On transcendence as the ground of political engagement

Rowan Williams may no longer be Archbishop of Canterbury but he still seems to have a penchant for courting controversy by speaking uncomfortable / unfashionable truths.

This brief excerpt from his wider piece (follow the link below) is well worth a read. Just the same, his argument begs the question of reconciling the claim of religion as an integral necessity for political engagement in the public square with the lamentable, if not farcical, carryings-on in global politics presently.

Also, I do wish Williams would do something about the eyebrows…

“… The issue is this. Apart from Christianity, what were or what could have been the factors that could drive any critique of slavery in the eighteenth century?

We think of the Age of Enlightenment as an intellectual climate in which the assumptions of modern liberal and democratic thought were first formed; and that is not wholly wrong. But you will look in vain to the secularising writers of the period for systematic criticisms of slavery, let alone campaigns for its ending.

The liberal and egalitarian principles of the French Enlightenment made not the slightest dent upon the slave system (and the post-Revolution French administrations made no move towards emancipation of their own accord). The egalitarianism of the age was like that of the Stoics in ancient Rome – a theory for the elite, unrelated to actual human relationships in the present, where, sadly, primitive justice had been rendered unattainable.

And we must not forget the ways in which some aspects of enlightened thinking could end up reinforcing attitudes of racial superiority by appeal to the normative status of European thinking and the assumption that non-Europeans were incapable of ‘standard’ reasoning. There is an uncomfortable history to be written of what might be called progressive or scientific racism as well as of religiously motivated varieties; Colin Kidd’s recent monograph, The Forging of Races. Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000, is a very distinguished beginning to this study.

“What is it that moves egalitarianism from being a wistful theory to being the motive for serious political action?”

The answer is very simple: the conviction of responsibility before God.

Wilberforce and his circle were bound by that conviction; they believed that if a sinful system existed and its sinfulness implicated them as well as others, they were under an obligation to end it. God could not will sin; so if there were sin in the political and economic conditions under which they pursued their business, it was God’s will that it be eradicated. here is no place here for wistfulness or for a ‘tragic’ sense of unavoidable moral compromise. We may think this, as a principle, worryingly naive; but what is undeniable is that it motivated a series of major social changes, not only in respect of slavery.”


Global War on Christians

I’ve had a sneak preview of this book by John  Allen and so have ordered a copy for the parish library.

The content is as dramatic as the title but the book is weighty and well self aware of the complex and political nature of its topic. This is not a tract from the right co-opting the suffering of our sisters and brothers around the globe. It is a call to action – beginning with being informed.

Though a few years old now (2013 – how did I miss it?), it remains relevant – even more so – through what it documents.  I can’t wait to read the whole thing but if anyone would like review it for this blog site please let me know.

Image result for The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution

“This book is about the most dramatic religion story of the early 21st century, yet one that most people in the West have little idea is even happening: The global war on Christians,” writes John Allen. “We’re not talking about a metaphorical ‘war on religion’ in Europe and the United States, fought on symbolic terrain such as whether it’s okay to erect a nativity set on the courthouse steps, but a rising tide of legal oppression, social harassment and direct physical violence, with Christians as its leading victims. However counter-intuitive it may seem in light of popular stereotypes of Christianity as a powerful and sometimes oppressive social force, Christians today indisputably form the most persecuted religious body on the planet, and too often its new martyrs suffer in silence.”

Government announces an increase in refugee quota

Responses have varied to the government’s announcement today regarding refugee numbers – for more on this see  this brief clip on NewsHub

Syrian children give the peace sign after a Powhiri at which they were welcomed to Mangere earlier this year.

Perhaps of particular importance, and what is not shown in the above clip, is Hon. Michael Woodhouse’s announcement of the government’s intention to pilot a community based refugee sponsorship programme – 25 placements in total.

Please be aware that this is something many – including our Diocese – has been quietly pushing the government on for some time now. Click to see my letter to the Hon. Woodhouse regarding this.

Archbishop Philip’s submission – Anglican Taonga to the government earlier this year also covers this as one of the many proposals for government to consider around how it might respond imaginatively to this huge humanitarian crisis facing our world.

