Middle East Christians becoming ‘museum pieces’
All good stuff – a bit of Bono, a mention of secularism, a nod at politics, rationalism and transcendence, with a hint of free-market religion as a logical consequence of Protestantism, a reminder of the centrality of the Eucharist, a wave to Herr Ratzinger and his ‘ecclesial communities’, all built on the foundation of a repudiation of violence and the imperative of love.
But all of this will be quickly forgotten by all who attended, and completely overlooked by the media. While the former prime minister and the Director General of the BBC had the content of their lectures broadcast far and wide, the Archbishop of Canterbury will be largely ignored, not because his speech was incomprehensible or obscure, but because he is Anglican.
As if to prove Cranmer’s point, The Daily Telegraph mentions not a word of his lecture, but instead focuses on comments made before he gave his address, in which he spoke passionately of the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
And these were no fence-sitting, pussy-footing, beating-around-the-bush kind of comments either. Dr Williams noted that ‘Christians had traditionally played a leading role in social, cultural and intellectual change in the Middle East’, and that now they are increasingly seen as a ‘foreign and aggressive presence’ as a result of British and American foreign policy.
Cranmer will set aside Dr Williams’ perceived cause (though it is not, of course, unrelated), because the Archbishop forthrightly spoke of an extremist form of ‘unfriendly’ Islam which is ‘filling the void left after the peak of Arab nationalism’. There was now a risk that the Middle East could become religiously ‘monochrome’, dominated by this form of Islam, and this would render the region’s historic Christian communities nothing more than ‘museum pieces’.
Dr Williams continued: ‘The indigenous Christian community throughout the region has suffered from being associated with the American global project, and indeed the British global project as part of the American global project. There is an urgent need for people in the UK to wake up to the fact that Christians in the Middle East are living through a time of change more dramatic and more costly than anything that has been seen for a thousand years and more. There is a quiet but numerically huge exodus of Christians, especially but not exclusively educated Christians, from the whole region. The remaining Christian communities are left exposed to violence or extremism in many countries, and the societies they live in are deprived of some of their most creative and resourceful citizens.’
He added that Christian communities in the ancient heartlands of faith often ‘felt ignored or forgotten by their Western fellow Christians’.
Quite so, quite so.
And Christian communities in England often feel ignored or forgotten by their fellow English Church leaders.