Leonardo"s Notebook by Mattheus Mei

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Bishop of Rochester Explains

In the latest at Ruth Gledhill's blog the Bishop of Rochester expounds on his previous statements of wariness of the now infamous Open Letter. His warriness, not so much shared by his Anglican co-religionists is certainly shared as I've previously pointed out by those farther south of him in Rome. Some highlights:

The call to peace and harmony is certainly a very moving part of this letter and it has struck a chord with those in the West who are getting tired of the daily fear of terrorism. Again, however, peace between Christians and Muslims is presented as conditional: it is only for those Christians who do not ‘wage war against Muslims’. What does this mean? Does it mean, for example, that any action against any Muslim nation or group, whatever the threat, will be regarded as abrogating peace between Muslims and Christians as a whole? The writers also need to repudiate those parts of their tradition which seem to sanction violence against People of the Book and others, unless they submit to Islam.

I find this especially interesting because it seems that many in the more extreme Muslim community, who are gaining in strength and numbers every day, will take this to mean not just physical war, but ideological outbursts. Look what we've seen so far, the Danish Cartoon riots, the outcry from the Regensburg Lectures - all of these actions were spurred not by a group of Christians invading a small bit of Muslim territory, but by Secularist and Christian people verbalising opinions - whether satiric in the case of the Danish riots, or based on historical and philisophical evidence. But what about moderates in Islam? Well, it won't stand for any symbolic language of reproach either, look at secularist and democratic Turkey where they're having a row over the American Congress declaring their predecessors the Ottoman Empire, who doesn't relate one bit to Ataturk, having committed the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians. It's a call, not from the liberals who are stressing that Ataturk had nothing to do with the genocide, but from the ruling mildly Islamist who view such rhettoric as yet again the world agains Islam.

To go further.

Apart from Pope Benedict and a few others, most of the addressees are Eastern church leaders. This is to be welcomed but the letter does not mention the harassment, persecution and murder which Christians are experiencing in so many Muslim lands today. it does not refer to the need for a common commitment to fundamental freedoms of thought, expression, belief and changing one’s belief. it says nothing about how particular interpretations of the Shari’a are significantly affecting the lives of women, religious minorities and others, and whether Shari’a can be interpreted differently.

Again just look at the present state of the world. How in Arabia and the Gulf States Christians aren't allowed to construct churches and the Religious Authorities are wary of them gathering to pray and worship. I'm reminded of an article I read recently, from the Economist no less, on the influx of Christian South Asians to the gulf states because they're cheap labor and how they're ghettoized and can't build churches, they have underground Bible studies or pack into overflowing the few existing Christian worship centers. And let us once again point out Turkey who according to this recent article in The Economist:

In a gesture of goodwill, Turkey this year restored a much-prized Armenian church in the eastern province of Van. Armenian officials were among those invited to attend its opening—albeit as a museum—in March.

Even in a secular state like Turkey, where Islam is in the Majority and Christianity and Judaism is in the minority the state will only restore the Church to a Museum, much like the Hagia Sophia, despite the fact that there is an active Christian community, even an Armenian Christian Community present and willing to use the Church.

This says so much, and sheds so much light on the fact that moderate Islam has a lot to clarify, as the Bishop states about it's own understanding of Christianity and it's own willingness to truly dialogue:

The letter distinguishes between those of the People of the Book who are in agreement with Muslim views of God, and others who may have views which are quite different. The question is: into which category do the writers place present-day Christians and churches? Without such clarification, a call to dialogue, even on these terms, is meaningless. *

The point of departure for dialogue, as set out in the letter, is unprecedented. Until now, dialogue has been understood to respect the integrity of each faith. It has been about mutual listening and learning, as well as witnessing within its context. It simply cannot be conducted on the terms of one partner alone. But this seems to be the theological rationale of the letter.


*As I stated previously. Islam was born at a time of upheaval in Christianity when Orthodoxy was only beginning to rise out of the many theologies which after the council's took shelter in the far corners of the empire. Mohammed's uncle was a monk, and an Arian one at that - the theology of course denies the divinity of Christ which allows me to state with some sense of great security that this historical heresy influenced and determined Jesus' role in the development of Islam, we might be talking differently had his uncle been proto-orthodox

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