Comments: Rochester makes news again

Well, what a surprise, +Rochester is now facing death threats from hardline Muslims. I'm always disappointed when fellow liberal Christians begin to excuse the inexcusable. On this particular issue +Rochester has demonstrated considerable courage in calling a spade a spade.

Posted by John Omani at Saturday, 2 February 2008 at 1:15am GMT

We ought to be grateful to +Rochester for opening a debate about how Christians should approach inter-faith relations. There is a certain logic in his claim that we should not play a game of double standards. In my ancestral nation, the Yemen, freedom of worship is not available to Christians: it is almost impossible to build churches and the Bible cannot be published. Here in Britain, there are many mosques where women are forbidden from entering, let alone non-Muslims. We ought to ensure that religious freedoms develop together.

But the problem with +Rochester is that he has not offered much guidance on the way forward. Christians need to work much harder to support genuinely inclusive Muslim groups, such as the excellent Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford [ http://www.meco.org.uk/ ] and stand firm against those who follow a policy of segregation. Gina Khan and Shiraz Maher have provided interesting support for +Rochester's argument, and offer hope for Muslims who wish to embrace a more inclusive form of Islam:
http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=287
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article3176455.ece

Posted by John Omani at Saturday, 2 February 2008 at 2:06am GMT

Michael Nazir Ali -- many of us feel like throttling you at times -- as in any family-- but though you are provocative --we wouldnt do it !

Mervyn Stockwood used to say, "where there's death (or retirement) there's hope."

Let's hope, there's hope


Posted by L Roberts at Saturday, 2 February 2008 at 3:35am GMT

Why is he surprised to receive death threats.

He's not the first nor is he the last, and he gets the same amount of sympathy as his compatriots showed to me.

Anyway, why does he care? Members to which he aligns support extermination of this complete biosphere with the overwhelming majority condemned to hell.

2000 years in a box later, I don't see the peace that Jesus envisaged. But then I also don't see the gentleness that he promised the Daughter of Zion.

Obviously that is heresy, which is why Jesus and his priests don't mind if the Daughter of Zion and her unwanted friends don't contribute to this planet's viability nor leave upon our deaths.

After all, there is ample evidence to demonstrate that we are unforgivable and unwanted, and Jesus and his church are complete unto themselves. So they don't need any of the riff-raff and won't mind if we leave, we don't make a difference anyway.

Posted by Cheryl Va. Clough at Saturday, 2 February 2008 at 7:13am GMT

No one understands Islam better than a man who was brought up in its very midst and experienced its discrimination. You may disagree with his position as regards homosexuality, but you MUST concede that even a stopped clock is right twice a day!

Posted by Robert Ian Williams at Saturday, 2 February 2008 at 8:38am GMT

"No one understands Islam better than a man who was brought up in its very midst and experienced its discrimination."

That's an interesting statement. It makes perfect sense on the face of it and yet... everyone sees what they want to see, or what immediately surrounds them.
Just like we have fundamentalist Christians with all their certainties and authoritarianism, so does Islam have its Islamist movement and huge numbers of followers.
But just like Christianity has a middle ground and a liberal wing, so does Islam.

It's one thing to try and heal the fundamentalist aspects of the faiths, but quite another to look only at those and then claim that the whole faith is like that.

It's Rochester's failure to be discerning here that is harmful.

Posted by Erika Baker at Saturday, 2 February 2008 at 11:22am GMT

I pray for his safety.

I also pray for his conversion to, well, the *Anglican* expression of the Christian faith (which I believe can get along w/ well-meaning Muslims, far better than does the ConEvo Fundamentalism Nazir-Ali currently espouses).

Lord have mercy!

Posted by JCF at Saturday, 2 February 2008 at 8:44pm GMT

Erika:

What do you think happens to people who question Islamic law in Saudi Arabia, or who try to preach the Christian faith in the Maldives, or who are banned from using the Arabic word for God (even if I am certain it was in use by Arab Christians before the time of Muhammad) in Malaysia just because they're not Muslim?

