming an inclusive government, which they have now done in recent days. So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.

Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.

First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.

Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground. In June, I deployed several hundred American service members to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi Security Forces. Now that those teams have completed their work – and Iraq has formed a government – we will send an additional 475 service members to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission – we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. We will also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL control.

Across the border, in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. Tonight, I again call on Congress to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters. In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its people; a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost. Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.

Third, we will continue to draw on our substantial counter-terrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks. Working with our partners, we will redouble our efforts to cut off its funding; improve our intelligence; strengthen our defenses; counter its warped ideology; and stem the flow of foreign fighters into – and out of – the Middle East. And in two weeks, I will chair a meeting of the UN Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort.

Fourth, we will continue providing humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization. This includes Sunni and Shia Muslims who are at grave risk, as well as tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities. We cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homelands.

This is our strategy. And in each of these four parts of our strategy, America will be joined by a broad coalition of partners. Already, allies are flying planes with us over Iraq; sending arms and assistance to Iraqi Security Forces and the Syrian opposition; sharing intelligence; and providing billions of dollars in humanitarian aid. Secretary Kerry was in Iraq today meeting with the new government and supporting their efforts to promote unity, and in the coming days he will travel across the Middle East and Europe to enlist more partners in this fight, especially Arab nations who can help mobilize Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria to drive these terrorists from their lands. This is American leadership at its best: we stand with people who fight for their own freedom; and we rally other nations on behalf of our common security and common humanity.

My Administration has also secured bipartisan support for this approach here at home. I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL. But I believe we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together. So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.

Now, it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL. And any time we take military action, there are risks involved – especially to the servicemen and women who carry out these missions. But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years. And it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year: to use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order.

My fellow Americans, we live in a time of great change. Tomorrow marks 13 years since our country was attacked. Next week marks 6 years since our economy suffered its worst setback since the Great Depression. Yet despite these shocks; through the pain we have felt and the grueling work required to bounce back – America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth.

Our technology companies and universities are unmatched; our manufacturing and auto industries are thriving. Energy independence is closer than it’s been in decades. For all the work that remains, our businesses are in the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history. Despite all the divisions and discord within our democracy, I see the grit and determination and common goodness of the American people every single day – and that makes me more confident than ever about our country’s future.

Abroad, American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world. It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny. It is America – our scientists, our doctors, our know-how – that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola. It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so they cannot pose a threat to the Syrian people – or the world – again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, tolerance, and a more hopeful future.

America, our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden. But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead. From Europe to Asia – from the far reaches of Africa to war-torn capitals of the Middle East – we stand for freedom, for justice, for dignity. These are values that have guided our nation since its founding. Tonight, I ask for your support in carrying that leadership forward. I do so as a Commander-in-Chief who could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform – pilots who bravely fly in the face of danger above the Middle East, and service-members who support our partners on the ground.

When we helped prevent the massacre of civilians trapped on a distant mountain, here’s what one of them said. “We owe our American friends our lives. Our children will always remember that there was someone who felt our struggle and made a long journey to protect innocent people.”

That is the difference we make in the world. And our own safety – our own security – depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation, and uphold the values that we stand for – timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.

May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

If Scotland votes "Yes", it will be John Major's fault


"More than 20 years ago, I opposed devolution," writes Sir John Major in today's Times. "I did so not because I thought Scotland could not govern itself. Plainly it can. I did so because I believed devolution would be a high road to separation. So it has proved. The vote next week is about far more than the future of Scotland. It is about the future of every part of the United Kingdom."

And he goes on to talk about Labour's "deadly legacy", decrying their meddling with the political settlement and the constitutional dog's breakfast bequeathed. So, if Scotland votes next week to secede from the United Kingdom (which looks possible, if not likely), it will be Tony Blair's fault through New Labour's ignorance and delinquency.

Except that the separatist cause was given a significant boost in 1996 by the Conservatives, for it was John Major, egged on by Michael Forsyth, who suddenly announced apropos of nothing that the Stone of Destiny (aka the Stone of Scone; the Coronation Stone; Jacob's Pillow/Pillar) should be wrenched from the Throne of the United Kingdom and returned to Scotland. In his Commons Statement, Mr Major explained:
"The Stone of Destiny is the most ancient symbol of Scottish kingship. It was used in the coronation of Scottish Kings until the end of the 13th century. Exactly 700 years ago, in 1296, King Edward I brought it from Scotland and housed it in Westminster abbey. The stone remains the property of the Crown. I wish to inform the House that, on the advice of Her Majesty's Ministers, the Queen has agreed that the stone should be returned to Scotland. The stone will, of course, be taken to Westminster abbey to play its traditional role in the coronation ceremonies of future sovereigns of the United Kingdom.

"The Stone of Destiny holds a special place in the hearts of Scots. On this the 700th anniversary of its removal from Scotland, it is appropriate to return it to its historic homeland..."
In his response, Leader of the Opposition Tony Blair observed observed that the Stone "is part of Scottish nationhood". David Steel MP added that "it is the settled view of the majority of people in Scotland that they want not just the symbol, but the substance – the substance of the return of democratic control over our internal affairs in Scotland". But it was Margaret Ewing MP who hit the legendary nail squarely on the head:
"..the Stone of Destiny is not the symbol of kingship but the symbol of the sovereignty of the people of Scotland, which is enunciated through the declaration of Arbroath. Like others, I argue that, while we welcome the return of this symbol of power, we want the realities of power in Scotland. It may have taken this Parliament some 668 years since the treaty of Northampton to return stolen goods to Scotland, but in actuality the people of Scotland will return to themselves the power of having their own sovereign Parliament very soon."
It was a vacuous political gesture draped in the Royal Command, but it was clearly expressed that the Queen was acting "on the advice of (Her) Ministers". What they dismissed as mere symbolism was, for many, a portent of nationalist power, for legend decreed that the return of the Stone to Scotland would herald independence from the yoke of English oppression and tyranny (ie Edward II and Margaret Thatcher).

