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.   

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Archbishop of Mosul: "Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here"

The translated words of Amel Nona, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, now exiled in Erbil (via Rorate Caeli):
"Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future," says Amel Nona, 47, Chaldean archbishop of Mosul exiled in Erbil. The message is unequivocal: the only way to end the Christian exodus from the places that witnessed its origins in the pre-Islamic age is to respond to violence with violence, to force with force. Nona is a wounded, pain-stricken man, but not resigned. "I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. But my community is still alive." He is very glad to meet Western media. "Please, try to understand us," he exclaims. "Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here. You must consider again our reality in the Middle East, because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims. Also you are in danger. You must take strong and courageous decisions, even at the cost of contradicting your principles. You think all men are equal," Archbishop Amel Nona continues, "but that is not true: Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home."
From an original interview by Lorenzo Cremonesi, Corriere della Sera (10th August 2014):
I giovani chiedono armi. Gli anziani approvano. «Le nostre sofferenze di oggi sono il preludio di quelle che subirete anche voi europei e cristiani occidentali nel prossimo futuro», dice il 47enne Amel Nona, l’arcivescovo caldeo di Mosul fuggito ad Erbil. Il messaggio è inequivocabile: l’unico modo per fermare l’esodo cristiano dai luoghi che ne videro le origini in epoca pre-islamica è rispondere alla violenza con la violenza, alla forza con la forza. Nona è un uomo ferito, addolorato, ma non rassegnato. «Ho perso la mia diocesi. Il luogo fisico del mio apostolato è stato occupato dai radicali islamici che ci vogliono convertiti o morti. Ma la mia comunità è ancora viva». E’ ben contento di incontrare la stampa occidentale. «Per favore, cercate di capirci - esclama -. I vostri principi liberali e democratici qui non valgono nulla. Occorre che ripensiate alla nostra realtà in Medio Oriente perché state accogliendo nei vostri Paesi un numero sempre crescente di musulmani. Anche voi siete a rischio. Dovete prendere decisioni forti e coraggiose, a costo di contraddire i vostri principi. Voi pensate che gli uomini sono tutti uguali - continua l’arcivescovo Amel Nona - Ma non è vero. L’Islam non dice che gli uomini sono tutti uguali. I vostri valori non sono i loro valori. Se non lo capite in tempo, diventerete vittime del nemico che avete accolto in casa vostra».
The Italian version is linked and quoted in full because there might be some understandable doubt about the authenticity of this rather candid interview. Of course, those doubts may abide regardless, not least because of the variable inconsistencies of the interviewer. But, taken at face value, we are presented here with a number of irrefutable primary truths, any one of which could be extracted to create an alarming leader:
"Our sufferings are the prelude of all Europeans and Western Christians"

"I lost my diocese to Islamic radicals"

"Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here"

"You are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims - you are in danger"

"You think all men are equal, but that is not true: Islam does not say that all men are equal"

"Your values are not their values"

"You will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home"
All of these are pertinent; any of them would be an admissible truth, though not all an advisable headline. And none of these phrases is likely to be uttered by any Western church leader, simply because there is so little understanding in the liberal and democratic Christian West of the Islamic Hydra that manifests itself so variably across what we call the Arab-Muslim world. Even the ubiquity of this geo-ethnic-religious term is indicative of the paucity of theological knowledge and religious observation, for not all Muslims are Arab; not all Arabs subscribe to the same doctrine of Allah; and not all Muslims accord with any notion of inhabiting the same world as those they view as heretics and apostates.

But, to most of us in the liberal and democratic West, this is Islam and they are all Muslims. We can quibble over the meaning of "true" Islam and cavil about what it is to be a "real" Muslim. And we do. And in the liberal and democratic West we are free to do so - at least for now. We are repeatedly told by our schoolteachers and hear in abundance from our political leaders of our common values, our shared truths, and our established assertions of tolerance and respect in an inescapable framework of equality.

But what do these values mean to the Islamic State which, some aver, is no Islamic State at all, but a perversion of Islam and a corruption of the very definition of 'state'? "Your values are not their values," says the exiled Archbishop of Mosul, as he warns of the danger of welcoming "an ever growing number of Muslims". Are his Muslims the same as our Muslims? Is he being "racist" or "Islamophobic"? The media are silent, and the politicians mute. Demographically, it is already too late. With one eye permanently fixed on the electoral cycle and the other on Baroness Warsi, the "Muslim vote" must be heeded.

And yet this "Muslim vote" is as nebulous and incoherent as the "Muslim world". Some of them vote Conservative, one or two incline toward Ukip, and many more are Liberal Democrats. But most are tribal Labour supporters - simply because their parents and grandparents found succour in their community compassion and generous notions of welfare. No one has bothered to research the disparate voting intentions of British Sunni, Shia, Sufi or Ahmadiyya Muslims. But it gets worse: they are the "ethnic minority vote", as though a plethora of Islamic denominations can be lumped in with Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Black Caribbean, Black African or Black 'Other'..

Funny, isn't it, how we so easily conflate "ethnic minority" with "religious minority". And funny, too, that so few of us classify Jews in the same socio-political category.

The historic schism between Sunni and Shia Islam is becoming a global conflict. Israel and the Jews are the only common enemy. Palestine is all that unites them. Or so the narrative goes. But Sunni and Shia are themselves riven with religious fractures and political fissures, such that they routinely denounce one another as heretics like the pretender popes of old, fiddling with their mutual excommunications while the world burns.

We have before us the present foreign-policy obsessions - Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan seem to come and go. We hear mutterings of Yemen and Qatar. Saudi Arabia rarely hits the radar, unless they're flogging women or hanging gays. We flit about from one to the other trying to negotiate 'peace' while selling them missiles, bombs and bullets. Incredibly, we are about to ally ourselves with Shia Iran in order to defeat the greater evil of the Sunni Islamic State. This is profoundly misguided. Our enemies enemy is still our enemy.