I disagree with +Rochester on many things but he knows all too well that Christians in all but a few Muslim countries cannot be Christian. This is a fact which we often forget in our rush to be "accepting" of other faiths.

We ought to share the love God gave us to our Muslim brothers and sisters so they can see that following the true Prophet and Son of God as the only way to following God's will.

Posted by Ren Aguila at Sunday, 3 February 2008 at 12:22am GMT

Be careful about sharing the love because;

What do Evangelicals hold as the great Commission? - Make disciples of ALL nations

What does the Islamic holy book prescribe for any Muslim who changes to accept the love of God’s Son ---- DEATH!

Does anyone see a no-go area here?

Posted by Tunde at Monday, 4 February 2008 at 10:07am GMT

Tunde:

Good point. I just finished reading an article about an Egyptian who was denied permission to legally be designated as a Christian after he had converted to Christianity from Islam. Interestingly enough, he cited his reason for converting to be his perception of Christ's message to be one of love, something he did not find in Islam.

According to the Egyptian judge, this was an impossibility under Egyptian law. So, aside from the fact that this man's father has already said he will kill him if he doesn't recant (which is only to show how far the impulse to persecution goes in the Islamic sphere), he cannot even legally be a Christian.

Of course, this is also true in North Korea and various other hell-holes around the world. But many seem to forget that it is also almost always true wherever Islam reigns supreme. There is, indeed, a basic conflict between Islam and Christianity when it comes to the Great Commission. Some tend to treat the lack of religious freedom in Islamic countries as an unimportant issue. It is not.

Steven

Posted by Steven at Monday, 4 February 2008 at 3:09pm GMT

Yes, I do. And precisely why I am wary of "interreligious dialogue" that does not let Christians "tell it like it is."

Posted by Ren Aguila at Monday, 4 February 2008 at 3:10pm GMT

Tunde,
For me, despite all the ways the Church has disobeyed the Gospel in the last 2000 years, like coercing "faith" in people, for instance, we have always had the clear witness of Tradition and Scripture that these behaviours are not in God's plan, that we are not living up to the teachings of our faith. For Muslims, it is the duty of the believer to force the unbeliever to comply, and punish him if he does not. After all, that is merely forcing people to obey God, and since God's Law is absolute, then it can only be right to force people to comply with it. By their religious standards, that is righteousness. Thus, I think it is a mistake to judge Islam by Christian standards, since what we sometimes define as righteousness is seen as exactly the opposite by Muslims and vice versa.

2 questions, all the same:

1. Why do you use to word 'Evangelical', as though no other Christian considers that we are called to spread the Gospel? Do you consider those who are not Evangelical not to be Christian, or is it just that you think we don't try to spread the Gospel?

2. Why is it the Church in Nigeria, since it clearly thinks it has the right to force people to comply with what it thinks God's Law to be (leaving open the discussion of whether or not the Gospel is about Law at all), looks far more like Islam than Christianity in it's attitude to obedience to Law?

Posted by Ford Elms at Monday, 4 February 2008 at 6:40pm GMT

As someone who has lived in many inner-city areas very happily and who was treated with love and the utmost hospitality whilst working in Yemen, I was suprised at the confrontational way the Bishop expressed his views. This creates a reactive response, rather than a mutually beneficial action/solution.

I feel there is a mix here of 'unfinished business' from the injustices of the past and a desire to 'fit in' with the growing force of 'PNAC-influenced' conservative theology within Christianity here.
Theology which calls [in some cases]for a world war against the forces of the 'anti-Christ' [guess who!]to bring about the 'second coming'.

I send best wishes and concern for the death- threatening telephone calls received while the Bishop was away. It is a frightening experience, and one that's totally unjustified.