Meantime, get your prayer mats out. Though challenging, this is something we can do well. Pray that the government includes us in its plans.



Shocking treatment of Pakistani Christians fleeing to Thailand

A BBC investigation has found that Thailand, a country known for its hospitality to tourists, routinely arrests and detains asylum seekers. Many are Pakistani Christians who have fled religious persecution in their own country. Some are children. And they are held despite being UN-registered asylum seekers, whom the UN is under a duty to protect.

Chris Rogers reported the following for Our World on the BBC News Channel on 27th and 28th February and BBC World News starting on 26 February 2016. The names of most interviewees have been changed, for their safety.

Detention without trial for long periods or even after being fined, is common

The sound of the faithful in prayer and song bursts out of a small rented room where a congregation of more than 100 people have gathered for Sunday mass.

They would be risking their lives to worship like this in their homeland, where Islamist extremists force Christians to convert, or even kill them.

Leading the prayers is Pastor Joshua, a Christian from Lahore, in what is officially known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Along with thousands of other Christians, he’s had to flee to Thailand and still fears the people in Pakistan who punished him for converting from Islam to Christianity.

“My bone was broken – the one right above the heart. And they tried to cut my arm off,” he says. “My sister was murdered, she was burned alive, just because she spoke the word ‘God’. They hate the word ‘God’ so much. She was burned for this reason alone.”

The Pakistani Christians head to Thailand because it’s easy to enter the country on a short-term tourist visa and in Pakistan’s hostile neighbourhood there are few safe options closer to hand.

But there is hardly a welcoming committee in Thailand. The country doesn’t want asylum seekers from anywhere. It is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, and anyone without a valid visa or a work permit risks being arrested, charged with illegal immigration and jailed.

Detainee released

Thailand has allowed the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, to step in and investigate the credibility of those claiming to flee persecution – a process with two possible outcomes, either repatriation or relocation to another country. But many of these families say they’ve been waiting years to be assessed by the UN and they have no access to work, education or healthcare.

As they await the outcome of their case, thousands of Pakistani asylum seekers set up temporary home in dingy rooms in a network of tower blocks on the outskirts of Bangkok. People who were once comfortably-off professionals arrive with just a few possessions, their rent and food paid for by local Christian charities.

persecuted Pakistani Christians
Abandoned or harassed,
asylum seekers make the best of it

And they live in constant fear… The Thai immigration police have lost patience with the UN’s failure to process asylum cases in good time, one young father tells me, holding a 25-week-old baby in his arms. “They are taking people out of the rooms from everywhere, they can strike at any time, there is always tension,” he says.

I hear that the immigration police are raiding a block of rooms close by, so I go straight there and find dozens of women crying and clutching their children. The police have just broken down the doors and taken away all their husbands. Women and children were also taken from other blocks. All told, more than 50 Pakistani asylum seekers have been arrested.

I find them at the local court, where they are handcuffed, charged with illegal immigration, fined 4,000 Baht (£90) and then sent to Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centre.

Detainees are often manacled for long periods.

This isn’t supposed to happen. All registered asylum seekers are issued with a UN document, which certifies them as an “internationally recognised UN person of concern”. This means they should not be arrested or detained for seeking asylum while the UN investigates their case.

Earlier I met one man called Sabir, who fled Pakistan two years ago with his wife, Laila, their two daughters, Laila’s parents, and her siblings and grandparents. They shared a small, sparse room with no kitchen or toilet, all 10 of them – until Laila was arrested two months ago.

Sabir hasn’t seen her since and sobs that he is lost without her. He doesn’t regret leaving Pakistan though, where he says a gang threatened to kill his family if they didn’t convert to Islam. “Over here, the only fear we have is of the immigration police, nothing else,” he says.

But the UN won’t investigate his asylum case until 2018. He says he’s been told there is a backlog.

In a statement to the BBC, the UNHCR admits it is struggling. “Amid the context of today’s acute global humanitarian funding crunch, it is correct that at present we are facing long delays in the processing of asylum claims with funding for Thailand at only a third of the level needed.” But it adds that it has managed to prevent the arrest of more than 400 “people of concern to UNHCR” in the last six months, by insisting on their status as registered asylum seekers.