Stuff and nonsense, you say: mythical bluster; absolutely barking. Well, up to a point, maybe. But what secular-minded politicians tend to ignore are the spiritual, religious and theological foundations of the British Constitution, often treating them as anachronistic expressions of bigotry or of belonging to an age of unreason.

The Stone of Scone had resided in Westminster Abbey for 700 years, when Edward I gifted it to the shrine of Edward the Confessor. But the Prime Minister had not even bothered to consult the Dean and Chapter over his intentions: it was as though the Stone were nothing more than an historic artefact to be packed away and carted around like an Elgin Marble. The Dean, the Very Rev'd Michael Mayne, strained to explain to Mr Major that the Stone and Coronation Chair were a single integrity – the reliquary with the relic in it. And he asked what it said about the modern political view of monarchy that the Stone was to be housed not in a Scottish church, on consecrated ground, but in a castle museum; a secular space. But Mr Major had not even thought about this.

And so the Coronation Chair is empty of the historic throne upon which the kings and queens of Ireland, Scotland, England and the United Kingdom have long been crowned. Through political ignorance and religious indifference; through scheming subterfuge and sophistry, sovereignty has been removed; national independence compromised; the Protestant Faith diminished. As Margaret Thatcher observed: "If  you try to take the fruits of Christianity without its roots, the fruits will wither."

The Royal Warrant for the Stone's removal specifies that it should be returned for “all future Sovereigns of the United Kingdom… at their Coronation”. It is a sacred ceremony of religious anointing. But the next Sovereign may not reign over a United Kingdom – at least one that includes Scotland. We are assured that the Union of Crowns will continue – and, yes, it preceded the Union of Parliaments by a century. But it will be a shadow of its former religio-political significance. And for that we can blame, successively, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major (and Michael Forsyth).

Or, if it helps, you can blame Margaret Thatcher for delivering her 'Sermon on the Mound'.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Church Times bars Tory cricket umpire because his great-great grandfather was a bishop


Michael Claughton is a dedicated member (and, indeed, the current President) of Bethersden Cricket Club, near Ashford in Kent. He is, by all accounts, a fair, professional and gentlemanly umpire of 18 years experience, . He also happens to be Deputy Leader of Ashford Borough Council (Conservative) who believes in God.

He offered his services (gratis) to the Church Times which was organising a friendly cricket match between the Archbishop of Canterbury’s XI and the Vatican XI, to raise awareness of slavery across the world and raise funds for the Global Freedom Network. The match is scheduled to be played on the Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence, Canterbury - the home of Kent County Cricket Club - at 4pm on Friday 19th September. But, despite Mr Claughton's manifest qualifications and experience, he was informed by a very nice lady at the Church Times that he could not possibly umpire this match because his great-great grandfather was Bishop of Rochester and then of St Albans, and so he could not be "theologically neutral".

This must be the first example in modern times of religious discrimination by fault of ancestry. Thomas Legh Claughton was indeed an 19th-century Church of England bishop (and, incidentally, the son of Tory MP Thomas Claughton). But quite why this might render the great-great grandson anti-Catholic is something of a mystery. Setting aside the fact that the Church Times has effectively introduced a Test Act for umpiring (they clearly wish to employ an umpire who is neither Anglican nor Roman Catholic), what precisely do they mean by "theologically neutral"? 

Church Times managing editor Paul Handley said: "Kent County Cricket Club offered to find us umpires some months ago. We thought it would be a cheerful gesture, in the first-ever match between a side from the Vatican and the Church of England, to seek umpires from other denominations."

Does Mr Handley think Methodists may not be anti-Catholic? Or anti-Anglican, for that matter? Does he think being a Baptist is a guarantee of "theological neutrality"? What Christian denomination is "theologically neutral" in the ecclesiastical chasm that exists between the Church of Rome and the Church of England? Is Mr Handley barring all post-Reformation (and so 'anti-Catholic') expressions of Christianity, or would he accept a Nestorian umpire?           

Mr Claughton commented: “It sets a worrying precedent. Do they only want atheists? Where do you stop?”

Well, that's a good question. If Jezebel's Trumpet believes that all denominations between Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism may be "theologically neutral", they understand neither applied theology nor reified neutrality.

What theology liberates individuals from their inherited roles and unchosen ties? Which distinctive moral vision or conception of the good life may be neutral?

Theological neutrality is not a coherent concept: it is simply another expression of liberalism that the state now inclines to take in regard to the personal faith and beliefs of its citizens. It is evident, from the 18th century onwards, that the thinking of Locke has influenced the political, religious and social order, in particular his assertion that toleration and the rights of private conscience are themselves hallmarks of Christianity. Neutrality is one of the principal goals of the liberal state, principally because society has become increasingly plural, each competing faction having its own aims, interests, and conceptions of the good. Neutrality is proposed as the best arrangement in order to mitigate bias toward any particular conception of the good.

Theological neutrality does not exist any more than political or academic neutrality. It is simply not possible for man to perceive, understand or act independently of his particular worldview. There is an evident dilemma in seeking neutrality of effect because intrinsic to the pursuit of any policy is the likelihood that it will have a detrimental effect on at least one party to the manifest benefit of another. We may only be talking here about cricket umpiring, but by its decision to bar a man because his great-great grandfather happened to be an Anglican bishop, the Church Times is repudiating the traditional via media of the Church of England, which has long sought (and established) a "neutral" theological path between the competing extremes.

There are circumstances in which it is unfair to act neutrally, namely where there are not even prima facie reasons to be neutral. Theological neutrality is a conceptual impossibility because the condition of theology being neutral is unrealisable. What the theologically illiterate Church Times doesn't grasp is that a theory of neutrality is itself subject to a particular conception of the good which makes very specific demands of both church and cricket. There is no neutrality to be had because neutrality needs as much justification as any other position. If a state seeks to be neutral in the effect of its policies then it requires a greater level of state intervention to ensure that inequalities are negated. It also requires that the effect of all policies is balanced for all conceptions of the good. The alternative is that the government is neutral with regards to the justification of its actions, and this demands either the disestablishment of the Church of England or the establishment of the Mosque of England, along with the Gurdwara, Mandir, Vihara, and state recognition for the multiplicity of competing religions (including atheism) which are a feature of the fragmented postmodern context.