The West must heed the stark warning of Archbishop Amel Nona, and do so before it is too late. Mosul has fallen: his warning is that Toulouse, Brussels or Liege might be next. For now, the battleground is fixed in the Middle East. But Jihadi-Salfist theatres of war recognise no state borders, and they have no time at all for democracy, diplomacy, or "moderate" notions of Islam which is not "proper" or "true" Islam. These fanatics find our governments weak and compliant; our liberal and democratic principles quite conducive to their political objectives; our Christianity favourably disposed to a multi-faith ecumenical love-in.

This unpalatable truth may irritate our democratic politicians and cause a few ripples among our liberal bishops. But Archbishop Amel Nona has seen the evil, and calls it so. There can be no fellowship of darkness with light.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bishop of Leeds accuses Cameron of turning his back Iraqi Christians

It hasn't been for the want of trying. Numerous blog posts have been written, emails and DMs exchanged, and meeting with senior ministers held. This blog has been at the forefront. But still the Government refused to see what just about every Christian in the country had eyes to see: that David Cameron said nothing and did even less while tens of thousands of Iraq's Christians were summarily slaughtered or driven from their ancient homelands. But the moment the Yazidis were stranded up Mt Sinjar, the Prime Minister was convening his Cobra emergency committee and announcing to the world that Britain would play a leading role in their rescue and relief. We even sent the SAS.

What is this incoherent foreign policy? Who determines this hierarchy of suffering?

It is as though the Government couldn't give a damn about Iraqi Christians. But the Yazidis are a syncretic Zoroastrian tribe. They are mysterious and cool, and there is kudos to be had in saving the exotic minority. The Christians are knowable and familiar. And therein lies the contempt.

So today's headlines are wholly justified: "Church launches bitter attack on PM's 'incoherent' Middle East policy'. The story has been picked up by the BBC, ITV and Sky, and is slowly reverberating around the world. Here is the incisive letter dispatched to the Prime Minister by the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev'd Nick Baines. Please note that it was sent in the full knowledge and approval of the Archbishop of Canterbury:  
Dear Prime Minister,

Iraq and the Islamic State

I am conscious of the speed at which events are moving in Iraq and Syria, and write recognising the complexity and interconnectedness of the challenges faced by the international community in responding to the crises in Syria and Iraq.

However, in common with many bishops and other correspondents here in the UK, I remain very concerned about the Government’s response to several issues. I write with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury to put these questions to you.

1. It appears that, in common with the United States and other partners, the UK is responding to events in a reactive way, and it is difficult to discern the strategic intentions behind this approach. Please can you tell me what is the overall strategy that holds together the UK Government’s response to both the humanitarian situation and what IS is actually doing in Syria and Iraq? Behind this question is the serious concern that we do not seem to have a coherent or comprehensive approach to Islamist extremism as it is developing across the globe. Islamic State, Boko Haram and other groups represent particular manifestations of a global phenomenon, and it is not clear what our broader global strategy is – particularly insofar as the military, political, economic and humanitarian demands interconnect. The Church internationally must be a primary partner in addressing this complexity.

2. The focus by both politicians and media on the plight of the Yezidis has been notable and admirable. However, there has been increasing silence about the plight of tens of thousands of Christians who have been displaced, driven from cities and homelands, and who face a bleak future. Despite appalling persecution, they seem to have fallen from consciousness, and I wonder why. Does your Government have a coherent response to the plight of these huge numbers of Christians whose plight appears to be less regarded than that of others? Or are we simply reacting to the loudest media voice at any particular time?

3. As yet, there appears to have been no response to pleas for asylum provision to be made for those Christians (and other minorities) needing sanctuary from Iraq in the UK. I recognise that we do not wish to encourage Christians or other displaced and suffering people to leave their homeland – the consequences for those cultures and nations would be extremely detrimental at every level – but for some of them this will be the only recourse. The French and German governments have already made provision, but there has so far been only silence from the UK Government. Therefore, I ask for a response to the question of whether there is any intention to offer asylum to Iraqi migrants (as part of a holistic strategy to addressing the challenges of Iraq)?

4. Following on from this, I note that the Bishop of Coventry tabled a series of questions to HM Government in the House of Lords on Monday 28 July. All but two were answered on Monday 11 August. The outstanding questions included the following: “The Lord Bishop of Coventry to ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to resettling here in the UK a fair proportion of those displaced from ISIS controlled areas of Northern Iraq.” I would be grateful to know why this question has not so far been answered – something that causes me and colleagues some concern.

5. Underlying these concerns is the need for reassurance that a commitment to religious freedom will remain a priority for the Government, given the departure of ministers who championed this. Will the Foreign Secretary's Human Rights Advisory Panel continue under the new Foreign Secretary? Is this not the time to appoint an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom – which would demonstrate the Government’s serious commitment to developing an overarching strategy (backed by expertise) against Islamist extremism and violence?

I look forward to your considered response to these pressing questions.

Yours sincerely,

The Rt Revd Nicholas Baines
The Bishop of Leeds
"Or are we simply reacting to the loudest media voice at any particular time?" the bishop asks. Of course, we all know the answer to this. Most of the mainstream media segued straight from Gaza to Mt Sinjar; from bombed-out Palestinians to the massacre of Yazidis. They said little, if anything, about Mosul, and one doubts they have ever heard of Qaraqosh. The Government tends to react to the obsessive minority passions of the BBC, Guardian and Jon Snow, all of whom manifest a pathological anti-Christian bias, born of theological ignorance and spiritual indifference.

But to say that the Government's policy in Iraq is incoherent, ill-thought-through and determined by "the loudest media voice at any particular time" is brave, coming from a bishop. No doubt some will raise a highly-polished mirror, point the finger and cry "hypocrite!", reminding us that the Church is mired in its own inconsistencies, confusions and contradictions. And perhaps there is in the Church's own muddles and murkiness a temporal reflection at the heart of the State. But this is not a time for divisive diatribes of denunciation. Christians are dying in their thousands. even now, in the relative safety of their Kurdish camps, where they sweat in their fevers and faint from thirst and malnutrition.