Meanwhile the Thai government complains the UN’s inactivity is “creating far-reaching impacts on its security” – a reference to Thai fears that immigrants from Pakistan could be involved in terrorism – “leading to a number of arrests of illegal immigrants in the past year”.

Over-crowding and sanitary conditions at the detention centre are appalling.

Anyone arrested – Sabir’s wife, for example – is taken to Bangkok’s filthy and overcrowded immigration detention centre.

Journalists and cameras are not allowed inside but volunteers delivering much-needed fresh water and food for inmates are, and that is how I enter, with other members of the BBC crew. Wearing search-proof hidden cameras we nervously pass through security checks and hand over our water and food to be checked by the guards.

We are led to a large, stiflingly hot room, crammed with hundreds of asylum seekers pressing their faces against a wire-mesh internal barrier. They are nearly all Pakistani Christians. For one hour a day, some of the 200 asylum seekers held here are let out of their cells to see visitors.

The men are semi-naked. Unaware we are BBC journalists, they tell us it’s the only way to keep cool in the overcrowded cells they’re kept in. The women cradle their children and babies. Many complain their children are suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting because of poor sanitation and dirty drinking water. The room gets noisy as the inmates cry out to the visiting charity workers for their help to get released, but food and clean drinking water are all they can offer. One mother tells me she has been here for three months with her children. “The youngest is three and the eldest is 10. They are finding it very difficult being here, they are getting so ill,” she says.

persecuted Pakistani Christians
Secretly filmed video inside
Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centre

The Thai government says parents “often choose to have their children with them while in detention”. Yet the country has signed up to a number of UN international laws governing the humane treatment of prisoners and outlawing the imprisonment of children – particularly in centres holding adults. None of the detainees I speak to have received legal assistance from the UNHCR since their arrest.

“We have no faith in the United Nations,” 19-year-old Nazeem tells me, as she holds on to her baby cousin. “We only have faith in God. He will bring us freedom.”

Their only way out of detention is for local charities to request bail from the Thai authorities. It costs about £900 ($1,250) to release one person, so they do this only for those deemed most vulnerable.

There are no official figures for the numbers arrested, but campaigners say it amounts to hundreds every month. It’s alleged that 132 Pakistani Christians were arrested on one day alone in March last year. Altogether there are an estimated 11,500 Pakistani asylum seekers in Thailand, more than from any other country except Myanmar.

Suddenly I come across a young woman I was hoping to meet. There on the other side of the security cordon is Laila, Sabir’s wife. It’s an emotional meeting – she is obviously desperate to see her family. “I miss them, bring my daughters here so I can see their faces,” she pleads. But the only way she is likely to see children for the foreseeable future, is if they are arrested too.

In its statement to the BBC, the UNHCR says it is working with the Thai government to find a solution. “Better and more humane management of the situation must be found in accordance with international legal norms,” it says.

The Thai government insists that it strives “to provide the best possible care… based on international humanitarian principles.”

Yet it inflicts an even worse fate upon some Pakistani Christians and their children. Those who are unable to pay the 4,000 Baht fine after they are arrested are thrown into one of Thailand’s notorious jails.

This happened last year to a group of 20 Pakistani men, women and children. Separated from the women, the men’s heads were shaved, and their ankles and hands placed in shackles.

Daniel’s amazing witness.

“We had a lot of problem sleeping, sitting, standing up and walking,” says one. “The chains weighed about 4kg or 4.5kg, and we used to have injuries on our ankles. We were in a lot of pain. It was very difficult for us.”

One of his cell mates, Daniel, bursts into tears when he describes how the men were searched. “All we had to wear for clothing was a small piece of cloth,” he adds.

The people charged with assuring the protection of these UN-registered asylum seekers were nowhere to be seen. It was a local missionary who eventually bought their freedom.

But remarkably, Daniel is still
able to invoke his faith’s humility
and forgiveness.