Faced with the absurdity of this "theologically neutral" scenario, the Church Times might prefer to admit the great-great grandson of the former Bishop of Rochester (and St Albans) to the cricket field. Or are they actually biased against a Conservative councillor who happens to be the great-great-great grandson of a Tory MP?

Whatever the reason for their anti-Anglican assertion of neutrality, it's just not cricket.

UPDATE (2.30pm):

His Grace has received a couple of missives from CT editor, Paul Handley. He writes:
Can I give your readers a bit of perspective? Some weeks ago, Kent County Cricket Ground suggested that they looked through their pool of umpires for a couple from another denomination. This seemed a cheerful, humorous suggestion, which we mentioned to Mr Claughton when he phoned last week. We didn’t talk about bias or anything like that to him, nor would we promote such a concept as ‘theological neutrality’, whatever that is.

There is all sorts of spin that could be put on this match, the first-ever, as far as we know, between the Vatican and an official Anglican side, but I have to admit that I didn’t see this one coming up on the leg side. (US readers might need a translation.) I’m happy to reassure your readers that this match is thoroughly good. It’s an exciting, novel way to express the closeness of the two communions – an antidote, if you like, to the serious, wordy, theological debate when everybody has to watch every phrase they use in case it’s misinterpreted by another party.

And it’s all for a good cause: the match is free (4 p.m. Friday 19 September, at the Kent ground in Canterbury: please come); a collection will be taken for the Global Freedom Network, the joint RC/Anglican anti-trafficking charity.

Paul Handley
Editor
Church Times
To which His Grace responded:
Dear Mr Handley,

His Grace is appreciative, and has done all he can to promote the worthiness of the ecumenical cricket match by highlighting the fixture and linking to Global Freedom Network.

But, respectfully, this adds no "perspective" to the matter beyond that already reported. Unless you are saying that Mr Claughton has misquoted / misremembered / misled those to whom he has recounted that a "nice lady" at the Church Times said (or even suggested) that the faith of his great-great grandfather was a reason he could not be "theologically neutral" in his umpiring.

It is not even clear (and apparently not reported) that Mr Claughton is himself a communicant of the Church of England. But even were he so, to discount his sporting neutrality on account of a perceived ecclesial bias is mind-boggling.

On the sunny side, this inter-church fixture has received a level of national publicity which would ordinarily cost £10,000s. All things work together for good..

Blessings,
++Cranmer
To which Mr Handley responded further:
Thanks for taking notice, and, as you point out, for advertising the match. What is not coming across is the tone of all this: it was a humorous suggestion that we went along with. Taken seriously, we’d have to examine the religious affiliation – and, let’s face it, the church attendance records, since who knows how sincere they were? – of several generations of every match official. We have a team working on it right now.

In point of fact, I heard a while ago that the umpiring is to be done by the head of umpires at Kent plus another of his choosing, and that no religious test was applied. But how dull, compared with the Telegraph story.

One thing was right: my colleague Rachel is a ‘nice lady’ – though sometimes the antics of the Anglican Communion push her towards unladylike expressions.

Paul Handley
editor
So, there you have it. Rachel is indeed a "nice lady", and that is an indisputable truth. But all of this "theologically neutral" stuff, if it were ever discussed or even implied at all, was "cheerful" and "humorous", to which Mr Handley bears witness, and to which Rachel will never again subscribe without deploying a covert recording device.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Eric Pickles: Jihad will be defeated by the "guiding principles of the English Reformation"


Since Sayeeda Warsi left the Government, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP has assumed direct responsibility for matters of faith. They were, of course, always under the aegis as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. But Baroness Warsi had a habit of inclining the narrative toward her own limited cultural understanding of Christianity and her aggressive assertion of "true Islam". One tired of her tendency to respond to critics with veiled allusions to 'Islamophobia'. She invariably mocked those who exposed the paucity of her theological understanding, and was seemingly more obsessed with Sharia finance than understanding the true nature if the religio-political war we are in.

Not so Eric Pickles, whose voice today in the Telegraph is really quite clear: "The fight against intolerance begins at home," he writes.

And he begins with a matter about which the Government has been irritatingly silent, despite prominent bishops (now a veritable psalter) having made their appeals for asylum:
This summer, we have seen Christians being systematically persecuted and murdered in the Middle East; anti-Semitic attacks and protests soaring in response to the Israeli government’s intervention in Gaza; institutionalised political correctness leading to appalling sexual abuse against children by Pakistani Muslims; and murders carried out by Isil terrorists who may have included Britons indoctrinated to preach evil at home and enact it abroad.
Thank you, Mr Pickles. You won't win "the ethnic vote" by singling out "Pakistani Muslims", but you do a great service to truth by not euphemistically shrouding the evil beneath "Asian" or "of Pakistani heritage". He continues:
The common theme is the politics of division and hate: attitudes and mantras that seek to divide rather than unite. Aggressive secularists would advocate the suppression of religion in the public sphere. Yet this would only perpetuate the message of intolerance towards others. Religion is the not the problem – political and religious extremism is.
The common theme? Well, here he becomes a little discursive, if not deflective. The common theme is indeed "the politics of division and hate: attitudes and mantras that seek to divide rather than unite", but we are not taking about the Elim Pentecostalists. The problem is "Islamism", which some call "political Islam", which rather too many call "true Islam". Religion is the problem when its precepts may exhort division and its founder inspire hate. It's not Moses we're talking about, or Jesus, or Buddha, or Krishna, or Guru Nanak. Religion that seeks peace, proclaims love and expresses compassion is true religion. But truth itself divides, and not all division stems from hate. But the Secretary of State is absolutely right that:
The best response is to champion the British values that define our country, many of which are founded in faith. At heart, we are a Christian nation – from the Established Church in England, to the language of the King James Bible, deeply woven into the fabric of our culture. But most important, we are a place of justice and tolerance towards others. Our defence of freedom, the rule of law and the evolution of our democracy have all grown from the seedbed of faith.
And he takes up the historic theme of the Bishop of Leeds:
This is why Britain has long been a safe haven for persecuted people. Whether French Protestants during the Wars of Religion in the 17th century, European Jews fleeing Nazism, or Bosnian Muslims following the break-up of Yugoslavia.
Expanding it to the evolution of religious liberty:
Our Christian values have helped us to identify and rectify our own prejudices and injustices: the 1689 Act of Toleration that protected nonconformists, the Catholic emancipation of the 19th century, or William Wilberforce’s tireless campaign against slavery. For centuries, these ideals have been the salt and light of the nation, illuminating our international reputation as a just and tolerant country.
For centuries, these ideals were indeed salt and light in the world. Sadly, that is no longer the case. This Government has long prioritised matters of sexuality over religious liberty, as though adherence to the will of the penis were preeminent over the freedoms of belief, religion and worship.
While government has an important role in defending religious liberties, responsibility also lies with us as individuals: the personal belief that discrimination and persecution is wrong and should not be tolerated.
But a government which conflates freedom of worship with freedom of religion is not one which can effectively defend religious liberties. The distinction was neatly summarised by Mats Tunehag, who observed: "Freedom of religion includes the right to have a faith, to manifest it and propagate for it, alone or together with others, also in the public arena. It also gives the right to change beliefs and religious affiliation. This is what democracies would adhere to. Freedom of worship is a definition practiced (sic) in countries influenced by Islam. You may be allowed to be a Christian, but you mustn’t take it into the public arena or share your faith with others. If you are a Muslim you are free to be a Muslim and display it publically (sic) but you can’t leave Islam."

