Saturday, 6 September 2008

My time of abstinence

This week’s View from Fleet Street in the Church of England Newspaper is by Riazat Butt. Reproduced here by permission.

My time of abstinence

Ramadan is upon us and, taking my cue from Tower Hamlets council, I’m asking you to be sensitive to my needs during this 30-day period of abstinence and restraint by refraining from publishing stories about gay bishops during the hours of sunrise and sunset.

In the month of fasting I can think of no better example to set than a complete avoidance of phrases such as openly gay and Anglican Communion in the same sentence, especially when ever one is stuffed to the gills already with stories of schism. A little bit of perspective and reflection is required here. There are 80m Anglicans in the world. There are more than 800m Hindus, more than 300m Buddhists and more than 1bn Catholics. The Anglican Communion is, much like Springfield, Illinois, a one-horse town.

I was minded of how bizarre the obsession with gay sex must look to the outside world when I spotted the excellent Stonewall poster — “Some people are gay. Get over it” — on the westbound District line service to Blackfriars. I am thinking of bulk ordering these t-shirts for my Fleet Street colleagues, bishops and archbishops. I am so over gay sex. Alas, the combination of gay bishops and journalists is a bit like competitive dieting. You see other people doing it, so you have to as well. Nobody wants to be the fat one in the photo.

But I would much rather write about other religions, about other stories, which is why I am launching this Ramadan appeal — to go on a gay fast — and I am encouraging others to join me. This month could prove to be one of Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Quakers instead. Don’t get me wrong — I love gay bishops and I think there should be more of them — I just don’t want to have to write about them all the time. There will be a day when someone’s sexual orientation won’t matter in a recruitment or selection process — just as it is in almost every employment field except religion — and homosexuality will be as normalised and wallpaper-like as hair colour or eye colour and will be greeted with, if anything, a shrug of the shoulders.

At this point someone — probably a conservative evangelical — will think that a homosexual imam would be stoned to death and wouldn’t make it past the initial telephone interview let alone have the top job at a mosque so why the constant mud-slinging at Anglicans?

Undercover Mosque, shown earlier this week on Channel 4, exposed the situation perfectly. I agree that attitudes need a complete overhaul, the way our mosques are funded and run needs serious scrutiny, the way Islam is taught at schools, in the homes, needs to be re-examined and that there needs to be greater involvement from women and young people in the day-to-day activities in places of worship and community centres. There also needs to be less reliance on government money and more independence.

Islam in Britain is not — as some bishops would have you believe — as established as the Christian identity. Nor is it as structured, prevalent or fixed. It is relatively young and fluid. There are Muslim communities — notably in Liverpool and Cardiff — that have been around for longer than the ones in Bradford and Manchester. There are only 2m Muslims. We are not taking over Britain — even if we are taking over the Premier League. Does the Manchester City buyout mean that the only good Muslims are the rich ones?

Attacking Muslims is easy because there is over whelming evidence to support the popular notion that Muslims are mad, bad and dangerous. It is harder to see beyond the bigotry and engage with flesh and blood individuals — the ones who get parking tickets, or take their kids to the park or like Coronation Street — because that would require moving beyond the conventional narrative and talking to someone who has everything in common with you and nothing. Somewhere in there, there is a lesson for us all.

Riazat Butt is the religion correspondent for The Guardian.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 6 September 2008 at 10:05am BST | TrackBack
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Opinion

Go girl, go!

I agree with you that relations with Muslims are the most pressing religious issue we have at the moment.
Sadly, there is so little awareness of it that it rarely makes any kind of news and therefore finds little mention on TA.

That means that we're singularly ill informed about Muslims and respond to them from our own fears.

I must admit that to me, as a liberal Western woman, a faith that is associated with the horrific treatment of women in Muslim countries, forced marriages even in this country, what appears to be random and harsh Sharia law, intolerance and now terrorism, has much I am personally afraid of.
And I found reading the comments after your article about your sister's experience as a veiled woman fascinating, so full were they of complete incomprehension from both sides, and so quick were people to exaggerate and take offence about what they perceived to be hostile behaviour or language.