And David Cameron stands accused by a senior bishop of the Church of England of abandoning them. And that accusation is justified, because the Yazidis have consistently taken political precedence. The Government has created a hierarchy of suffering in which 30,000 Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar trumps 100,000 Christians fleeing the murderous Jihadists who invaded Mosul and Qaraqosh. For Cameron and his Government, the Christians have indeed "fallen from consciousness".

There has been no response to the bishops' plea that we open our borders to asylum seekers. France and Germany are offering sanctuary, but the Bishops of Leeds, Manchester and Worcester haven't even received an acknowledgement of their letter. Bishop Nick says this is "something that causes me and colleagues some concern". Frankly, it causes His Grace consternation, disillusionment and dismay. Christians are being crucified in Iraq, and the Prime Minister can't even be bothered to convene a committee.

At least Baroness Warsi managed to do that.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why can bishops organise to condemn foodbanks but not genocide?

After the Holocaust, the whole of civilisation united behind two simple words: "Never Again". If the free world is not prepared to eradicate the Islamist evil spreading over the desert sands and pouring onto our polite and tolerant streets, the fate of the Christians of Mosul and the Yazidis of Sinjar surely awaits the genteel parishioners of Tower Hamlets. It is already unfolding in France, Germany and the Netherlands. It is naive to believe that England's mannerly history of relatively bloodless revolution can be sustained against the genocidal, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian pogroms of the Islamic State.

Whether we are in the End Times and approaching the coming final conflict we cannot know. There is a whiff of the Antichrist and sense of Apocalypse, but there are many antichrists and no man knows the day or hour. And as we pore over eschatological charts and await the Parousia, we have one mission and one calling: to proclaim the gospel, feed the hungry, heal the sick and mend the brokenhearted.

So it was a joy to read that the bishops of Leeds, Manchester and Worcester had called on the Government to offer asylum to the persecuted and destitute Christians of Iraq. "We have a tradition of offering sanctuary to people who are oppressed," explained the Rt Rev'd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds. "And it's part of the Christian heritage of this country and the law we have established that puts an obligation on us," he continued. "We also have an obligation to at least raise with the Government the possibility that we should be offering sanctuary to Christians in Iraq who have been effectively expelled under the threat of death. The Government cannot remain silent and you cannot just issue words – you've got to put something behind that. If we can't offer sanctuary to these people, then who will? Not doing so would be tantamount to the betrayal of our moral and historical obligations."

And then these three were joined by another: "Archbishop of Canterbury urges Britain to open doors to persecuted Iraqi Christians," heralded the Telegraph. But then, silence. The bishop have received no response from the Government. This utterly damning cartoon from Morten Morland in today's Times might explain why:

Or is it, quite simply, that not enough bishops have organised and united in their righteous quest in order to generate greater publicity and so exert the greatest political pressure? Why is it that 27 bishops of the Church of England can get together to castigate Cameron via the Daily Mirror over the "national crisis" of foodbanks and "failures in the benefit system", but only three can organise themselves with the Guardian to agitate over the international crisis unfolding in Iraq and the manifest failures of the Foreign Office?

Are the Daily Mirror and the Guardian really the most persuasive media by which to lobby a Conservative Prime Minister, Work and Pensions Secretary or Foreign Secretary? Shouldn't the bishops at least be attempting to speak Greek to the Greeks? Don't they appreciate that the medium is still at least part of the message?  

This is not in any sense to dispraise the efforts of the bishops of Leeds, Manchester and Worcester, or to belittle the welcome added voice of the Archbishop of Canterbury who has called out this "evil". But somebody/bodies must have done some applied administrative networking to engineer the foodbank protest and get the support of 27 bishops, whose concert of grievance was then heard at the highest levels. Why could this not have been done over the evil unfolding in Iraq?

It is, of course, too late for those who have been tortured and summarily slaughtered. What we should have said or might have done are now matters for Judgment Day. But for those who are surviving on Sinjar's mountain of hell or subsisting in the purgatorial plains of Nineveh it is not too late, and they cry out for deliverance as they weep for relief and die in their camps. It is invidious that we are prepared to condemn the cruelty and barbarism of the Islamic State but not open our borders to our suffering Christian brothers and sisters and our traumatised neighbours.   

It is inconceivable that any bishop of the Church of England has not thought, prayed or preached about this. For those who believe the Government should act beyond flying out baked beans and dropping bottles of Evian, to offer sanctuary to the thousands fleeing the Jihadist terror, His Grace is prepared to act as a conduit to establish a unified episcopal voice on this appeal:
"While conflicts rage in the Middle East, we continue to pray for peace. Britain has a history of providing refuge to the oppressed. We ask the Government to offer sanctuary to Christians and others who have been expelled under threat of death."
Those Anglican Bishops and Archbishops who make this appeal to the Government currently include:
Justin Welby, Canterbury
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
Should any bishop wish to add his name, please do so. If you think your bishop might, please contact him and request that he make his support known. Bless you.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

None dare call it evil - except Archbishop Justin Welby

Our politicians are at last speaking about the terror, torture, mass murder and genocide being meted out upon Christians and other minorities by the Islamic State in Iraq. Their assessment of the situation ranges from "completely unacceptable" to "barbaric". Cardinal Vincent Nichols astutely calls it "a persecution of immense proportions". The Archbishop of Canterbury calls it "evil". And not only is it evil, but "part of an evil pattern around the world where Christians and other minorities are being killed and persecuted for their faith". And he refers specifically to Northern Nigeria, Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

It doesn't take a genius to work out that his subject is radical Islam and the malignant Saudi-backed Salafist strain.

Archbishop Justin knows a thing or two about evil: he has stared it in the face down the barrel of a gun while trying to bring peace and reconciliation to the warlords, bandits and murderous thugs of Africa. When you expect to die and phone your wife to say goodbye, you may begin to grasp what it is to agonise, grieve and suffer because of evil.