I am not able, myself, to know either the nationality or the belief system of any unknown telephone caller merely by hearing them. I make an assumption; that's all.
It may well be a Moslem caller; equally, it may well be a person influenced by some sites supporting the Bishop. These include far-right hate stirring sites I have seen; at least one of which gave full home contact details of the Bishop.

[I'll let the police know later this am].

Prehaps the 'christian'/secular far-right has something to gain from yet another 'aren't moslems denomic' story? Any hot-headed young 'moslem' stupid enough to make evil, threatening calls is assisting the BNP/Hagee etc supporters, not authentic Islam.

May the Living God have mercy on us all as we strive to know Him and to live together on this planet.

Posted by Geraldine at Tuesday, 5 February 2008 at 4:31am GMT

"Prehaps the 'christian'/secular far-right has something to gain from yet another 'aren't moslems denomic' story?"

Muslims aren't evil. It's that we have very different ideas as to what righteousness is and what the responsibility of the believer is in terms of enforcing that righteousness. I work with Egyptian Christians who tell of not being able to repair their church, let alone build a new one, without difficult to obtain government approval, or of the call to prayer being broadcasted loudly to disrupt Mass, and so on. Islam wouldn't consider that to be repression. Neither would some Christians if the roles were reversed. There's a certain "Muslims have the same values as us" in all of this that is really disturbing. It is about judging them on Christian terms. Thus, mention of things like the above are frowned upon because WE think they are bad things to do. Well, Islam doesn't think they are bad things to do. They aren't evil just because they have a different definition of good than we do. We were shocked at the fatwa against Rushdie, for instance. They weren't, as a rule. In their eyes, he had defamed Islam, and for that they had every right to punish him with death, and that would not be a sin. That doesn't make them evil, but it shows clearly the difference in their understanding of righteousness. We think they oppress women. They think we are shameless in allowing women to defy what God has called proper modest behaviour. Who's right in an absolute sense? You can't just ignore this kind of thing because you think you are saying something bad about Muslims if you point this out. You're the one calling it bad. It's not their behaviour or beliefs, it's your judgement of them that is the issue. If you didn't judge these things to be bad, you wouldn't have such a problem acknowledging them. And they need to be acknowledged.

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 5 February 2008 at 4:51pm GMT

Ford,
of course you're right, Muslims aren't evil. Just like Christians aren't, although the fundamentalists of both faiths come so close to perverting the truth of their faiths that some of the effects they have are genuinely harmful.

I do like your post and I do like to be reminded that I have to judge others by their value systems and not my mine....and yet... are there no universal values that one might defend?
What about "by their fruits shall you tell them"?

I can say that Muslim oppression of women is acceptable according to their faith and (imply only?) that their women agree... but do I have to accept that this can be a universal truth, bearing in mind how much harm it can do?

My own answer would be: does a faith allow each and every follower to reach his or her full potential as a human being?
If that faith sanctions any measures that I believe to be working against that (like the Islamic rule that a man's testimony is worth twice that of a woman), then I have to say that, objectively, this is wrong.

And also: how does a faith defend itself? If non believers face punishment up to and including death, then I have to say that, objectively, this is wrong.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 5 February 2008 at 11:20pm GMT

Erika,
I know what you're saying, and I try to make my values in line with those of the Kingdom. I fail dismally, but I try. The thing is that I believe these things to be universal truths because I practice a religion that says they are. If I were a Muslim, I would believe other things to be universal truths, because Islam says they are. So again, we come back to a situation where only our individual faith can tell us if something is universally true. I don't think we can insist on one position or the other. Then we just get into a situation of "My God can beat up your God." Some people love to take that attitude, even feel obliged to. I don't think our job is to insist on everybody agreeing on some universal truth. I think our job is to live the Gospel as best we can, that's how we evangelize. Seeking to impose our particular "universal truths" on others is not the way. What would prevent them from seeking to impose their "universal truths" on us? Our power to force them to our way?