So help me - where is the Muslim equivalent of TA, where Muslims respond to the daily challenges thrown up by their faith, where they debate, try to deal with the challenges of living in a Western society, try to deal with terrorists in their midst?

I'd love to understand more about you and build bridges.
Where do bridge building Muslims hang out on the Internet? Where does interfaith dialogue happen?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 6 September 2008 at 11:26am BST

There's much to be said for Riazat Butt's writing, but for Butt to call the Anglican Communion the equivalent of a "one horse town" because it is smaller than major ones of the world's religious traditions, is a most curious assertion, in part because amongst Christian denominations, churches in the Anglican Communion represent the world's third largest grouping. Moreover, as current debates remind us, the Anglican Communion and its workings are looked to both by Rome and the Protestant Churches, more recently also by the Orthodox Churches, as pivotal for ecumenical relations, with the Anglican Communion's traditional place of "middle way" between Catholic and Protestant inclinations, and as a key player in holding the whole of ecumenical processes together. Meanwhile, if R. Butt is looking for "one horse towns", there are candidates aplenty, in the myriad number of small denominations and nondenominational churches with charismatic leaders the world over.
The Revd Prof James Meredith Day+
Universite catholique de Louvain
Church of England Diocese in Europe Pro-Cathedral of The Holy Trinity, Brussels

Posted by: James Meredith Day on Saturday, 6 September 2008 at 1:33pm BST

Riazat, as a white male gay Anglican, can I say thank you thank you thank you and please keep this 30 day fast. We could all learn so much more about the world in which we live!

Posted by: MrsBarlow on Saturday, 6 September 2008 at 3:46pm BST

Channel 4 sometimes carries series hosting internal Muslim debates; how representative they are of all the conversation going on isn't clear.

There is no doubt that Saudi money into so many countries is poisoning the religion and its reputation, making extremism too easy. A more authentic and well bedded Islam is still seen in places, notably Bosnia and Kosovo, where it had a cosmopolitan confidence.

In so many places, Islam has been taken over by a reaction to failed nationalism, following on from failed colonialism, and following on from a religion that once was a cultural leader but has since solidified under clerical strangulation impacting on and causing an absence of free enquiry in so many of its worldwide educational institutions.

Some Muslim scholars are calling for itijad, that is reformation, but they are isolated in the West, and the West is not trusted including Islam in the West.

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 6 September 2008 at 4:04pm BST

What Erika said!

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Saturday, 6 September 2008 at 4:32pm BST

At Lambeth, delegates, first, and stewards, in their post-conference program, later, had a pretty good exposure to Muslim and Islam literacy. That was a good thing to notice.

On the other hand, I am afraid the issue goes beyond Muslims and Islam and their place -or lack of it- in british life at present. Britain as a whole appears to suffer from deep economic, social cracks. Surely his is but one of them. And when was it the last time that the MSM turned its attention to anything actually relevant. Gay bishops sell more papers.

I think Riazza is preaching to the choir here. Or maybe she sent this in the shape of a memo, to her bosses as well, the ones really pushing for the more gay and bishops available there are -or even non-existent- into headlines?

Posted by: Leonel on Saturday, 6 September 2008 at 4:40pm BST

There is a lot of wisdom under that hijab of hers.

All the exquisitely argued doctrine and theology in the world will never change the fact that we do NOT live in a world of abstractions. We live in the very messy confusing world of the concrete, and always will no matter how much we try to tidy things up by generalizing from the particular.

As to the question, "are there any gay Muslims?" yes, there are. And they're out of the closet, organized, and have their own congregations. The Muslim world is just as big and contentious as the Christian one.