Archbishop Justin says that this "evil pattern around the world" is brutally violating people's right to freedom of religion and belief. It is, in fact, killing them for their faith in Jesus Christ. It is persecuting them for heresy, apostasy and infidelity to the temporal objectives and literal truths revealed by Mohammed. The Salafi-Jihadists or Jihadi-Salafists who agitate for a caliphate may constitute less than 0.5 percent of the world's 1.9 billion Muslims, but that still numbers them around 10 million - sufficient to establish an evil pattern of hard-line Islamisation around the world.

It is good that we have an Archbishop of Canterbury who discerns manifestations of evil not only in the principalities and powers of the spiritual realm, but also in the muddled and murky politics of the temporal. His nature is averse to the discordant skirmishes of religio-political polarisation: his heart inclines toward peace and reconciliation. But he knows the unmistakable signs of the times, and can read the moods and movements that transcend the materialistic, corrupt, decadent and immoral obsessions of the age. He won't call it a "clash of civilisations", but we have in Justin Welby an Archbishop who knows that the greatest threat to the Judæo-Christian ethic is the Islamic revival movement which we call Islamism, Jihadism, extremist or political Islam.

Right across the Arab-Muslim world, from the coastal plains of the Maghreb to the Himalayan peaks of Pakistan, a Quranic Curtain is descending. Whatever its fanatical creed and sectarian form, this veil of darkness is asserting the superiority of a culture and civilisation which is inimical to Western notions of politics, religion, morality and enlightenment, to the point that they want to cleanse the earth of all that impedes and obstructs the establishment of the Caliphate - the Islamic State.

The evil pattern which is emerging around the world must be routed and disordered. Their future is not ours. This is the repressive and brutal evil which confronts us. Thank God Justin Welby calls it so.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Canon Andrew White: "You have got to be prepared to die for your faith"

"We have had people's heads chopped off. We are having people convert. We are even having children slaughtered and cut in half." And with these words, Newsnight's interview with Canon Andrew White ends, as he leaves the Baghdad studio to carry on ministering to his flock. "We are living in worst crisis I have ever known," he writes on Facebook. "Working day and night to meet the needs of those who have nothing. We are providing a huge amount and as you will see on this video we are all very tired, but our Lord is sustaining us."

And he does look rather tired. But there is no sense of bitterness, exasperation, or even a hint of indignation. His whole demeanour is one of peacefulness and serenity. At times he sounds almost like a soul in bliss, and perhaps that is what makes his ministry so vital in a region where every waking day brings an expectation of death.

Apparently, President Obama is bombing Northern Iraq to help save the 40,000 members of the Yazidi tribe stranded on the barren crags of Mount Sinjar, before more of them die of dehydration and starvation. The President said the US could not turn a "blind eye" to the prospect of violence "on a horrific scale", especially when the Iraqi government had requested assistance. He said the US would act "carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide".

This intervention is welcome. But one notes that it was the appalling plight of the Yazidi after the Islamic State took control of Zumar and Sinjar which has animated the politicians; not the desperate anguish of Christians after those same Sunni-Salafist fanatics butchered their way through Mosul. And now the Prime Minister has issued a statement:

The world must help them in their hour of desperate need? Why were the Christians not deemed worthy of the same level of concern and support? Why is the Prime Minister less burdened by their right to freedom and dignity? Are Christians worth less than members of a so-called 'sect'?

Baroness Warsi observed back in January that the persecution of Christians has become a "global crisis". But she did nothing. She said the UK Government was committed to standing up to such persecution. But she did nothing. She said majority Muslim nations have a duty to defend Christian minorities. But she did nothing. She assured us that she had elevated religious discrimination against Christians and other minorities to a key priority in the Government’s human rights work. But she did nothing. She visited the Pope and made a speech to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy. But nothing came of it. She convened a committee to discuss the complex issues. But nothing came of that, either.

Words, words, words.

At least Canon Andrew White is doing something. And in his anguish are echoes of the passions and martyrdoms of generations past.

But the persecution of Christians throughout history has ultimately failed because it has tended to separate the wheat from the chaff and caused growth. Eusebius’ account of the martyrdom of Polycarp tells us: "When one governor in Asia Minor in the second century began persecuting the Christians, the entire Christian population of the region paraded before his house as a manifesto of their faith." The suffering of some Christians spurred others to more faithful living. Martyrs were perceived as having heroic qualities, and many peasants, onlookers, soldiers and members of the nobility became Christians through their witness. Tertullian observed: "The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed." Tacitus agreed, after the persecutions of Nero, that "in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition broke out afresh, not only in Judaea... but even in Rome".

The blood of Christians is seed.

Muslims loyal to the Islamic State will do what they believe they have been called by their prophet to do. Presidents and prime ministers will try to bomb them to hell. But the Living God will strengthen His people to be courageous and fearless. And persecution is nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, it is one of the marks of true gospel ministry and discipleship. Sharing in the sufferings of Christ translates into sharing a future glory. As St Peter says, it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God: "But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled" (1Pt 3:14).

Canon Andrew White suffers with his people because Christ suffered for him, leaving us an example, that we should follow in His steps and in his steps. He is a bold and gracious witness to the whole world. 

Thursday, August 07, 2014

"We are being butchered under the banner of 'There is no God but Allah'"

It is impossible to hear the anguished wailing of this Iraqi MP and not be hauled to the depths of her misery and despair. You might shed a tear watching it, because it is harrowing. Her name is Vian Dakheel, of Iraq's Yazidi tribe (also Yezidi, Êzidî) - an ethno-religious group whose presence in the region pre-dates that of both Christians and Muslims. Ethnically, they are Kurdish; religiously, they practise a monotheistic syncretised fusion of Islam and Zoroastrianism. Beneath their one true god are seven deities - the Heptad - the most important of which is Tawsi Melek, which translates as 'Peacock Angel' or 'Peacock King'. Tracing their origins back to 600 BC, it is not unreasonable to say that they are the oldest religious community in what we now call Iraq.