“Jesus said to us, ‘If someone troubles you, don’t ask for curses for him, instead, you should ask for blessings for him.’ So, we ask for blessings for the UNHCR.”


ISIS Releases Last of 230 Assyrian Christian Hostages

Good news comes near first anniversary of
21 Coptic martyrs beheaded on Libyan beach.

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra [ CHRISTIANITY TODAY 24/02/2016]

Around the first anniversary of the infamous beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach, believers worldwide celebrated the release of the kidnapped Assyrian Christians that were feared to become ISIS’s next propaganda massacre. (Instead, it was Ethiopians.)

Shortly after the videotaped martyrdoms in February 2015, the Islamist extremists kidnapped more than 200 Assyrian Christians in Syria’s Hasakah province as the so-called Islamic State expanded its territory.

Some worried that ISIS would threaten to kill the hostages unless the US ended joint air strikes. Others speculated that ISIS would ask for a prisoner exchange for jihadists held by Kurdish forces.

“In light of the ISIS militants’ “barbaric record with the captured,” Assyrian Church of the East leader Emmnauel Youkhana told one outlet, “the destiny of these families is a major concern to us.”

Assyrians released 1

Instead, a few were executed. Five went missing. For the hundreds of remaining captives, ISIS asked for ransom—a common way the terrorist group raises funds.

A bank account was opened in Erbil, Iraq, a Syrian Christian told the Associated Press (AP). Donations came in from around the world.

ISIS reportedly asked for anywhere from $14 million to $30 million. The Assyrian Democratic Organization’s Younan Talia told the AP it was $18 million.

“We paid large amounts of money, millions of dollars, but not $18 million,” a Syrian Christian told the AP. “We paid less than half the amount.”

Hostages were released in small groups throughout the past year, including 25 on Christmas Day, according to the Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organization (ACERO).

This week, the final 43 of those hostages were freed.

Assyrians Released 2

“All of those abducted in those raids are now accounted for,” stated Middle East Concern. “Almost all have been released, many in recent months following negotiations by church representatives.”


Raif Badawi – let’s not forget…

Princeton professor and six others offer to receive 100 lashes each if the authorities in Saudi Arabia spare jailed blogger Raif Badawi.

Friday 23 January 2015

Raif Badawi

Blogger / human rights activist Raif Badawi

Princeton professor Robert George, vice chairman of the US Commission of International Religious Freedom, has written to the Saudi Ambassador to the US, urging the release of Mr Badawi and offering to take the punishment instead.

The letter is signed by a prominent Muslim American, along with five other religious freedom activists. The letter reads…

“Compassion, a virtue honoured in Islam as well as in Christianity, Judaism, and other faiths, is defined as ‘suffering with another’. We are persons of different faiths, yet we are united in a sense of obligation to condemn and resist injustice and to suffer with its victims, if need be”

Prof Robert george

‘Flog me instead of Saudi blogger’ says senior US academic.

The letter adds: “We therefore make the following request. If your government will not remit the punishment of Raif Badawi, we respectfully ask that you permit each of us to take 100 of the lashes that would be given to him.”

Mr Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and ten years in jail last year after being convicted of offending his country’s clerics and insulting Islam. The Saudi blogger received the first of what was supposed to be 20 weekly floggings almost two weeks ago.

Raif Badawi's wife

Raif Badawi’s wife shares her struggle

Amid widespread international condemnation, the second flogging, which was scheduled for last Friday, was postponed on medical grounds.

In addition to the involvement of Mr George, the letter to the Saudi Ambassador, Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, has been signed by Dr M Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy.

Also adding their names were Mary Ann Glendon, of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Daniel Mark, assistant professor of Department of Political Science at Villanova University, Hannah Rosenthal, CEO of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, Eric Schwartz, dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and, Katrina Lantos Swett, president of Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice.

In their letter, the seven advocates described Mr Badawi’s sentence as a “grave injustice” in their letter and called on the government to show mercy.

“We would rather share in his victimisation than stand by and watch him being cruelly tortured. If your government does not see fit to stop this from happening, we are prepared to present ourselves to receive our share of Mr Badawi’s unjust punishment,” the group said.