A shift from ‘freedom of religion’ to ‘freedom of worship’ moves the narrative from being ‘in the world’ to the physical confines of a church, temple, synagogue or mosque. It is disconcerting that the new state orthodoxy of religion - for which David Cameron is as culpable as Tony Blair - is defined in terms of a Kantian notion of inviolable rights, as though the Platonic Forms and Aristotelian Virtues constitute no part of our syncretised conception of Christianity. Freedom of worship is meaningless for the Christian if it may not be performed in spirit and in truth; if it may not be the result of vibrant, living relationship with the Lord; if it may not sear the conscience daily on the life-long journey of faith. Mr Pickles continues:
Sadly, there is a worrying rise in the number of people who seem to think these ideals are optional. Take the thuggish invasions of several mosques following the murder of Lee Rigby by the modern-day blackshirts of “Britain First”. These were vile attacks not only against law-abiding Muslims who want to live in peace, but an attack on the freedom of religion of every citizen.
Some who frequent this blog would do well to consider this truth, for the occasional comment veers uncomfortably close to the very "cleansing" being meted out upon minorities by the Islamic State. His Grace would far rather fellowship with peaceable, law-abiding Muslims than any fascist assertion of liberty wrapped up in the façade of patriotism. If religious liberty means anything, it is the right to believe, live and worship as your god requires. This is guaranteed by the Anglican Settlement under the Supreme Governor who is Head of State. It is the English way. It has not always been so, but it has become so.
Those who commit hate crimes should be punished with the full force of the law. But private institutions and individuals must stand up and defend others’ liberties, too. In response to anti-Israeli yobs picketing the Holborn branch of Sainsbury’s, the branch manager cleared the shelves of Kosher food. Sainsbury’s corporate reaction was to apologise for the “inconvenience”. Yet this was clear anti-Semitism by the yobs and a lamentable response from Sainsbury’s.

Whatever one’s view about the politics of Israel and Gaza, everyone who believes in British liberty should stand up for the Jewish community’s right to practise their faith and go about their lives without fear. A cursory glance at European history shows the worst atrocities can begin with turning a blind eye to seemingly small acts of discrimination.
Hear, hear.
Freedom of speech and freedom of religion go hand in hand – but both should operate within the law. Britain has a broad and generous vision of citizenship. It is important that we all take responsibility for defending it. The first is by standing up to the overt and noisy bullies. Second is constant vigilance against the sly pedlars of hatred whose crude prejudices masquerade as religious piety. Jesus recognised this risk when he warned us to “watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” One of the foundations of the Church of England was its “via media” – or middle way between religious hotheads. These guiding principles of the English Reformation should help us as we grapple with the religious politics and tensions of the 21st century.
Read that carefully, and read it again and again. When over recent decades have you heard a senior politician - indeed, a member of the Cabinet- exhort the virtues of the Anglican via media or appeal to the guiding principles of the English Reformation? Indeed, when have your heard a bishop do so? If we cannot learn the lessons of the 16th century, we are indeed doomed to repeat them in the 21st.
It has been easy this summer to feel pessimistic about the consequences of violent events erupting across the world, and worry about them being echoed here. That’s why we must all rally and support our hard-fought British values – tolerance, freedom and the rule of law.

This can happen in many ways – from the Jewish and Muslim groups issuing an unprecedented joint statement last week condemning anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred, to the 77-year-old nun who got out a step ladder to take down the jihadi flag flying over her Tower Hamlets housing estate.

But government can only do so much. The state governs by consent, not coercion. Every law-abiding Briton across class, colour and creed needs to stand up for the liberties that continue to define our nation.
You may despise Eric Pickles' politics; you may doubt his integrity or question his motives. But you cannot fault his determination or boldness in the assertion of British values. With the departure of Michael Gove from the Cabinet, he alone grasps the evil of Islamism, and he alone comprehends the significance of the Christian foundations of our laws, liberties and customs. So, please don't censure of condemn harshly. Instead, if you find his grasp of the Faith inadequate, his theology flawed or his spirituality weak, correct him in love, encourage him and pray for him (Rom 14:1; 1Cor 3:2; 1Thess 5:14).