Up until a week ago, there were around 800,000 of them living in the Nineveh province of northern region. But the Sunni-Salafist Islamic State have descended in their murderous droves, and the towns of Zumar and Sinjar have been cleansed of these devil-worshipers, for Tawsi Melek may also be rendered 'Shaytan', the Arabic word for 'devil' or 'demon'. And so they have suffered persecution at the hands of Muslims for centuries.

It is estimated that some 2,000 were murdered and as many as 40,000 have fled into the mountains to avoid the slaughter. The children are now dying of thirst. Exposed to the heat of Mount Sinjar, the elderly and vulnerable adults will soon follow.

This is genocide. The Yazidi are being systematically wiped off the face of the earth. Vian Dakheel demands that the Iraqi Parliament act to repel ISIS/Islamic State, which appears to have its advocates in the legislature. Another MP Haji Ghandour told reporters: "In our history, we have suffered 72 massacres. We are worried Sinjar could be a 73rd." And we read: “People were terrified,” said Ilias al-Hussani, 27, who had been trekking through the mountains for 10 hours. “They are savages. We’ve seen what they’ve done to people of their own faith. Imagine what they would do to us non-Muslims.”

Imagine, indeed.

This is another humanitarian tragedy. The appalling plight of the Yazidi has made the Independent, Mail, Guardian, Telegraph, Economist, Yahoo News UK, Al-Jazeera and the BBC.

You've probably guessed where this is going.

The Chaldean-Assyrian Christians, Maronites, Melkites and Copts are also being "butchered under the banner of 'There is no God but Allah'". They, too, are fleeing into the mountains for refuge, as Christ exhorted at the time of the end. They, too, are being reviled, persecuted, and their children murdered. But we're not hearing an awful lot about it.

Except via Canon Andrew White, who writes today:
The Massacre of all continues. We are now in Erbil supporting to various church leaders here. The Yazidis have now come under huge attack. This group is similar to the Zoroastrians and at the best of times they are a discriminated and despised minority. What we have heard from some of the Church leaders is more than horrendous. Just like last week a felt I could not show the pictures so today I fell I cannot tell the whole story especially about the children.

Now they head toward Erbil. This is supposed to be the one safe area in Iraq but yesterday evening the whole of Erbil went into total panic with news that ISIS was moving towards Erbil. It is not here yet but it may indeed be on its way. Meanwhile over a hundred people where killed in Baghdad last night.

There is one other person here doing what we are doing with his wife. Dr Plumb and his wife Peggy are both in their late 70's, they are Mormons have been here several months using all their own money. He is our closest friend here. All the time people say to me how can you work with a Mormon. Well he is the only other person here doing the work of Jesus caring for the poor and the dying and we love each other.
Our neighbour is the one who has need. Our brother is the one who helps us to meet that need - in this instance, caring for the poor and the dying. Louis Raphael I Sako, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, writes:
..speeches are good for nothing, so too declarations that rehash condemnations and indignation; the same can be said for protest marches. In addition, while appreciating the generosity of our donors, we would say that donations and fundraising too are not what will solve our problems. We have to demand a large-scale administrative [governmental] operation on an international level. There is in fact the need for awareness, in conscience, regarding this simple human principle: the demand for real actions and solidarity because we are before a crisis related to our very existence, facing the fact that "we will be or we will not be."

This is an appeal from the bottom of the heart in the search for a solution that lies uniquely in the hands of the international community and above all with the great powers. We address ourselves profoundly to their consciences and that they should review their positions and to re-evaluate the impact of the situation of today.

These powers face a human and moral responsibility. It is no longer reasonable to take recourse to double standards. They are called to free themselves from their narrow interests and to unite themselves in a political and peacekeeping solution that puts an end to this conflict. These powers must vigorously exercise pressure on those who support financially and train militarily these factions and so cut short these sources of violence and radicalisation.

Concerning the Christians of Iraq, in our pastoral ministry towards them, we also call upon the international community: our Christians are in urgent need of humanitarian aid, as too they are in need of an efficient, true and permanent protection that reassures them that there is no end to their existence, whose origins are so deeply rooted in Iraq; this also concerns Christians in other regions of the Middle East that are burning and being torn apart.

We also appeal to our brothers and sisters around the world, that they too be truly with us in solidarity at this our time of suffering this terrible ordeal; that they live with us this feeling of solidarity as if belonging to the same family.
There is the heartfelt plea: "..the need for awareness, in conscience, regarding this simple human principle: the demand for real actions and solidarity because we are before a crisis related to our very existence.."

The Prime Minister has asked the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP to assume the Faith portfolio previously held by Baroness Warsi. There have already been strong objections, though, in fact, Mr Pickles always had ultimate responsibility for DCLG policy, which includes matters of faith and integration. But the Baroness was viewed by many (and known to be by a few) as something of a hurdle to progress in this area: she convened a committee on religion and belief, but her view of Islamist terrorism was never quite that of the Prime Minister or the Prince of Wales. Now gone, we can expect to see not only changes in tone, but policy.

Secretary of State, there is an urgent need for awareness. And then there must be real actions. We pray you will hear the weeping and wailing.          

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Canon Andrew White: "The governments and media of the world may have forgotten us.."

It is a tedious seasonal metaphor, now clichéd to the point of political hollowness, but these "Arab springs", once hailed as the founts of liberty and democratic dreams, have become long, cold winters of turmoil, suffering, persecution and mass slaughter.

Egypt is economically unstable; Syria is is meltdown; Iraq is disintegrating; Libya has become the very bloodbath we tried to avert; Saudi Arabia is struggling with internal discord; and Iran is fomenting regional conflict. The Arab world is collapsing in painful spasms and convulsing in a series of existential catastrophes. The disintegration has been swift and inexorable.

The ensuing humanitarian tragedy is epic - one might almost say 'biblical'. Tens of millions across the Arab world are in need of urgent aid as they displaced, made homeless and hunger for their daily bread. Hundreds of thousands have lost their lives through civil war and sectarian strife. Now that the regional strongmen have fallen one by one, the vacuum is being filled by the Salafist-Jihadist Islamic State, and they have brought hell on earth.