There was no immediate response from the Saudi authorities.

Said Boumedouha of Amnesty International last week drew attention to the fact that the flogging had to be postponed because of Mr Badawi’s injuries.

“Not only does this postponement on health grounds expose the utter brutality of this punishment, it underlines its outrageous inhumanity,” he said. “The notion that Raif Badawi must be allowed to heal so that he can suffer this cruel punishment again and again is macabre and outrageous.”

Pray that Raif may receive God’s merciful justice. Pray for wisdom and fortitude for his wife and supporters. Pray that God will move throughout the Middle East for all the Raifs who suffer there.

A tale of caution – for all of us

The story of  Abu Muntasir, “The ‘godfather’ of the British jihadi movement”, is a cautionary tale not just for young Muslims and their parents…

Abu Muntasir

Dear Global Partnerships people. I came across this article in the Guardian. Follow the link and have a readwww.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/13/godfather-of-british-jihadists-admits-we-opened-to-way-to-join-isis

At a time of unprecedented suffering of Christians around the world, often at the hands of Islamisists , it is difficult to take on board the words of Jesus, “I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you”.  

Yet this is what we are called to do and those of us who seek to connect with Muslims indeed need to both “hear” this teaching – and act upon it.

Abu Muntasir’s repentance gives us an insight into a world that few of us inhabit in any sense. Britain, as with the Middle East, seems so far away and has it’s own set of circumstances and history.

Even so, there are signposts here which point to where we may begin if we are to authentically engage with one of the most pressing issues of our time.

We need to try, at least, to understand where Islamisists are coming from if we are to submit to our Lord Jesus and intercede for those who persecute our suffering sisters and brothers in the Muslim world.

Let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. Let the words of Christ dwell in us richly.

On honouring God – and each other

A letter (abridged) from Bishop Mouneer Hannah Anis , written on the occasion of the visit to Cairo of the
Arch-Bishop of Canterbury, Justin Selby.

Copt martyrs of Lybia

Dear Friends

In the Middle East, Africa, and much of the non-Western world, extending honour is among the chief virtues. “Without doubt, the lesser person is blessed by the greater,” writes the author of Hebrews. “Honour one another above yourselves,” writes Paul in Romans.

Our Anglican Communion is blessed to have a leader who embodies not only this cultural value, but also its Biblical roots.

On April 20, our diocese of Egypt was blessed by the visit of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. He came to offer condolences over the martyrdom of 21 Christians killed by ISIS in Libya.

Archbishop Justin came in humility, as a man of the West visiting the East, he proved the reality of these verses in his life and leadership.

In attendance were Coptic Orthodox Bishop Angaelos and Coptic Catholic Bishop Antonius Aziz, themselves men of humble service there to honour his visit.

Aware the representatives of these churches could not share in an Anglican Eucharist, the archbishop desired to demonstrate his appreciation for their churches in a land whose children produced such a testimony of faith.

Archbishop Welby left the communion table, knelt before the two bishops, and asked them to pray a blessing for him. Immediately moved in spirit, they knelt as well, and asked the same of him. He then returned and offered body and blood to God’s holy church. Both privately expressed how they were touched by his gesture.

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,” said Jesus to his disciples. “Those who honour me,” said God in I Samuel, “I will honour.” …

The virtue of honour is one the Eastern Church can share with the Western. Our Anglican Communion is blessed to have so many from all cultures who, in humility, show this.

May the Lord bless you in his service.


Talking past each other…

… or, at least, not listening.


Late last week, Jack Jenkins writing for the liberal-left ‘Think Progress’, posted ‘What the Atlantic Gets Dangerously Wrong About ISIS and Islam’ . This was in response to Graeme Wood’s ‘What ISIS Really Wants’ which appeared last Monday in the Atlantic and has had widespread distribution on the net.

Since then a few other critiques have also sprung up taking different angles but sharing in common the misrepresentation of Wood at crucial points. Undoubtedly this speaks more of the liberal/ conservative polarisation which dominates discourse in the US and, to some extent, Europe. Whatever motivates these articles, I for one, do not find them helpful.