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Justin Welby on the "extreme religious ideology" of the Islamic State


Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The flaw in the Fatwa on the so-called Islamic State


This really is quite magnificent. To those who insist Muslims cannot or will not integrate with or conform to British values, customs and traditions, this fatwa (= religious opinion; not death sentence) constitutes a scholarly refutation, not least because it addresses directly the “poisonous ideology” of the Islamic State, and it does so theologically and quranically: there no Warsi-like knee-jerk repudiation that "these are not Muslims" or "this is not Islam". The "so-called 'Islamic State'" may be "heretical and extremist", but its heresy is inspired by the Qur'an and its extremism derives from the example of Mohammed. You may cavil over the reliability of historical sources or quibble over the extent of theological abrogation, but Mohammed was undoubtedly something of a warmonger and Allah does indeed command that unbelievers ought to be beheaded: "I shall cast into the unbelievers’ hearts terror; so smite above the necks, and smite every finger of them" (Qur'an 8:12).

For the theologian and historian, context is important - or ought to be. If we cannot discern what biblical scholars have long called a scripture's Sitz im Leben ("setting in life"), our theological exposition may be distorted by the lens of our own time and the imposition of our own deficient moral perspectives.

There is no doubt that Mohammed used what today would be termed "murder" and "terrorism" in order to propagate his beliefs and spread his ideology (Qur'an 8.17; 33.26; 8.67). He pillaged towns without warning, slaughtered unarmed men who had gone to the fields and markets on their daily business, captured their wives and children, and is said to have distributed the younger women among his soldiers while always keeping the prettiest ones for himself and having sex with them in the same day he murdered their fathers, husbands and loved ones. These are not fables and nor are they the bigoted musings of those who may be termed "Islamophobic": it is history as recorded in the Qur’an, Sunnah and Hadith. Ergo the problems of the so-called Islamic State may be seen to find their inspiration in the example of the so-called Prophet, who is considered the template for perfect manhood.

Of course, the vast majority of British Muslim are peaceable and fraternal, and so take a more latitudinal view of such scriptures and seek to set them in their historical perspective. They would quote from the Qur’an passages like surah 2:190: "Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but do not begin hostilities, for God does not love aggressors." Their daily jihad is private and devotional: it is against the sins of the flesh and the temptations of this world. But for their more robust co-religionists, including members and supporters of the so-called Islamic State, their daily jihad is public and combative: it is against the heretics, infidels and the political power of the "Great Satan".

But those who use surah 2:190 to insist that Islam means "peace" are quoting out of context. This passage is from the sixth year of the Hijrah, when the Muslims were a strong and influential community, but not supreme. Mohammed ordered them to defend themselves against Meccan attacks, but not be aggressors because they had a treaty. Many of them were exiles from Mecca, where the pagans had established an intolerant autocracy, persecuting Muslims. When they tried to assert their rights, the result was bloodshed. This surah was therefore concerned with a specific period of self-preservation; it is not a blanket command regarding all acts of violence. Being bound by context in time and space, there are many who reasonably do not consider it to be an eternal injunction.

But this is where this British fatwa derives its essential inspiration. The "religious opinion" is expressed and signed by six leading Islamic leaders and scholars:
Sheikh Mohammad Shahid Raza OBE
Executive Secretary, Muslim Law (Shariah) Council of UK. Head Imam, Leicester Central Mosque.

Sheikh Qamaruzzaman Azmi
Secretary General, World Islamic Mission. Head Imam, Manchester Central Mosque.

Sheikh Paul Salahuddin Armstrong
Co-Director, The Association of British Muslims.

Sheikh Dr Qari Mohammad Asim MBE
Head Imam, Makkah Masjid, Leeds.

Sheikh Dr Usama Hasan
Author, ISIS Fatwa. Former Imam, Masjid Al-Tawhid Mosque, Leyton. Head Theologian, Quilliam Foundation.

Mufti Abu Layth
Founder, The Islamic Council, UK.
Some prominent names and organisations are notable by their absence..

It's not quite like convening a Nicaea III ecumenical council and omitting to invite the Anglicans, but, just as the Mughals and Ottomans don't really cut it for the Islamic State, one doubts that this array of moderate sheiks and muftis hold much sway over their throat-slitting co-religionists. And there is no supreme theological authority to which a disputatious party can appeal other than to their own fatwa, which is merely an opinion of what is halal or haram. One Muslim's "poisonous ideology" is another Muslim's door to Jannah.  

These scholars instruct Muslims to live by the law of the land in which they reside, and they do so by making appeal to the Geneva Conventions and (essentially) to the established social contracts (/treaties) of the UK and EU. But the Islamist's allegiance is not to Geneva; nor is to the values of liberal democracy or European oligarchy. And their citizenship is neither in Britain nor Europe: they are bound by no secular polity of man-made law. And there is no uniform Islamic theology or jurisprudence: Sharia is divided, disparate and contextual.

Surely the imams of Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Leicester and London know that?

Of course, we thank them for their wise and reasoned exhortation to the radicalised Muslim youth who prefer Jihad in Syria to weight training in the Islamic Youth Club of Wandsworth. But theology is a bit deeper than invoking secular treaties or plucking scriptures out of the air and seeking to bash them into a particular religio-political worldview. And what, in any case, is the political worth of a spiritual fatwa in a religious tradition that entertains taqiyya?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

“I have forgiven the Islamic militants, because they did not know what they are doing”



Some images are just too awful to publish. It would be easy to scour the internet to find pictures of headless Christian children in Nigeria, summarily slaughtered by Boko Haram for no other reason than that they were not Muslim. Thousands have been and are being tortured and murdered, but our attention has been deflected by the horrors of Syria and Iraq and the rise of the Islamic State. It's rising in northern Nigeria, too. Whatever happened to 'Bring Back Our Girls'?

The Voice of the Martyrs reports the beheading of a six-year-old boy:
Over 100 militants dressed in military uniforms swarmed the predominantly Christian village just as Sunday church services were beginning on June 1. The rebels opened fire on the village and went after people with their machetes. 55-year-old Sawaltha Wandala witnessed the Boko Haram slaughtering children at a church as he arrived for the second service. He saw the men throw one child into a ditch. More concerned for the child than his own safety, he picked up the 6-year-old boy, who had survived being severely slashed, and immediately rushed to take the child to the hospital in Cameroon. Sawaltha was stopped by five insurgents, who grabbed the boy from his arms and beheaded him, before turning to beat Sawaltha with tree branches. They finished their attack striking him in the head with a large rock, leaving him for dead with blood running from his nose and mouth.