Posted by Ford Elms at Wednesday, 6 February 2008 at 12:07pm GMT

Ford:

I have often disagreed with your posts, but I have seldom--and possibly never--considered them to be just plain silly . . . until now. I think if you will review the bizzarely relativistic version of religious reality you have just proposed, you will find it not only doesn't (and shouldn't) make sense to any Christian, it undercuts all of the liberal arguments in the current "unpleasantness." You need to go back and re-think this thing a bit more.

Steven

Posted by Steven at Wednesday, 6 February 2008 at 2:01pm GMT

Ford,
I think I understand what you're saying.

I think there are universal truths and I believe that all major religions understand them. All forbid murder, although some allow killing as a punishment for crimes. All instinctively understand that loving is something postive while hatred is something negative. All acknowledge that we are answerable to God, not to ourselves. All know altruism, charity, honesty, trust. The emphases are different, yes, but there is a universal acknowledgement of what is Good.

I think one of the problems we're having is that we're looking at the more fundamentalist end of the faiths when trying to compare them.
I said a while ago that I am sure the mystics of Islam and Christianity are closer to each other than they are to the fundamentalists of their respective faiths, and they would probably share very similar thoughts on the core truths of life.

Maybe our challenge is to get to know each other's faiths so well that we can discern those core truths in the other, and then jointly call fundamentalists and literalists on both sides to account for perverting those truths.

Evil always comes from human beings using religion to justify their own desire for power, it does not arise out of the faiths themselves.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 6 February 2008 at 2:34pm GMT

"You need to go back and re-think this thing a bit more."

What basis do I have for saying I am right? Solely my faith that what I believe is right. How would you argue for your position that does not involve saying "My God tells me this is wrong, and I don't care what you think your false God says"? What answer do you have for the Muslim who says "My God says it is my responsibility to do this, and I don't care what your false God says"? What are you going to say? "My God isn't false, yours is."? Very mature! If you had been brought up in a strict practice of Wahhabi Islam, you would sing a different tune. The point is that our understanding of the universal goodness of what we believe is based solely on our faith that what we believe is God's Truth. Sometimes faiths overlap, as Erika points out.

Others believe they have God's Truth. Each allegation can only be supported by the faith of the person making the statement. It makes sense to me as a Christian that some of the things defined in Islam as righteousness are not, but that's because I'm a Christian. It is my job to try to protect, with my life if need be, the man who is about to be decapitated for "defaming Islam", not to claim that those who are following their faith in attempting to kill him are somehow evil. They can just as easily call me evil for disobeying the teachings of their faith. I believe there is a God, a real being. But I can never prove it in any concrete way. Can you? And how is your "proof" any more valid than a Muslim's "proof" of the existence of Allah, or a Buddhist's assertion that the existence of God is immaterial? We are dealing with faith here. The problem is that so many believe that the One who said "My Kingdom is not of this world" has given them the right to create a Christian kingdom in this world, and condemn those who do not follow its precepts.

Posted by Ford Elms at Wednesday, 6 February 2008 at 8:10pm GMT

Ford
"How would you argue for your position that does not involve saying "My God tells me this is wrong, and I don't care what you think your false God says"? "

As agnostics, atheists and humanists can come to the same moral parameters Christians arrive at (and sometimes even less discriminating ones), it's not quite so simple.
Yes, those traditions, in the West, arise also from the Christian culture and the values it brought, but they do stand on their own too.

There is something objectively "right" about many of our principles.