Where is the Arab League in all this? How are they responding to the Caliphate? What are they saying about the apocalyptic death and destruction? Where are the declarations opposing Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or uniting in their condemnation of his 'robust' interpretation of Islam?


There are, however, a few causes of optimism. God's people are not mute; nor are they turning a blind eye. Here is the latest update from the Vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White:
I can’t express how immensely encouraged I am by the huge amount of support we have received here for the persecuted Christians here in Iraq. People have prayed and sacrificially given. They have enabled us to at least begin to meet the crucial needs of the people. Dr Sarah and I have been working flat out on meeting these needs but we have to have more help and I pray that today we will find the help we need. Today I will head North to Kurdistan where Sarah is at the moment.

Helping Through The Iraqi Churches

The main way we are helping the massive numbers of internally displaced people is through the various indigenous churches. The different denominations know which of their people need help, and who they have who have fled Mosul and Nineveh. The money is received through our Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME) and given through our one Anglican Church in Iraq. So the help is given from Church to Church. The Foundation is a 501C3 in the US and a registered charity in the UK. So people can give in tax beneficial ways.

Daily Information

Daily information is provided through Face Book and on less regular email updates sent about twice a week. My personal face book page is full as I have 5000 friends and am thus not allowed anymore. I do however have a popular figure page that you can like and get regular updates there.

The message to those who want to be friends:

I would very much love to have you as a friend but I am afraid I have reached the limit of 5000 friends on my page there are two public figure pages that you can join that get my same updates. You can also sign up for my regular updates at .Please do join one of these pages. These pages are:

Together We Have Hope

Everything maybe awful but we have such hope. HOPE because we are not alone the support from our friends around the world has simply been phenomenal. The governments and media of the world may have forgotten us but the people of G-d are with us Jews, Christians and Muslims the people who know that the Lord is here and His Spirit is with us.

With love thanks and blessings,

Andrew White
This is an encouraging epistle, the most notable sentence being the final one. But the media have not entirely forgotten: the Christian media are well informed. And even if Channel 4 News is consumed by Gaza and busy lauding the bravery of Baroness Warsi, the BBC is slowly waking up to the horrors being inflicted upon Christians by the self-styled Islamic State.

But we must remember that these Salafist extremists neither represent nor speak for all Sunni Muslims. As Canon White explains elsewhere, there are voices being raised against them:
Islamic Sunni Leader totally Condemns ISIS

I have spent much of the day with one Iraq's most senior Sunni Imams Sheik Khalid Al Mullah he has openly and clearly spoken out against the evil events, massacres and slaughters committed by ISIS. He not only stated they were totally demonic he said they were totally against everything Islam stands for. He stated that Christianity was the very root of Iraqi society, therefore Christians are at the heart of Iraqi society. We went to see the US Ambassador together and the Sheik was able to share these points with him.
And it must be observed that the Islamic State is not only persecuting Christians, but also Shia, Turkmen, Shabaks, Yazidis and others.

Our Government mutters about the need for regional peace and stability, but the FCO offers no solutions. They whisper in Whitehall as Christians are systematically cleansed from their ancient lands, but they give no assistance. As we witness waves of terror sweeping over the land and the emergence of a new hegemonic power, the geo-politics of the Middle East and North Africa are being irrevocably transformed.

The hope must be that space is eventually made in this turmoil for the Jews, Assyrians, Maronites, Melkites, Copts and other minorities whose presence in the region pre-dates those who are currently purging the land of apostates and infidels and claiming it for their malignant sharia, in the name of Mohammed and for the glory of Allah, the all merciful and most merciful.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Warsi resigns over "morally indefensible" Gaza policy

As Baroness Warsi was extinguishing her candle last night in Westminster Abbey, symbolising the lights going out all over Europe a century ago, she knew that she was about to snuff out her political career. 

His Grace won't re-rehearse the praise he has poured out on Sayeeda Warsi in the past (time and time and time and time and again): she is undoubtedly brave, articulate and forthright in her beliefs. She glides through the complexities of Pakistani politics; confronts ‘honour’ killings, mandatory veils and the evils of forced marriage; exposes voter fraud and immerses herself in very relevant and pressing social issues which benefit more than her co-religionists. Contrary to the pervasive Muslim caricature, her eyes are not solely fixated on the glorification of Allah and the wellbeing of the Ummah. Indeed, she has long been a staunch advocate - in word at least - of the Christian faith and its importance for our foundations of liberty. She spoke well, even if she did not always understand.

But she has resigned from the Government over its policy on Gaza, which she says in "morally indefensible".

This is curious, not least because Foreign Secretary has not articulated any policy at all on the matter. Still green in the job, one gets the impression that he studiously straddling fences and balancing on pinheads in order to avoid offending anyone, possibly in order to bolster the Muslim vote.

But perhaps that is Baroness Warsi's problem. She clearly believes that HM Government ought to join in the global choruses of condemnation denouncing Israel, accusing the Zionist aggressor of war crimes and demanding sanctions. She insists that all arms exports to Israel must stop. And since the FCO isn't prepared to dance to that tune, she has decided to clear her desk and resign.

Perhaps that is a good thing.

For all the praise heaped upon her over the years by this blog, she has, of late, completely lost the plot. She lectures us about "true Islam", and mocks those who expose the paucity of her theological understanding. She tweets and tweets about Sharia finance, seemingly oblivious to the religio-cultural significance of the policy. She convened a committee to propagate global religious liberty, but it met only twice for coffee, said absolutely nothing and achieved even less. And she answered many of her critics with veiled allusions to 'Islamophobia', thereby shutting down any valid criticism of her incompetence and deficiencies.

There was a feeling, if not the perception, that this 'Senior Minister of State' had made something of a hobby out of being in the Cabinet, and was using her position in the FCO more for faddish personal interests than the weighty matter of implementing government policy. William Hague was prepared to indulge her and the Prime Minister humoured her: she was symbolically important for Tory detoxification, modernisation and Cameroon rebranding project. It was important that the first female Muslim in the Cabinet was seen to be happy, fully integrated and successful.