Posted by: counterlight on Saturday, 6 September 2008 at 5:35pm BST

"Don’t get me wrong — I love gay bishops and I think there should be more of them — I just don’t want to have to write about them all the time."

*LOL* Yay, Riazatt!

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 6 September 2008 at 6:29pm BST

AT LAST, a much-needed word of sanity. Many thanks to Riazat Butt for her comments which are both perceptive and fair.
In my own locale in North Carolina, I do not really have any contact with Muslims and do not think much about that issue.
However, the southern part of the US is just brim-full of vigorous preaching and writing about the
evils of "sinful" homosexuals - most of it is really over the top, and comes from people who do
not know anything factual about sexual orientation other than what they are told in Sunday School. Otherwise they are models of civility and intelligence. (Did I really say that?)

With the help of the Almighty may we all be delivered from the powers of darkness!

Posted by: St. James on Saturday, 6 September 2008 at 11:32pm BST

I used to live in Springfield, Illinois, and it very unfair to say it is a one-horse town! There must be at least two. (Even if the Diocese of Springfield isn't anything to cheer about.)

Paul Davison
now in Perry, Georgia

Posted by: Paul Davison on Sunday, 7 September 2008 at 2:53am BST

I prefer to see Anglicanism - TEC and Canada in particular - as analagous to a catalyst in a chemical reaction - important out of all proportion to quantity - accelerating a process and sometimes essential to it.

Posted by: ettu on Sunday, 7 September 2008 at 12:04pm BST

Yeah Riatt. Me, I'm pro-inclusivity on all fronts and want to learn more about other faiths and as I live in a predominantly Muslim community am trying to do so through personal contact with a Sufi community and through the OU. Christians need to get themselves properly informed about other faiths. Your comments help. Una

Posted by: Una Kroll on Sunday, 7 September 2008 at 12:09pm BST

Bravo, ettu! The same might be said of the progressive minorities in the USA's Network dioceses.

Posted by: Robert on Sunday, 7 September 2008 at 1:30pm BST

The Unitarians have argued that their strong interfaith stance allowed them to have a function of bridge building, when others just made a longer suspension bridge that went over the top. It is interesting to see Anglicans making similar arguments, and I'm sure that others make even longer suspension bridges. In the end,the bridges get so long that they miss everything going on underneath.

Posted by: Pluralist on Sunday, 7 September 2008 at 3:17pm BST

I am a bit puzzled by this idea that Anglicanism is the third largest ecclesial body. It is in one sense ( assuming the Anglican Communion doesnt fragment) but looser groupings like the Lutheran World Fellowship or the Methodists outnumber Anglicans and probably the Reformed do as well. I also wish Anglicanism's ecumenical credentials were better--how much was really achieved in the last century in practice?how far have the theological agreements entered the ecclesial blood-stream? I think the person who said of the bridge church that alas it didnt touch either side was probably right. The really puzzling thing surely is that at Lambeth 1948 it was assumed Anglicanism was provisional and would "disappear" into United Churches on the CSI model; in fact it took a different route towards denominational centralisation which with Covenant etc seems likely to promote further. Whether this is the best Anglican way is a moot point.

Posted by: Perry Butler on Sunday, 7 September 2008 at 6:35pm BST

James Day: reading your comment, it does worry me that so much energy sometimes goes into making ourselves sound important as a body, into talking ourselves up as Anglicans. It can seem as if what we really care about is wielding social influence: proliferations of grand-sounding titles can add to that impression.

Is not rather the story of contemporary Christianity in Europe one in which institutional religion as a whole has become unattractive? The strategy we need for the future might well demand something of a radical change of approach, surely? So, wouldn't it do us good to be ignored, to stand with the ignored of the world?