And just like we fight here to stop Christians being allowed to oppress those they sometimes claim their God doesn't approve of, so we have the right to fight against, for example, female genital mutilation in countries that use their faith to claim sanction for it.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 7 February 2008 at 10:59am GMT

Indeed, Erika, most of the world's faiths overlap on principles that seem to me to be encapsulated in "be good to one another". And we not only have the right, we have the responsibility to defend those we believe are being oppressed. It is a basic Gospel imperative. I have the responsibility to protect the man getting his hand chopped off for theft. I must not claim that those who would chop off his hand in obedience to their God are evil. But in a lot of other areas, the only deciding factor is one's faith. We consider it wrong to take another human life, it isn't ours to take. Yet in Islam, the death penalty is not merely acceptable, it is imperative in certain crimes: Allah says so. By what definition do we say that they are somehow "evil" for this? I believe the death penalty to be a sin, because my religion tells me it is. Their's tells them it isn't. And it is God who says this, and God is not to be questioned. Can you oppose the death penalty without resorting to some religious or philosphical principle? I'm trying to say that there are some, perhaps a lot, of principles that are defined not by some absolute rightness but by appeal to some moral principle that is accepted by the group and is backed up by shared faith or moral conviction, but is not absolute. Take abortion. We are putting the right of a woman to control her body against the right of another human being to live. How do we decide other than to appeal to one or other subjective moral principle? Is there an absolute right for a woman to abort her baby if she wants to? Is there an absolute right for a fertilized ovum to develop "unmolested"? This can only be decided by appeal to some subjective principle, whether that springs from religious faith or philosophizing.

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 7 February 2008 at 1:07pm GMT

Ford,
I'm not sure to what extent the death penalty isn't rather a point for my view of things. It was a long established Christian principle that sinners can, in certain circumstances, be put to death, and millions still support that view, especially in the US.

That it can also be opposed on religious grounds only serves to show that God's Truth has very little to do with it, rather, that we're applying other considerations and then adapt our concept of what God is requiring of us.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 7 February 2008 at 2:21pm GMT

"That it can also be opposed on religious grounds only serves to show that God's Truth has very little to do with it, rather, that we're applying other considerations and then adapt our concept of what God is requiring of us."

Perhaps, but what are those considerations and what are they based on? I don't think there is any justification pro or con that does not refer back to some philosophical or relgious basis. So then we are back to choosing between competing philosophies/religions. For me, then the issue is not whether or not it is right or wrong in any absolute sense, rather that I am following what I believe to be a basic principle of Christianity, that God has told us "Thou shalt not kill" and that life is given by God to us and only He has the right to take it away. thus I oppose the death penalty without condemning those who do not. Well, ok, I don't often succeed at the last bit:-)

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 7 February 2008 at 5:47pm GMT

Ford:

There is a difference between evil and misguided, and many Muslims (as well as many liberals) are obviously (and merely) misguided. However, I cannot wash away all the evil in the world by saying the perpetrators are merely misguided.

The Nazi's were not just misguided (or perhaps not only misguided), they were outright evil. If you expect me to simper before the Jihadi with a bloody sword of decapitation in his hand, and apologetically observe that he was merely doing what he thought was right and that's OK, you are not only misguided, you have let yourself be deluded into outright moral blindness. I certainly haven't noticed this to be your attitude when discussing perceived past persecutions of homosexuals. Obviously, their persecutors also thought themselves right by the light that they had. So, why the difference in your attitude when discussing the Jihadi.

I also will not apologize for promoting the Truth, whether it suits our Muslim persecutors or not. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Light and you know it in your heart, or you wouldn't be a Christian. That is a truth you need to hold onto--you seem to be slipping.

Consequently, I still say that you need to re-think this thing. You are merely rehearsing the types of sophomoric banalities that are grist for the mill in any high school debating club. This is not reflective of your usual level of discourse.

Steven

Posted by Steven at Thursday, 7 February 2008 at 9:43pm GMT

"If you expect me to simper before the Jihadi with a bloody sword of decapitation in his hand, and apologetically observe that he was merely doing what he thought was right and that's OK, you are not only misguided, you have let yourself be deluded into outright moral blindness."

But of course I do not, and have said so. I expect you to stand boldly between the Jihadi and his intended victim, and give your life in defence of that victim if need be. Why is it that you seem to think that acknowledging that someone else is entitled to their beliefs requires you to "simper" before them? Do you only consider yourself to have two options: simpering acquiescence or domination? Is that what the problem is here? Do you believe that respectful disagreement means that you can't defend your own beliefs or behave in accordance with them?