As someone who has lived and worked in the Middle East and maintained an active interest, as well as the leader of a small church with close links to a sister church in Cairo, I want to make just a few comments on Jenkins’ response as a way calling others to be careful as they also respond.

If we’re using labels to promote our arguments, as Jenkins does, I need to also say I am neither “a right-wing conservative” (and, clearly, not a “so-called “New Atheist”). Moreover, you would have to be a halfwit not to see that the causes of ISIS’s rise are complex, multi-factorial and long-standing. I do, never-the-less, contra to Jenkins and others like him, think that Wood is right in asserting that:

* Western governments must understand the world-view that ISIS are working from if they are to understand its appeal and respond effectively

* that this world-view is religious in nature and is propelled by its eschatological interpretative framework

* ISIS is legitimately Islamic.

I have no doubt that Wood’s argument will continued to be misconstrued, if not misrepresented, by many to bolster their own views – to the left and right, secular or religious. I also have no doubt that some academics, as quoted by Jenkins, will do this as much as the “right wingers” whom Jenkins loathes and, ironically, Wood firmly criticises in his article. This doesn’t make Wood’s views “dangerous” (as Jenkins asserts), though they are disturbing – especially for those whose identity, political commitments and careers are wrapped up in opposing points of view.

What is dangerous, as Wood convincingly argues, is when the West fails to understand who they are dealing with – what motivates them, what they believe and don’t believe, what differentiates them from other Islamist groups and what they want.

Why is talking honestly and openly and respectfully about this important? Because whilst it is difficult to do so and open to misrepresentation (à la Jenkins), the secular narrative that so dominates our thinking has manifestly failed us in the Middle East and needs to be challenged.

For instance, no doubt Obama had wider political considerations in mind when he made his recent remarks at the ‘White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism‘. Yet there is also no doubt he also believes and uses this framework in his strategy for countering ISIS.


For Wood, this is both dangerous and unproductive since it fails to take seriously the self-understanding, and therefore the thinking and actions, of the players themselves.

Wood gives an example: “Our failure to appreciate the split between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and the essential differences between the two, has led to dangerous decisions.” In the case of American aid worker Peter Kassig, this resulted in his severed head being splattered across the internet. Yet as Wood points out, while “Kassig’s death was a tragedy” the US backed negotiations using Al Qaeda as intermediaries “would have been a bigger tragedy… [since]… a reconciliation… would have begun to heal the rift between the world’s two largest jihadist organizations.”

Perceptively, Wood also points to a deeper danger: “I suspect that most Muslims appreciated Obama’s [“this is not Islam”] sentiment: the president was standing with them against both Baghdadi and non-Muslim chauvinists trying to implicate them in crimes. But most Muslims aren’t susceptible to joining jihad. The ones who are susceptible will only have had their suspicions confirmed: the United States lies about religion to serve its purposes.”

Jenkins’ article misrepresents Wood at several other points. For example, Wood never says ISIS’s understanding of their faith is the only valid expression of Islam. In fact he clearly underscores the diversity within Islam. Far from “overlooking [Quranic teaching] promoting equality and tolerance” (Jenkins), Wood puts the case for “quietist Salafism” as a powerful “Islamic antidote to Baghdadi-style jihadism”.

If anything, then, in putting his case Wood could be accused of bias in the opposite direction since, in asserting quietist Salafism as a mainstream Islamist alternative, he carefully avoids pointing out Islam’s historical expansion by the sword – something ISIS regards as a positive and uses to dismiss Salafis.

Wood also both humbly qualifies his argument and makes Jenkins’ criticism superfluous when he writes: ‘Non-Muslims cannot tell Muslims how to practice their religion properly. But Muslims have long since begun this debate within their own ranks… It would be facile, even exculpatory, to call the problem of the Islamic State “a problem with Islam.” The religion allows many interpretations… yet simply denouncing the Islamic State as un-Islamic can be counter-productive, especially if those who hear the message have read the holy texts and seen the endorsement of many of the caliphate’s practices written plainly within them…”

Wood does argue, however, that it is difficult for Muslims to counter ISIS since they have to deal with what the Quran actually teaches. Here Jenkins is right in asserting hermeneutics is a key issue that could have done with a deeper treatment by Wood.