After decimating the village and sending residents fleeing, Boko Haram returned two days later in a second series of attacks on several other villages in the Gwoza district. The back to back attacks left an estimated 200 people, including small children, dead. John Yakubu and his family were among those who fled across the border into neighboring Cameroon.

With his family facing starvation in the refugee camp, John decided to make a quick trip back to Attagara to retrieve some of his animals hoping he could sell them to support his family. Though it was dangerous, there seemed to be no other choice. At home, he decided to pick up some of the family’s other belongings, including the family Bible.

Boko Haram insurgents spotted him entering the house, and quickly captured him. “We know you’re John,” the militants said to him. “You must convert to Islam or else you will die a painful death.”

When John refused, the men tied him to a tree binding his arms and legs. The men hacked both of John’s hands with a heavy knife and mocked him. “Can you become a Muslim now?”

“You can kill my body, but not my soul,” John shouted in pain.

Using a machete as well as the knife, the men continued to torture John. They repeatedly cut into his feet and his back, stopping only to ask him if he would give up his faith in Christ and follow Allah. John refused. “We will show you,” they told him. The insurgents used an axe to cut so deeply into his knee that it reached the bone. His head was slashed with a knife.

Eventually, John lost consciousness. At some point, the terrorists left, and John was left bleeding and tied to the tree for three days before someone rescued him and he was taken to a hospital in a coma.

In the hospital, a VOM worker met John. When the worker asked John how he felt about his attackers, he replied, “I have forgiven the Islamic militants, because they did not know what they are doing.”
The words are liberating; they tell of an appalling horror over which love triumphs. Christians are commanded to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. It's easy to preach and it's cheap to believe - until you're confronted by such evil that every fibre of your being cries out for retaliation and revenge, which breeds mutual hostility and creates a cycle of hatred from which there is no escape.

"You must convert to Islam or else you will die a painful death” is what many thousands of Christians and other minorities are hearing right across the Islamic abyss. How many of us would be strong enough to refuse, as John did? How many of us would refuse to renounce Christ while our hands are being hacked off?

And how many would say "I forgive you" to those who wish to torture and kill our bodies?

We can only be free when we stop allowing the enemy's strategy and beliefs to dictate ours. We can only find peace when we end our obsession with the threat. We are all children of God, and He lets the sun rise on evil and good; He sends rain on the just and unjust. Anyone who repays evil with evil is doing as the world does. Those who repay evil with good have ceased simply reacting to oppression; they are creating light in the darkness; proclaiming the sovereignty of the Risen Christ over all creation; incarnating the love which nullifies hatred and conquers hostility.

If we are ever to find peace on earth, it will not be through the alienation, exile or extermination of the enemy. It will be through rejecting the 'rational' thoughts, feelings and reactions to the evil that confronts us. The Islamic militants who hack off the limbs of Christian children are as spiritually blind as the Muslim gangs who rape the children of Rotherham. Their eyes will not be opened by suspicion, invective and loathing. Their tyrannical rule will not be ended by the sword. They need to encounter the Risen Christ and be renewed from within. And that means we must love them and forgive, because they do not know what they are doing.           

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The difficulties of dialoguing with Islam


"What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" asked Tertullian in his Prescription against Heretics (VII), as he sought to defend the purity of the gospel of faith from the faithless philosophy of men. The question was answered partially at least by St Paul himself in his mission-pulsing Areopagus speech, where the Jewish doctrine of God was expounded to the heathen of Athens. Perhaps it wasn't fully addressed until a thousand years after Tertullian, when Europe's scholastics asked: "What has Jesus to do with Aristotle?" In the Latin traditions of the Hellenised West, we are still living with the socio-theological and religio-political consequences.

What has Mecca to do with Rome? What has Mohammed to do with Jesus?

Christianity does not dialogue with Islam: Christians talk to Muslims and Muslims talk to Christians, and thence flows mutual understanding of theological precepts and perceptions of divinity. But bishops tend to be deficient in Arabic, and imams aren't too good at Koine Greek. They can chat in broken English over a kebab and a plate of hummus, but truths are veiled in the mutual misunderstandings of dynamic equivalence. What has justice to do with القاضي?

In an manichæan-eschatological frame of mind, we have long heard about a coming "clash of civilisations" and, more recently, warnings of "Muslim encroachment" and an "Islamic conquest of Europe", as mass immigration and multiculturalism challenge our religious traditions and cultural identity. We observe an increasingly precarious cohabitation. The Christian response ought to be the peaceful proclamation of the day of salvation; instead we get wrapped up in assertions of morality and expressions of dominion.

Many of those who comment on "the problem of Islam" have never met a Muslim, let alone read the Qur'an. And the meeting of Muslims is as depthless as the reading of the Quran, for they must be made our friends and it must be examined, expounded and understood. There is no dialogue in a handshake on the steps of a mosque.

Archbishop Giuseppe Bernardini lived in predominantly Muslim nations for 50 years. His comments below were written following a Christian-Muslim synod in October 1999, in Izmir, Turkey.


Most British Muslims are very happy to talk about their faith, expound the transcendence of Allah and justify the actions of their prophet. Many are eager to talk humbly about their religion and their beliefs about its place in pluralist society, and they will do so respectfully and courteously over a plate of fish and chips and a pint. But there can be no dialogue with fundamentalist forms of Islam, which is what many term "proper" or "true" Islam, because it has nothing to learn. We can discuss with Muslims the devotional similarities of Ramadan and Lent, and this may well extend to musing about doctrines of soteriology and the meaning of salvation. But fundamentalism knows no moderates and tolerates no compromise.

