THE most unexpected article of the week came from Unherd, the website where Canon Giles Fraser is now a columnist. It was by Christopher Rhodes, a black American academic, and dealt with the African missions to China.
This is a dimension of global Christianity which I have not seen elsewhere: “Hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens have gone to work in Africa, where they have encountered foreign cultures that leave many of them feeling alienated. For some of these disaffected Chinese workers, a source of comfort has come from religion, most notably the Evangelical Christianity that pervades much of sub-Saharan Africa.
“Many local African churches have reached out to Chinese workers, including incorporating Mandarin into services. A number of Chinese, in turn, have welcomed the sense of community and belonging that these Christian churches offer. And a small but growing number of ethnically Chinese missionaries from Taiwan and other countries are specifically targeting Chinese nationals in Africa, preaching to them with a freedom they’d never be allowed in the People’s Republic.”
Apparently, the Christians in the coastal Chinese province of Fujian now speak English with a South African accent.
THE most moving, and perhaps troubling, article was Anthony Lloyd’s interviews in The Times with Shamima Begum, the 19-year-old IS recruit who has watched two of her children die in Syria and has just given birth to a third. It was wonderful journalism, and the picture that emerged of a bewildered young fanatic was unforgettable.
Her quotes about how the first severed head she saw did not disturb her because she was sure it must belong “to an enemy of Islam” will not help her case if she ever finds herself in front of a jury. On the other hand, there is no enthusiasm to bring her back to face British justice.
The paper’s leader was balanced and forgiving: “Ms Begum should be allowed to return to her family in Britain and explain her actions. On arrival she should be detained and questioned by the security services to determine how exactly Isis was able to spread its tentacles into Britain and other European countries. A judgment will have to be made as to whether she is more victim than perpetrator.”
Although it is generally true that any reference to the troubled period of Anglo-German relations between 1939 and 1945 is a mistake, there is a helpful parallel. The bombed ruins of Germany in 1945 must have contained a number of teenage widows who, like Ms Begum, had been taught that their husbands died in a noble cause, and that everything was the fault of the Jews, even if few of them had buried two children in the war.
Most of them changed their minds in the ensuing years. None, to my knowledge, took up violence again. It was possible to detoxify fanaticism then. It should still be possible now.
THE Roman Catholic Church is preparing for the worldwide synod on sexual abuse. The American press has been all over it.
The Wall Street Journal had a detailed and rather worrying account of the rift between Pope Francis and the Capuchin Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who had been his right-hand man on questions of abuse until last year: “Today, interactions between the Pope and the cardinal, previously friendly and spontaneous, have become noticeably formal and terse, says a person who has observed them together.
“The Boston cardinal’s influence has declined to the point where, in November, the Pope excluded him from the organizing committee of next week’s summit, which had been Cardinal O’Malley’s idea.”
The implication is that the Pope has lost his enthusiasm for a policy of zero tolerance, which is now the American line.
THE Anglican Communion, we learned from Nick Hellen in The Sunday Times, will invite married gay bishops to the Lambeth Conference, but not their spouses.
The Roman Catholic Church makes this look enlightened. The New York Times had a long, thoughtful piece about the lives of gay Catholic priests based on a sample of 24. That may not be representative: the paper estimates that between 30 and 75 per cent of the American RC clergy are gay.
It quotes one, Fr Bob Bussen: “I was in my 50s when I came out. I entered the seminary at 18, a young, enthusiastic, white, male virgin who doesn’t know anything, let alone straight or gay. There were years that I carried this secret. My prayer was not that God would change me. It was that I would die before anyone found out.”
Compare and contrast the Slovak businessman and politician who appeared in The Guardian’s long read on the rise of rural politicians there: “Boris Kollár has ten children from nine different women, yet says he named his party We Are Family because his focus was on ‘traditional conservative values when it comes to the family’.
“Was it some kind of joke, I asked. ‘I have shown I can look after my children, it’s proof I can look after all the children,’ he said, clarifying that his traditionalism was mainly focused on opposing the expansion of LGBT rights.”