Press: When theology cannot be seen as charitable

12 October 2018


AFTER the fiasco of the Tower Hamlets story last year (Press, 10 November 2017), has Andrew Norfolk got a real scandal in his latest Times front-page piece? I’m inclined to think that he has.

The bones of the matter are not in dispute: Amazon has admitted to its charitable-giving programme a Salafist charity, the Muslim Research and Development Foundation (MRDF), whose founder and animating spirit, Dr Haitham al Haddad, has views thatcurdle the imagination.

A surprising number of these are shared with Christian Concern, of course. In The Times’s epitome: “Homosexuality is an evil crime. All Muslims believe this. Gay marriage will entrench aberrant behaviours as normal in the minds of innocent children. Homosexuality and gay marriage is not about two people loving each other as it is misleadingly portrayed; it is a completely inhumane sexual activity.”

When he talks about domestic violence, he might be channelling a prominent Evangelical barrister whom I once interviewed: “Marriage breakdown is an evil thing. That’s why Muhammad said that a man should not be questioned why he hit his wife. Because this is something between them. Leave them alone.”

Dr al Haddad’s belief that all Shia Muslims and Ahmadis are going to hell, along with Roman Catholics, is, of course, held in common with Ian Paisley, Jr, although there remains a disagreement about the destination of Sunnis and Protestants. His view of the Japanese earthquake as the just and terrible punishment of Allah, visited on a people who ignore him, also seems close to the traditional Christian view — though, of course, the offended God is different.

There is a serious point. What are the theological views that are so dreadful that they should be driven from public life? No one, I think, would suggest that a Christian charity be shut down for preaching these doctrines, no matter how reprehensible. No one suggests, at least in print, that Dr al Haddad condones violence.


So, what, exactly, is it that puts him beyond the pale? Almost certainly, it is his views on women. The Times quotes him as saying, in 2012: “I have received so many requests from Western women who committed adultery. They were begging me to help them to find a way to a Muslim country to be stoned to death.” He is in favour of FGM, under-age marriage, and believes that women should stay at home, with their faces covered, rather than work.

The Times wants Amazon to stop channelling donations to the MRDF, and, perhaps, the Charity Commission to investigate it further (Dr al Haddad was removed from its board in 2012). I have asked the MRDF for comment, and had no response. But, if nothing else, the story shows how ridiculous the charity is to pretend that a state can be theologically neutral. There are some doctrines that simply cannot be regarded as charitable.

THE week’s other example of uncharitable disagreement came from the Vatican, where, after six weeks of silence, the head of the Congregation of Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, responded to the various accusations made by Archbishop Vigano against Pope Francis.

His open letter was both full and frank, as diplomats say: “I find your current attitude incomprehensible and extremely troubling. . . I tell you frankly that to accuse Pope Francis of having covered up knowingly the case of an alleged sexual predator . . . appears to me from all viewpoints unbelievable and without any foundation. This monstrous and unsubstantiated accusation . . . is a political plot that lacks any real basis that could incriminate the Pope.”

That is rather easier to interpret than most documents that emerge from the Vatican. There are also certain specific allegations that Cardinal Ouellet rebuts. In particular, he says that Pope Benedict had asked the now disgraced Cardinal to withdraw from public life, but nothing was put in writing, since there was no proof of the allegations against him. In the event, as all the world knows, McCarrick ignored the request entirely — hence the video clips of Archbishop Vigano greeting him fulsomely in happier times.

Obviously, this letter won’t put the story to rest. As John L. Allen points out in Crux magazine, there are much worse scandals emerging in the Church in Chile, but the money and the animus against the Pope are all to be found in the United States.

OVER at The Sunday Times, you would hear the teeth gnashing in a story of Nicholas Hellen’s about a supposed wedding between two ordinands at Westcott House, which they had reported on Facebook: “The younger man, Edwin Wilton-Morgan, 24, appeared to throw down the gauntlet with a statement on his Facebook page that said: ‘Married to Taylor Wilton-Morgan.’

“However, as the conservatives in the church began to mobilise in protest, the couple issued a statement to The Sunday Times saying the ‘relationship descriptor used on our social media accounts was misguided.’”

That is so weasellish that I don’t really think that either man should be ordained.

THERE is also a survey reported by the BBC which suggeststhat three-fifths of the population believes in miracles, which is odd, because I thought the figure was only 52 per cent.

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