Archbishop Bernardini has found that there is no happy via media in Muslim-Christian dialogue; there is no halfway house in the Dar al-Islam. And his experience will confirm in the minds of many what they think they already know. For others, it will fortify them in their missiological desire to reach out and inculturate to know and understand. Still others will seek to forge a "reformed" Islam that is contiguous with the political values of liberal democracy, respecting diversity and tolerating difference. 

But fundamentalist Islam despises humility, liberty and democracy. While our arms ache with holding out olive branches, fanatical Muslims are busy sharpening their scythes. We cannot ignore a programme of expansion and conquest which is being facilitated by the very liberties we prize and which they seek to eradicate. They are determined in their politics and dogmatic in their religion. Our polity is plural and our religion is liberal. They have carved out supremacy under our laws of equality.

Interfaith dialogue is good for forging relationships and building confidence. In a secularised world of spiritual decline and moral decay there is much upon which Christians and Muslims can cooperate and make common cause. But let us not forget the way, the truth and the life.  And let us not be ashamed to preach the gospel in season and out of it, and live the faith in our every word and action.

What has xenophobia to do with Christianity?

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Islamic State presents us with a wholly abnormal situation of national emergency



Say we catch the barbarous "Jihadi John" or "John the Beatle" or "John the Jailer" or whatever he's called. And say we then gather the evidence against him and bring a charge of murder. He'll be entitled to legal aid (which will cost), prosecuted (which will cost), and, if found guilty, imprisoned 'for life' (which will cost). He might then be freed in 15 or 20 years or so to wreak revenge on the liberal democratic state he so loathes and despises - a few bombs, a bit of torture, the odd beheading. If we're lucky, we might catch him again. If we're luckier, the police might shoot him dead in the process. How exactly should we punish the Islamists found amongst us?

Some BNP types favour rounding up all the Muslims and deporting them en masse, as if such 'cleansing' is any better than the Islamist vision of the purified Caliphate. Others favour an enforced assimilation; the suspension of their liberties and the suppression of their democratic rights. Nigel Farage apparently wants to revoke their citizenship, which is relatively straightforward for those a-jihading in Syria or Iraq. We could, in theory, prevent their return. But whither do we send (and by what right do we impose upon another state) the Islamists who possess a British passport and EU citizenship? Certainly, we may agree they are not 'British' in the sense of respecting our culture or sharing our values. But the act of revoking citizenship results in stateless exile, perhaps wandering through the deserts of Syria or Iraq where they already feel quite at home. That is a woeful retribution.

A multi-faith consortium has written to the Telegraph:
SIR – What we are witnessing in northern Iraq today is a tragedy of historic proportions in which thousands of innocent people are at immediate risk of death for no other reason than their religious beliefs. Freedom of religion and belief, a right set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is being denied in the most gross and systemic way possible through the attempted extermination of religious minorities. There is no justification for the violation of this inalienable human right.

Such violations as are currently taking place are crimes against humanity that must be both stopped and punished. The culture of impunity within which these dehumanising atrocities have been committed needs to be challenged most vigorously. Given that Iraq is not a state party to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Government must now work towards a United Nations Security Council Resolution that refers this matter to the ICC for investigation and, where necessary, prosecution. The international community must send a clear signal to those who are committing such atrocities that they will be held accountable for their actions.

These violations are, however, sadly part of a wider global pattern of increased societal hostility to, and government restrictions on, freedom of religion or belief. Governments, international institutions and non-governmental organisations need to recognise this wider crisis and commit the necessary time, energy and resources to ensure greater respect for this fundamental freedom and forestall further such tragedies.

The Rt Rev Dr Christopher Cocksworth
Bishop of Coventry, Church of England’s Lead Bishop on Foreign Affairs
Dayan (Judge) Ivan Binstock
Court of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth
Ayatollah Dr Sayed Fazel Milani
Imam al-Khoei Islamic Centre, London
Ramesh Pattni
Secretary General, Hindu Forum of Britain
Commissioner Clive Adams
Territorial Commander, Salvation Army
His Grace Bishop Angaelos
General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom
The Rt Rev Richard Atkinson
Bishop of Bedford
Malcolm M Deboo
President, Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe
His Eminence Gregorios
Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner
Senior Rabbi, The Movement for Reform Judaism
The Rt Revd Declan Lang
Bishop of Clifton
Chairman, International Affairs Department, Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales
Moulana Mohammad Shahid Raza
Principal Imam, Leicester Central Mosque
Dr Shuja Shafi
Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain
Lord Singh of Wimbledon
Vice-Chairman, All Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion and Belief
That's six Christians, two Jews , three Muslims, a Hindu, a Sikh and a Zoroastrian.

That's nice.

The thing is, the United Nations has been so utterly deficient in the defence of religious liberty that it is highly unlikely to prove adequate in the administration of justice. When the United Nations Human Rights Council is already captive to those who despise human rights, and when it agitates for religion (ie Islam) to be protected from "defamation", it beggars belief that a body of international judges would ever agree that those who plot the extermination of Christians and other religious minorities are committing crimes against humanity. Are they not Allah's warriors and Mohammed's freedom fighters?

Are the values of the Islamic State so very different from those of Saudi Arabia or Iran? Persecution? Imprisonment without trial? Forced conversion? Beheadings? Saudia Arabia and Iran might not crucify their Christians, but the international community turns a very convenient blind eye to their appalling treatment of religious minorities.

These faith leaders are doubtless well intentioned, and a resolution of the United Nations Security Council might indeed trigger an investigation by the International Criminal Court. But to what effect? The signatories say these violations are crimes which must be punished. How exactly?

It is estimated that somewhere between 800 and 2000 British Muslims are fighting with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Surely the "culture of impunity" within the British state has contributed to this. Our shared commitment to multiculturalism; the diminution of our Judæo-Christian notions of honour, justice and freedom; and our embrace of moral relativity and a positivist conception of nature have fundamentally challenged our understanding of national identity. We cannot "send a clear signal of intent" to those who violate human rights or commit atrocities because we can no longer agree what we mean by "clear", "violation" or "atrocity".