Her loss will be keenly felt - not so much in Government but certainly in CCHQ on the run-up to the 2015 General Election. As she agitates now from the Lords' backbenches, descends on chat shows and takes to the airwaves and blogs (it must be noted that she handed her first post-resignation interview exclusively to her co-religionist Mehdi Hasan), the impression will be given that Muslim interests aren't entirely served by or represented in the Conservative Party. And those interests, for many British Muslims, are inseparable from dreams of Palestinian statehood.
The reality, of course, is that Sayeeda Warsi's personal opinions increasingly found no place in the Conservative Party. But that distinction will be lost entirely in those constituencies where the Muslim vote is significant to the outcome of the next General Election, whence she will now doubtless receive dozens of invitations to speak about Israel's "war crimes", "outrages" and "massacres".

Hamas are terrorists, she insists. But Israel is an "occupying power".

And in that 'but' is all the justification Hamas ever needs to continue lobbing missiles at Israel's towns and cities, kidnapping civilians and bombing children on school buses.     

Perhaps, instead of dedicating her honoured position in the House of Lords to pontifications about Palestine or denunciations of HM Government, Baroness Warsi might follow the laudable example of Baroness Cox and turn her efforts to global acts of compassion and humanitarian relief. It's very easy to be "morally outraged" from the red backbenches.

Monday, August 04, 2014

We must remember them

It began today, precisely 100 years ago. The international struggle precipitated by Austria's attack on Serbia following the murder of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Russia came to the aid of Serbia, and Germany to that of Austria. War was then declared by France, Russia's ally, and the invasion of Belgium brought the United Kingdom into the conflict. Germany and Austria then secured the aid of Turkey and Bulgaria, to form the Central Powers, while Japan, Italy, Romania and Portugal joined the group known as the Allies, along with the British Empire, including Australia and South Africa. They were later joined by the United States.

And so we had a world at war - from the Western Front to the Russian East; from Africa and the South Seas to Gallipoli and Mesopotamia: the scale was unprecedented. Some 30 million men were at arms, and munitions were expended to an extent hitherto regarded as impossible. Each traumatic year and its own devastating features - successful invasion and advancement; were followed by frustrating trench warfare and impasse. Neuve Chapelle, Loos, Ypres, Somme - the bloody horrors and immense sacrifice have gone down in history. This was, so we were told, the war to end all wars.

But it wasn't, of course.

The world is fallen, and our moral reason is as flawed as our political judgment. The law within us is torn from the law of God, and we generate conceptions of freedom as autonomy independent of reality. For some, the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" is absolute: life is the loan and blessing of God, and man is not free to end it. For others, human life has no supreme value: God commands killing for the just cause, and that requires surrender and sacrifice.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. As world leaders and royalty attend services of commemoration, and priests and bishops preach of the futility of war and intone their laments for the fallen, the mainstream media, blogs and Twitter will be full of discussions and debates on scales somewhere between tragedy, devastating loss and colossal waste to casuistry, victory and justification. Christians will pluck scriptures out of the air and conflate notions of holy war with Peter's slaying of Ananias and Sapphira by his word. The Old Testament commands and justifies killing. The New Testament countenances killing, also. But amidst a sea of texts that forbid it, there are anomalies and exceptions which establish the need for expository vigilance.

What we now call World War One was a war of national self-defence. You may demur, but you may not do so with appeal to the commands of God or heaven-storming idealism. If you believe that war is fundamentally contrary to the will of God, and so unnecessary in the defence of honour, justice and freedom, you must justify our national subjugation to tyranny and oppression. The deadly reality of modern warfare, with its capacity to obliterate whole continents and annihilate whole populations, may have disclosed the evil of war more vividly than the weaponry of the Great War. But the scale of human sacrifice 100 years ago is a constant reminder that there are no optimistic illusions: war is dark and ugly; its consequences horrific.

Millions of our youngest and brightest freely enlisted in the service of God and King. Some signed up even before they were legally old enough to do so. Their country needed them, and they went. Most fought because they believed that the autonomy of the nation state is a value that Christians ought to defend, for it was the source of their whole physical, intellectual and spiritual life, and so crucial to their relationship to God. That was and remains the theological view of the Church of England, whose chaplains prayed, wept and bled alongside those who fell.         

Today is a day for reflection. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Bishops demand Government offer asylum to Iraqi Christians

From Canon Andrew White, Vicar of Baghdad: "We have just had terrible news that Baghdad International Airport has been shut down because of security risks. Without it we cannot go North to do the relief work or even leave the country. Please pray that we can get out."

As the Islamic State continues its programme of bloody executions and forced conversion, Canon White bears witness to the suffering: "You know I love to show photos but the photo I was sent today was the most awful I have ever seen. A family of 8 all shot through the face laying in a pool of blood with their Bible open on the couch. They would not convert it cost them there life. I thought of asking if anybody wanted to see the picture but it is just too awful to show to anybody. This is Iraq today. The only hope and consolation is that all these dear people are now all with Yeshua in Glory."

ISIS/Islamic State have released a 'promotional video' which is too, too awful to post here.

"We would be failing to fulfil our obligations were we not to offer sanctuary," says the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Rev'd David Walker. "Having intervened so recently and extensively in Iraq, we have, even more than other countries, a moral duty in the UK."

And so we have. But the emphasis given to his reasoning is awry. "Given the vast amounts of money that we spent on the war in Iraq", he explains, "the tiny cost of bringing some people fleeing for their lives to this country and allowing them to settle – and who, in due course, would be an asset to our society – would seem to be minuscule."

It's a shame that the Bishop's sense of "moral duty" appears to be based on superficial financial comparatives. But this is a report by The Observer, one of the Bishops' favoured media for communicating homilies of gravity. And perhaps, given the scale of the trauma being inflicted upon Iraq's Christians, it seems churlish to quibble with the inference that the reason HM Government has not hitherto offered asylum is due to "Tory cuts".