Posted by: Fr Mark on Sunday, 7 September 2008 at 8:49pm BST

As per Fr Mark's, Perry Butler's, and Pluralist's comments, yes there HAS been a contribution of consequence by the Anglican Communion to the enrichment of understanding amongst Christians, and in many places, across religious traditions, in ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, and cooperation for social good. We ought to be quite happy, it seems to me, about that, and it is folly to imagine that "invisibility" would enhance our role in serving the "ignored" of the world. Furthermore to attribute to me, as Fr Mark does, a concern chiefly with "social influence" is to err.
On the ground, here on the continent of Europe, it is far and away the churches of the Anglican Communion, and particularly the Church of England, who serve in roles of coordination, and meeting point, for discussion and joint action, including service to the poor and disenfranchised, amongst Christians, and in some cases, with members of other religious groups. As for "grandstanding", please....why shy away from a measure of authority, and the huge responsibility it implies, if one has it?

Posted by: James Meredith Day on Monday, 8 September 2008 at 7:57am BST

James Day: "why shy away from a measure of authority, and the huge responsibility it implies, if one has it?"

Well, because we currently have a big problem with church leaders abusing authority, particularly with regard to discrimination against women and gay people. They make pompous statements which are illogical, unjust and unpastoral, but are shielded by the habit of deference to ecclesiastical authority from being held to account in the way any other leaders would be.

Wouldn't a more bottom-up, grass-roots accountable approach be better? And wasn't sitting light to worldly power and influence always intended by Jesus to be a characteristic of the Christian?

"On the ground, here on the continent of Europe, it is far and away the churches of the Anglican Communion, and particularly the Church of England, who serve in roles of coordination, and meeting point, for discussion and joint action, including service to the poor and disenfranchised, amongst Christians, and in some cases, with members of other religious groups."

But the C of E Diocese in Europe is committed to the most backward policies when it comes to just treatment for women clergy or gay people in the Church, so given how it disenfranchises these groups, it is hard to see how it could currently be of much use as a promoter of social justice on the Continent.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Monday, 8 September 2008 at 10:52am BST

Interesting thread!

Riazat Butt touches on a tender nerve here. The status of the Anglican Communion as a world player has been a significant theme in the present war and remains at the top of many key people’s agenda.

Just how this collection of autonomous churches sees itself and is seen by others has figured prominently in much of the thinking behind the presenting issue. I would even argue that it has been THE most significant factor behind the words and actions from the ACO and Lambeth Palace.

The long term plan to create a world-wide Anglican Church (albeit on a unique model) has seen parts both arrested and accelerated in response to the “crisis” over the last years. The development of a larger bureaucracy has been fatally delayed while the creation of a formal link via the Covenant appears coercive rather than facilitative. Some who would have led this change under different circumstances now look as if they will be outside the new core grouping.

In terms of numbers, the largest part of the AC has gone its own way, and there are those who will not sign any Covenant for the foreseeable future. It will be interesting to see how the Roman Curia and Orthodox Patriarchs respond to the FoCAs, particularly in the light of critical statements issued over the past years.

Those churches that eventually do gather around some sort of Covenant – once the two “extremes” have been cut off as the legal advisor to Lambeth John Rees sees it – will, as an ACO leader tells me this week, be doing all they can to “keep the doors open”.

On an historical note it is true that Anglicans along with others in the Lutheran tradition have played significant roles in bridging the religious divide in Europe and elsewhere. There have been some great leaders and many thoughtful individuals behind the scenes who have made real contributions to a deeper respect and understanding between the churches and between other warring factions.

Personally I doubt Canterbury will survive this debacle in a way that will inspire the respect and confidence that it has enjoyed hitherto. I strongly suspect that having failed to inspire mutual respect within its own house it will be treated as a spent force and the “middle way” will gradually break down as the churches spin off towards other Covenanted groups or the two “extremes”.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Monday, 8 September 2008 at 12:35pm BST

Ciao from Roma!
@PaulDavison - I had to go to the semi'official opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Memorial Library. It was at the same time as the World Arm Wrestling Championships. Springfield was all, like, Abe this and Abe that. I think there is more to the AC than gay bishops but sometimes - ooh gotta go! A VIP just turned up x Back later

Posted by: riazat butt on Monday, 8 September 2008 at 3:52pm BST

Paul Davison: You mean the interchange of US 341 and I-75 isn't some little one horse tank town truck stop?