Surely the Jihadis that went out from amongst us ought to be tried in British courts? And surely, if found guilty, their life must be forfeit? For the commandment of God against killing is an expression of His will for the protection and affirmation of the lives of those who dwell in peace; not an absolutist expression of their inviolable and intrinsic worth.

The preservation of life may, paradoxically, occasionally require its termination. The problem, then, is that by taking up the sword against Jihadists we potentially create a legion of Islamist martyrs, who, by their submission to the will of Allah and sacrifice in the name of Mohammed, may inspire another wave of Christian-crucifying zealots.

Peacemaking is the fundamental task of Christian ethics, but the Islamic State presents us with a wholly abnormal situation of national emergency. We either confront and kill, or surrender our hard-won liberty, our cherished freedoms and our national independence. We cannot wait for the United Nations to deliberate and proclaim their resolution any more than we can depend on them to guard our freedoms of religion and belief. We are talking here about the physical, intellectual and spiritual lives of the British people, and their relationship to God. We cannot abdicate our national responsibility to supranational deficiency.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

As long as Obama spouts the fallacy that the Islamic State "speaks for no religion", we will never kill the root


It would appear that the barbaric Islamist who decapitated US journalist James Foley was a dude named John, probably from East London, who took a brief sojourn in Syria with his mates Mustafa and Aqueel in order to wage a bit of moderate Jihad against their smoking and drinking Ummah. But, you know Jihad: once bitten, never shy, never afraid, never wavering, and never averse to a bit of summary decapitation in the name of Mohammed for the glory of Allah, most gracious, most beneficient, most merciful.

It transpires that John had been captivated by the inspirational words of Winston Churchill, whom he encountered in the World War Two thematic module of his History GCSE: "We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in Syria and Iraq, we shall fight on buses and the underground, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength with shoe-bombs in the air, we shall defend our Caliphate, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the deserts, we shall fight on the airports, we shall fight in the cities and in the streets, we shall fight in the mountains; we shall never surrender."

There couldn't be a clearer geo-political fons et origo to explain John's theo-political praxis.  

But if not Churchill, then who? Tony Blair? George W Bush? Adolf Hitler? Who galvanised John to pack a suitcase, drive to Heathrow, fly out to Damascus and wage war against the infidel, heretic and apostate for the establishment of the Islamic State? What cult controlled him? What creed captivated his mind?

President Obama says the Islamic State "speaks for no religion", because "no faith teaches people to massacre innocents". In this, he takes Baroness Warsi's line that Wahhabi-Salafist Muslims are not Muslims at all, and the religion they follow bears no resemblance to any expression of Islam. The President adds: "No just God would stand for what (the Islamic State) did yesterday, and what they do every single day."

He appears not to grasp the Islamist worldview, which is as theological as it is political; as historic as it is present. Allah is not merely a "just God": he is perfect justice, and his prophet did no wrong. The people beheaded, tortured or massacred are not "innocents": they are corrupted by idolatry; tainted by the blood on the hands of Western warmongers; and damned by perversions of liberal democracy and moral relativity. We will never eradicate this cancer unless and until our politicians and religious leaders can bring themselves to acknowledge that the Islamist inspiration is a virulent quranic doctrine of God which is based on a particular reading of Hadith literature and a singular understanding of the Sunnah. It may be offensive to our Western sensibilities to say so, but we are so steeped in mushy multicultural GCSE notions of ill-taught RE that we have ceased to have any ability to discern the spirits, determine right from wrong, or distinguish between the forces of good and the legions of evil.

Centuries of scholarship bear witness to the mutability and multiplicity of the Islamic faith, which is as diverse and disparate as the myriad of Christian denominations. The problem is the ascendancy and dominance of a particular interpretation of Islam – the Wahhabi-Salfist strain – which seeks to agitate, occupy, subjugate, inculcate and deny liberty and justice to all who do not adhere to its notions of societal perfection. The Islamic State adheres to this "pure and unadulterated" version of Islam. It is by no means believed by the world's 1.9 billion Muslims, but it is practised by a disparate 10 million or so around the world, and that's only a conservative estimate. Their political vision is acutely theological:
(They) see life as being divided between the world of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the land of conflict or war (dar al-harb). Through jihad, they wish to extend the Muslim world so that all of humankind can live under its umbrella. They harken back to the Great Caliphate, when the Muslim world extended from Spain (then called Andalusia), across North Africa and the Middle East, down the west coast of Africa, and across the Caspian region to India and the Philippines. At its height in the 1200s, the Caliphate was a highly sophisticated civilization, responsible for many inventions and innovations in mathematics and science".
And so the vision of an Islamic Empire is revived. Its factions include Al-Qaeda and the Al-Nusra Front, not to mention Fatah al-Islam, Jund al-Sham, the Syria Free Army and the Abdullah Azzam Brigade. And let's throw in Jund al-Aqsa, the Syrian Martyrs' Brigade, Idlib Martyrs' Brigade, Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union, Ahfad al-Rasul Brigade, Army of Mujahedeen, Ghuraba al-Sham, Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Muslim Brotherhood. And that's just in one region: their platoons are trans-national and the fissures never-ending. They may lack a unifying commander-in-chief, but there is broad consensus on the religio-political strategy, which stems from a perception of Islamic appeasement, moral compromise and subjugation to the ‘Great Satan’. They cohere around the application of Jihad to defend the faith primarily against the evils of Zionism, Judaism, Christianity, secularism, and a plethora of corrupt manifestations of Islam. They consider it an unacceptable humiliation that the "Christian West" may demand concessions, impose conditions and dictate the terms of debate to the "Muslim world".

All of this is undoubtedly political, but it is also acutely theological.

The Muslims of the Islamic State may not speak for all Muslims, but they plainly call themselves Muslims and profess to speak for Islam. They may not be President Obama's type of Muslim or practise Tony Blair's preferred brand of Islam. But to reduce their religious beliefs to the status of a non-religion is to subjugate their devout worldview to the very notions of Western-Christian arrogance and imperialism they wage Jihad to defeat. And in such political ignorance and religious denial lie the seeds of our own decline, defeat and destruction.   
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