The Bishop of Worcester, the Rt Rev'd Dr John Inge, makes an appeal to our Christian values: "I would be very disturbed if the government refused to do anything," he says. "The situation in Iraq is absolutely horrendous. It would sit very ill at ease with our values if nothing were to be offered. I am disappointed nothing has transpired so far."

As are very many of us. The burden has fallen largely on the Kurds, with a recent generous offer of asylum from France. But the rest of the EU is mute. And HM Government is more concerned with immigration curbs than acting justly and compassionately toward persecuted Christians in foreign lands.   

The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev'd Nick Baines, articulates our moral duty incisively: "We have a tradition of offering sanctuary to people who are oppressed, and it's part of the Christian heritage of this country and the law we have established that puts an obligation on us. We also have an obligation to at least raise with the government the possibility that we should be offering sanctuary to Christians in Iraq who have been effectively expelled under the threat of death. The government cannot remain silent and you cannot just issue words – you've got to put something behind that. If we can't offer sanctuary to these people, then who will? Not doing so would be tantamount to the betrayal of our moral and historical obligations."

It seems bizarre that David Cameron refuses to grant immediate asylum to Iraqi Christians fleeing the religious cleansing in Mosul. He waxes eloquently about his Christian faith and his faith in the Church of England, and on this matter his faith and his church ought to be gnawing at his conscience. The Bishop of Leeds is absolutely right: the Government "cannot remain silent and you cannot just issue words".

Wars and fighting are a product of the cravings that are at war within individuals (Js 4:1-3). We cannot stop them, and they will not cease until the Prince of Peace returns and the government rests upon His shoulder. In the meantime, it is incumbent upon Christians to accept suffering rather than inflict it. If that means we have to sell our swords to buy cloaks, or give away one of our coats to those who have none, then that is what we are commanded to do. It is our mission.

There is no point preaching the word or hearing it if we are not prepared to offer goodwill or share hospitality with widows and orphans. We were warned by Christ to prepare for a time of rejection and persecution. And he told us to pack our swords with our belongings, which is a vivid symbol that we can expect to encounter opposition. That time has now come for the Christians of Iraq and throughout vast swathes of the Arab and Muslim world.

As Bishop Nick says, we have a moral obligation to act. The offer of asylum is part of our Christian heritage which is the fons et origo of our law. These three bishops bear prophetic witness against the persecution and murder of our brothers and sisters in Iraq. They are challenging the Government with the authority that belongs to God, and by doing so they highlight the sharp boundary between the church and the world; between the community of Christ and the cult of secular politics. The liberal society is premised on freedom of conscience, freedom of speech and freedom of worship. These are our values. It is immoral that we are not prepared to help those with whom we share so much.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Psalm 118: “The nations surround me; in the name of G-d they will be struck down"

In today's synagogue service, Jews throughout the world will read the opening chapters of the book of Deuteronomy (1:1-3.22). Verses 1:41-44 recount the Jews' response to the admonishment of Moses:
Then you [the Jews] answered and said to me [Moses], we have sinned against G-d; we will go up and fight, as the Lord our G-d commanded us. And when you donned your armour, you made light of going up into the hill country.
And G-d said to me: say to them. Neither go up, nor fight, lest you be struck down by your enemies; because I am not in your midst.
So I spoke to you; but you would not listen, rebelling against the commandment of G-d, presumptuously going up into the hill country.
And the Emorites, which dwelt in that hill country, came out against you, and chased you, as bees do, and destroyed you from Seir, as far as Chormah.
His Grace was sent this exposition yesterday (by a Jewish communicant [before the onset of the Sabbath]):
The early mediæval Rabbinic commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, universally known by the acronym “Rashi”, explains that just as bees die immediately after stinging, so did the Emorites die following their attacks on the Jews. Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik (1886-1959) asks the question: "Why does the Bible inform us (indirectly) what happened to the Emorites, when the principal purpose of the verses would seem to be to inform the Jews of the dire consequences of disobeying G-d’s word?" He answers that it is to tell us of the level of hatred the Emorites bore us, and that we should be under no illusions that the enemies of the Jews will never willingly decease from their attacks, irrespective of the consequences.

In similar vein, the verses in Psalm 118:10-12 read: “The nations surround me; in the name of G-d they will be struck down. They surround me, they also surround me. In the name of G-d they will be struck down. They surround me like bees. They will be consumed as a fire burns thorns. In the name of G-d they will be struck down.”

The commentators explain that initially the anti-Semites besiege us. If the initial siege looks as if it will be breached, they re-double their efforts by re-encircling the previous siege lines. If this too fails, they attack us with reckless disregard for their own safety. Our only protection is a recognition of the power of G-d; but with that, they can be destroyed as comprehensively as a fire destroys a dry thorn bush.

The symbolism of the thorn bush is perhaps that it appears impregnable, with devastatingly sharp thorns; it is unbelievably hardy with an ability to survive with minimal water (which itself represents Torah because of its life-giving properties as a channel between G-d and man). It also bears no useful fruit. However, when attacked through the appropriate medium, it consumes itself speedily and with ferocity, precisely because it contains so little water/Torah.
This is meaty stuff for the Christian, too. In Deuteronomy, Moses is not simply explaining the laws of God: he is earnestly enjoining them upon the consciences of his people, and urging them to pursue a holy life under the Covenant. Israel's greatest peril is idolatry, which is to be resisted and suppressed with uncompromising severity. Faithfulness to the Covenant will be rewarded by material benefits; violation and disregard of the Covenant will be punished by material disaster and, ultimately, exile.

The overriding lesson which pervades the whole of the Old Testament is that a nation that turns its back on the Lord will be judged. And God will use the enemies of that nation to mete out that judgment. You might think this absurd, but the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing judgment is ongoing:
Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.
And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:
Of sin, because they believe not on me;
Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more;
Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged (Jn 16:7-11).
God, sin, righteousness and judgment are real and present: they determine the meaning of the life that we are given to live in this age. But this age repudiates God, mocks sin, scorns righteousness and laughs in the face of judgment. It is no wonder that the thorn bush is being consumed.