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Welby wasn’t shocking enough

11 April 2014

Startlingly muscular Christianity: the story about cage fighting in churches from The Times last Friday

Startlingly muscular Christianity: the story about cage fighting in churches from The Times last Friday

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 asylum policy.

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 marriages.

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.

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