At least it's in the Diocese of Atlanta.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Monday, 8 September 2008 at 5:03pm BST

'Personally I doubt Canterbury will survive this debacle in a way that will inspire the respect and confidence that it has enjoyed hitherto. I strongly suspect that having failed to inspire mutual respect within its own house it will be treated as a spent force and the “middle way” will gradually break down as the churches spin off towards other Covenanted groups or the two “extremes”.' - Martin Reynolds

'Respect and confidence' are attributes that Martin Reynolds seems to value as the primary characteristic of the Anglican Communion's struggle for relevance in today's world; whereas, as a spiritual force int the world, it might be better to place 'Truth and honesty' as a much more valuable basis for Gospel credibility.

The Scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus' day had the undoubted respect of the Jewish religious establishment, but what they espoused was, for Jesus, not the 'inclusivity' that he was proposing for the Body of Christ. In fact, Jesus was brave enough to overturn some of the accepted religious tradtions which were considered by the Scrobes and Pharisees to be essential for the observance of religious propriety. It was for this fact that Jesus was Crucified - not for his perceived 'respect and confidence'.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 8 September 2008 at 10:41pm BST

Sorry for my ignorance, but what is the appropriate way to wish Riazat Butt a blessed/fulfilling Ramadan? Well, the proper words are missing here, but I hope the intention is clear.

We Anglicans are fortunate to have you reporting on us, Riazat.

Posted by: Nom de Plume on Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 4:42am BST

My Muslim coworkers tell me "Happy Ramadan" is fine. Fasting for them isn't about repentance specifically, so it isn't like saying "Happy Lent". I think the Arabic translates as "Blessed Ramadan". So, Ms Butt, Happy Ramadan!

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 1:36pm BST

So, has Thinking Anglicans followed Butt's lead and shut down for the month? Surely we can think of something to notice other than gay sex and the Anglican Communion.

Posted by: jnwall on Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 5:27pm BST

Thinking Anglicans subscribers come here specifically to talk about the Anglican Communion. Some only about the politics of the Communion itself. Some only about their relationship with Jesus. Others about the Communion and the lessons that can be shared with the world, and the lessons that can be learnt from the world.

Butt is free to take her Ramadan in the form that seems best for her, others can take their own abstinences in the form that seems best for them. She doesn't have to visit Thinking Anglicans for a month, but we don't have to cease to exist whilst she has her break.

When she has finished her break, we will still be here. The same as when Christians veer off into fearful shunning paradigms, the souls they denounce and deny don't cease to exist, and when they are ready to look outside of their self-absorbed little box, the rest of Creation is still here ready and willing to engage with them.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. on Tuesday, 9 September 2008 at 9:02pm BST

As one who has spent my life in one horse towns and in some that didn't even have a horse, I am not offended one bit Riazat Butt's assertion that ours is a one horse communion. The best thing we could do as Anglicans, I think, is to get over our idea of self importance in just the same way, as she wonderfully points out, the world needs to get over the fact that there are gay people in almost every walk of life including the Episcopacy. I laud her fast. And, she is right: there are lessons for all of us as we become aware of and get to know God's people of all conditions and persuasions.

Posted by: Edgar on Wednesday, 10 September 2008 at 8:10pm BST

Good post, Edgar.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Thursday, 11 September 2008 at 8:18am BST

Yes we are fortuante indeed to ahve found such an honest friend.

I too found Ms Butt's pice challenging and a good wake up call to anglican complacency !

I live amidst a large muslim community and the sense of energy and vibrancy this Ramadan is striking and lovely to be around. (But unstated -- 'just' an energy)

Thanks Ms Butt and "Ramadan Kareem !"

