ARCHBISHOP WELBY's remarks on LBC on African massacres and gay
marriage caused limited excitement. I think they were instructive
none the less.
They certainly did not cause the samekind of astonishment as
Archbishop Williams did with his remarks on sharia, and this for a
reason very disappointing to liberals: the idea of sharia in this
country violates expectations. It is part of the English self-image
that we are, if not Christian, certainly not Muslim: sharia is for
foreigners, according to this understanding, rather like volubility
and massacring your neighbours.
This is one of the vague sentiments to which Eric Pickles was
appealing when he said that "England is a Christian country." The
other targets of his remark were the "militant atheists". As the
Telegraph reported it: "Mr Pickles said: 'I've stopped an
attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the
start of meetings if they wish. Heaven forbid. We're a Christian
nation.We have an established Church. Get over it. And don't impose
your politically correct intolerance on others.'
"He added: 'This Government has backed British values. And we've
stopped White-hall appeasing extremism of any sort. Be itthe EDL,
be it extreme Islamists or be it thuggish far-left, they're all as
bad as each other.'"
This is calculated offence to Lib Dem susceptibilities: Mr
Pickles was addressinga Conservative audience suspicious of the
Coalition. But it wasn't shocking. The Mail didn't report
it at all.
BY THE same token, the news that African villagers massacre each
other on idiotic pretexts does not violate any strong expectations.
It is distressing, of course, but not terribly surprising.
Archbishop Welby's interview came in the week of the anniversary of
the Rwandan massacres, when 800,000 people were killed for no
reason anyone here can understand. Like the apparently endless and
terrible wars in the DRC, it is the kind of thing that goes on
Africa, people think. That may be - it is - deeply unfair to Africa
and Africans. But it is, so far as we can tell, the mindset of the
British public. If it were not, we would never tolerate our own
What was news was the idea of an Archbishop of Canterbury
standing by a graveside and caring. But I don't think that he has
gained any sympathy for the Anglican Communion by his story. It
really does pose a moral problem to confront us with threats that
innocent people will be murdered if we do what we believe is right,
and that is what his anecdote boiled down to. It is very notable
that the only people who found it morally unproblematic were those
who agree with him on the substantive issue: that the clergy in
this country should not be free to recognise or contract same-sex
IN THE OBSERVER, meanwhile, Chris McGreal has been
working on stories that show that propaganda for genocide is no bar
to relations within the Anglican Communion. He has extracted a
devastating quote from Archbishop Kolini in Rwanda about the Rt
Revd Jonathan Ruhumuliza, who has been suspended from the parish in
Worcester diocese where he has worked since 2005 (News, 21 February).
Bishop Ruhumuliza had had to leave Rwanda after the massacres were
over, but Lambeth Palace stated that he had been properly
investigated before being welcomed to this country.
Archbishop Kolini's version is different: "I did say they could
help him as a human being. But I also said that the Church in
Rwanda had never sat down to discuss the issue of those bishops who
have left Rwanda and who were in exile. . . If the Church of
England didn't know what happened in Rwanda, and how bishops
behaved who were in Rwanda then, I didn't want to spend much of my
time on it instead of caring over the orphans and widows and the
destroyed. My concern was to help the Church in Rwanda, not spend
much time on those who are on the run."
AND so to a little silliness to cleanse the palate. The
Times carried a report from Los Angeles about a documentary
called Fight Church, which follows some startlingly
muscular Christians who practise mixed martial arts, or cage
fighting, for Jesus.
It features characters such as the "Pastor of Disaster", Preston
Hocker, who explains his advantage in the ring: "Sometimes people
get weird about punching a pastor in the face."
There is also this question, familiar to many churchgoers, posed
by Scott "Bam Bam" Sullivan, a Christian mixed-martial-arts
champion from Houston who recently completed a theology degree:
"Can you love your neighbour as yourself, and at the same time knee
him in the face as hard as you can?"
As moral dilemmas go, it's enough to make you beat your head
against the wall. Or somebody's head, at any rate.