Wood’s stating of the stark choice facing Muslims in their reading of the Quran, of either embracing a literalism that takes no account of context, or accepting “core texts traditional teachings of Islam are no longer valid”, is too simplistic.

Christianity has faced this challenge since the rise of the Marcionites in the second century. Marcion recognised there were problems with embracing all the teachings of the Hebrew bible – including violence. His solution was to throw the Old testament (as Christians now call it), overboard. Few accepted this.

The real challenge for Christianity came with the enlightenment and its children, humanism and modernism. The shackles of primitive superstition were shucked off and a self-determining rationalism embraced. There were to be no more European religious wars justified by a holy book – only Auschwitz, as it turned out.

Yet many Christians, then and now, have retained a high view of scripture as “God breathed” and morally authoritative without feeling the need to jettison large chunks of it, or all of it, as moderns have. This hasn’t been an easy or consistent journey. Many backward steps and stumbles have been made along the way and tragedy has ensued at great cost. No-one can throw stones here. Yet few Christians today would seek to justify genocide by reference to the bible.

Egyptian President Al Sisi’s “new Islam” seems at odds with Obama’s understanding of what is wrong in the Middle East.

Recently, speaking at Al Aazha – the seat of Islamic (Sunni) teaching and jurisprudence in Cairo – Egyptian President  Al Sisi called for a “new Islam”. His strong critique, only weakly applauded by the clerics present, never-the-less seemed at odds with Obama’s understanding of what is wrong in the Middle East.


Al Sisi said, “It is inconceivable that the wrong ideas that we sacralise should make the entire umma [Muslim community] a source of concern, danger, killing, and destruction for the whole world. This is not possible.” Nonetheless, that is what has occurred: “We have reached the point that Muslims have antagonized the entire world. Is it conceivable that 1.6 billion [Muslims] want to kill the rest of the world’s population of 7 billion, so that Muslims prosper?”

Wood’s article is nowhere near this line of argument. Yet Al Sisi bears witness to Wood’s assertion that Muslims recognise there is a problem with what has become of their religion and have already begun a discussion on alternatives – faith that holds on to the best and lets the rest go.

Perhaps both faiths, then, have something to teach the other. One thing is for sure. This can’t happen while the beheadings and crucifixions continue. Neither can it happen when moderns insist on the dominance of their narrative of how things happen and what should be.


Radical prayer indeed…

I’m writing this as a postscript to my email last week advertising Ash Wednesday – this week, 7pm at St. Mary’s Karori. I hope you’ll take advantage of marking the beginning of your lenten fast/ discipline with others in in this way.

This email is on a related matter…


It is incredibly sad to see the BBC has confirmed the beheading of 21 Copt (Egyptian Christian) migrant workers in Libya – killed for no other reason than bearing the name of Christ. The BBC post (click the link below) makes sober reading.

Last year, as a lenten discipline, I called on all parishioners to commit – in addition to any other commitments they made have made – to pray for the persecuted church worldwide. With Ash Wednesday approaching this week, I want to renew that call.

The sayings of Jesus, calling us (and by “us” here, I mean you and I as we stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in our common baptism into Christ), to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, are truly radical.  It is to such discipleship we are called.

What can we pray about?

Firstly we must pray for those who are the enemies of Christ. We pray that they should see Jesus and hear his call to follow him.

Secondly, we need to pray for the comfort and strengthening of the families of those so brutally killed for their faith – not just the families of these 21, but across the region and even further into West Africa and the Asian sub-continent. Remember the 200 girls and the many many more who have suffered at the hands of Bokoharam?

Thirdly, we can pray for a measured response from all involved – especially in this instance the Egyptian government who are under pressure to “do something”. Anger and revenge will not advance the transforming power of the Gospel in a world that desperately needs it.

Lastly, we should pray as Jesus taught us, ‘Father… bring us not into times of trial, but deliver us from evil’. Our relative safety is an opportunity to seek God on behalf of others. Let’s use it.