Posted by: Rev'd L J Roberts on Thursday, 11 September 2008 at 9:01am BST

I still wish Riazatt, or someone else here, would point me to an internet forum where Muslims debate these issues and where interfaith dialogue happens.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 11 September 2008 at 9:04am BST

is anyone else on this thread hungry? I am, I could eat a horse.

Posted by: riazat butt on Thursday, 11 September 2008 at 2:57pm BST

You are absolutely brilliant! Anglicans around the world will be thanking God for Ramadan this year if you get your request for respect for the religious needs of Muslims. We need a 40 day break to regain our perspective. We're like 5 year olds who have received way too much attention and are exhausted and cranky and looking way too spoiled.

Posted by: Regenesis on Thursday, 11 September 2008 at 5:03pm BST

"We need a 40 day break to regain our perspective."

We have one every spring, and a 30 day one every fall, have been doing it for centuries. The perspective still looks the same, though. Might we not be taking it in the proper light?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 11 September 2008 at 8:31pm BST

Hypothetical question: if you were a cannibal which bishop would you eat and why?

Posted by: riazat butt on Thursday, 11 September 2008 at 9:22pm BST

Riazat - if you're into eating Bishops - I'd try the women first. At least they have a quality of tenderness - and are a little more spicy.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 12 September 2008 at 12:53am BST

Poor Riazat,
this Ramadan really is getting to you.
Can you imagine the tummy upset you'd have after eating any one of those rigid beasts?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 12 September 2008 at 8:10am BST

"Hypothetical question: if you were a cannibal which bishop would you eat and why?"

I don't know. The conservatives would be too tough and bitter. Besides they'd probably try to organize the meats to demand they get their own pot since they'd be tainted if they were boiled with the vegetables, and that'd ruin the flavour of the stew. The liberals would be too light and airy and not at all filling, and would want to get so many vegetables, other meats, and what have you in the pot with them it'd overflow and put out the fire. Is there a fine plump middle of the road one?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Saturday, 13 September 2008 at 1:43pm BST

"Is there a fine plump middle of the road one?"

Quite - we have no idea! It would be helpful if they made themselves known round about now.

Not sure about the light and airy liberals, though.
Just because you allow others their own journey and choices does not mean that your own is shallow. If anything, it could be heavier because you haven't got the nice certainties other people appear to have.
Give me a liberal any day, someone who has wrestled with all aspects of life most days of his life, over the self satisfied who think they have it all sorted.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 13 September 2008 at 7:38pm BST

"it could be heavier because you haven't got the nice certainties other people appear to have."

Quite! I think a basic difference is our attitude to this. I am extremely wary of people who are certain about the Truth. I am not willing to put my trust in what finite human minds think about God. I much prefer the Orthodox approach that happily acknowledges there are mysteries we just have to take on faith. The saints sleep in ther graves, but they still hear my prayers and interceed for me? Cool! I can't understand how they can be dead and alive at the same time, but cool! How can the finite mind comprehend the Infinite? St. Paul says "Now we see as through a glass, darkly." So, I don't trust those who think that "dark" seeing is crystal clear. I read somewhere "the opposite of doubt is not certainty, the opposite of doubt is faith." I get the feeling though, that for a lot of conservatives, "faith" means "certainty". When I say the Creed, I mean "I put my trust in a God who reveals Himself in the following ways..." I suspect that for conservatives, the Creed means "There IS a God who had revealed Himself as follows..." I don't think they even understand a difference in those two statements, except that my statement is probably too vague for them. It isn't enough to say "This is what we believe" because, to them, you are not affirming the Truth, you are merely stating a personal belief. Look at the response here to my questions in the past about how we can prove what we believe. We can't, it's that simple, but I've never encountered a conservative who will acknowledge that. Faith in what cannot be proven is pretty basic for me, but it seems anathema to a lot of conservatives.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Sunday, 14 September 2008 at 3:32pm BST
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