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Archive for August 2014

We are N


Right now there are huge numbers of people across the world – in Iraq, Syria, Gaza and Israel, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and many other places – who are caught up in horrific violence in the name of religion.  This is leading to death, serious injury, homelessness, rape, hunger and other atrocities that most of us can only imagine from the security of Sunderland Minster.

The aid agencies are asking us to give.  A huge variety of groups and individuals are calling for action at local, national and international levels.  Politicians are being asked to recognise the plight of Iraqi Christians seeking asylum and allow them into the country.  The Archbishops are asking us to pray, and if you go onto the Archbishop of Canterbury’s website you’ll see that the little icon on the home page where his picture usually is has been replaced by this symbol – standing for to the Arabic letter “N” which is being painted on the doors of Christians in Iraq, identifying them as targets for Isis militants. “N” stands for “Nazarene” or “Christian” in Arabic.  For those who tweet, there’s a growing following for #WeareN.  Its about solidarity and prayer – stuff that Jesus calls us to . . .

Christians are being targeted. And our news is full of the death of James Foley and the awareness that his killer was probably a young British lad who is described as a radicalised Muslim. There are increasing numbers of young people who are going overseas to fight to the death for what they believe in, and to challenge the orthodoxies and values that we take for granted.  People who think that we’re too liberal in our thinking – too apathetic in our faith maybe.  We call them ‘extremists’.  Theresa May has spoken out about those who go overseas to join such causes and whether they should be allowed back into this country.  There’s a big debate about whether and how – and who – Britain should support through military and political action.  Which side are we on?

More than ever this time, its not simple.  Iraq is not a state party to the International Criminal Court, so Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Zoroastrian leaders from Coventry have joined together to seek prosecution under the war crimes legislation for Iraqi militants  – coming together in common cause against a shared horror.  But in some communities now mosques are being targeted because of their perceived involvement in the development of radical Islamisists.  In places, all Muslims are being put into the same category, which is to say that they all support the radical agenda. But they don’t, and the Grand Mufti of Saudi has said that Islamic State (ISIS) and al Quaida are ‘enemy number one of Islam’.    Many Muslims are as clear as we are in condemning the actions of those who persecute others in the name of religion, or who commit crimes against humanity.  And as someone quoted this week, ‘my enemy’s enemy is not my friend’.

There’s a clear distinction between the exercise of religious freedom and radicalisation, and its in danger of being lost.  It has to do with the underlying commitment to a shared humanity that’s at the root of all faiths.  Each of the major faith groups teaches us how to live in this life, and their teaching can differ – indeed we know that we hold together differences within the Christian churches, never mind about the differences between us and other faiths. Think of issues around human sexuality and the right to life – abortion and euthanasia – for instance.  But its fear that drives the radical agenda, not love – the insecurity and doubt that we experience when others don’t agree with us forces us on the defensive – and extreme defensiveness wants to eliminate from the face of the earth any view we don’t agree with, however we justify that.  It is barbaric and brutal – and yet if we’re passionate about our faith, and filled with the desire to bring in God’s kingdom, how do we act without tipping over into violent extremism – and how do we respond to the very real threat that poses for us?  There are no easy judgements, but no action without some judgement – and the grace to confess our uncertainty and change our minds is a gift worthy of our prayer.

Jesus calls us to prayer, practical action and radical commitment – with all who suffer and struggle in crisis.  So we have been and will pray.  We can choose to display the ‘WeareN’ symbol, or to give to one of the humanitarian appeals – actions within our reach.  But what about radical commitment?

Paul writes ‘do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect’.    Pray, Act, Give . . . explore, reflect, commit . . . and above all love – for perfect love casts out fear, and in freedom from fear, God’s kingdom will come.



sheila b


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