Posted by Ford Elms at Friday, 8 February 2008 at 2:37pm GMT

"Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Light and you know it in your heart, or you wouldn't be a Christian."

I missed this part. Of course I know it to be true in my heart. But the Muslim, and this is the point, believes just as strongly in Islam. How do I prove what I believe to be true? I can't. How can I prove to you that God loves me? I can't. You choose to believe my relationship is sinful and my refusal to repudiate it will get me roasted by the Sky Bully for all eternity. I believe the Triune God has led me to where I am and will not consign me to eternal flame for appreciating all His many gifts to me, of which my relationship is one. You and I worship the same God, supposedly, but I can't even convince YOU that He loves me. What objective evidence do I have with which to convince the Muslim of the truth of my beliefs? You seem to think that respecting other people's rights to their beliefs means that I somehow think those beliefs to be truth, or that I don't really believe what I believe. That is odd. I, after all, have been pretty clear that I respect your right to your beliefs, despite the fact that I feel some, perhaps even many, of them are woefully misguided, and at least one of them I suspect comes close to blasphemy. I have been pretty clear on those points. I don't see any need to demand you become an Anglo-Catholic. But I will stand between you and anyone you want to jail or otherwise oppress, gay, straight or whatever, whether or not you think your actions to be commanded by God. Why do you think that respecting someone else's beliefs means I have to abandon my own?

Posted by Ford Elms at Friday, 8 February 2008 at 2:52pm GMT

Ford:

You are not distinguishing between being respectful of people and being respectful of their beliefs. One may treat people with respect without having the least respect for what they believe and/or stand for.

I respect Islam to the extent that it comports with the Truth of Christ. To the extent that it does not comport with that truth, I do not respect it. This is different from showing respect for individuals. Ol' granny may have thought the world was flat, but I would treat her respectfully nonetheless. I don't respect her belief in the least, but I would respect the old dear anyhow.

With the jihadi, I neither respect the beliefs that cause him to slaughter, nor the person who perpetrates such acts of slaughter. The best that can be said of him is that he is being true to what he believes. However, as this can be said of almost every Nazi, fascist, and murdering conquistador fruitcake the world has ever spawned, I consider this to be "damning with faint praise."

Steven

PS-Sometime or other you will have to tell me where I blaspheme.

Posted by Steven at Friday, 8 February 2008 at 11:03pm GMT

Steven,
PSA. I didn't say you blasphemed. I said I suspect one of your beliefs comes close to blasphemy. That is quite different. First, 'comes close' is not the same as 'is'. Second, I'm no theologian, so my definition of blasphemy is hardly sufficient for an accusation. I can cite Orthodox sources that are equally suspicious of PSA, though, and certainly paint it out to be something very like blasphemy, though they might not actually use that word. Finally, there have been a couple of Stevens here, and you, along with a couple of others, tend to have the same tone in your posts. I believe it was you with whom I had a discussion of PSA months ago, hence this statement. If it was not you, I apologize.

Posted by Ford Elms at Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 7:46pm GMT

Oh, Steven, and answer my question. How can you make an argument for Christianity that does NOT rely on faith? How can you prove the truth of it in any concrete dfashion that does not rely on belief in things unprovable? I maintain you cannot, that any assertion of the truth of any particular religion must be based on faith. Given that people do practice religions other than Christianity, often with more faith than many of us, how can you assert that your faith in Christ is a better "proof" for the truth of Christianity than a Muslim's faith in the Prophet, or a Buddhist's faith in the Buddha, or of a Sikh's faith in Waheguru? What is the concrete proof of Christianity that knocks out any faith based "proofs" of other religions? That is what we're talking about here.

Posted by Ford Elms at Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 7:53pm GMT
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