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July 27, 2004

Entering the minefield ....

Being the Archbishop of Canterbury has always been a tricky position. Even St Augustine found it difficult, and he was the first! The Archbishops of Canterbury always find themseleves caught between a rock and a hard place because, on the one hand they must uphold the message of the Gospel, and on the other, respond to the realities of politics, statecraft, and interfaith and intercultural matters. As one incumbent put it, like walking a tightrope with someone at each end trying to cut the rope all the while blindfolded and deprived of a balance pole.

As the senior Archbishop of the Anglican Communion (the Archbishop of York is the next senior) he must try to provide guidance and counsel to all the diverse churchmanship that the Anglican Communion embraces - from the ultra-Protestant to the Anglo-Catholic - and try to hold together a group as individual as cats! In fact, herding cats would be easier!

The Archbishop also has a diplomatic role to deal with, in that he must represent a major branch of Christianity in dealing with the leaders of other faiths and seeking to ease the tensions which inevitably arise between adherents of one or another. Couple with that the fact that he is seen as a political leader, as well, by the many politicians he must deal with in his role as head of the Established Church and you begin to see the minefield that any man taking on this role is attempting to negotiate. In fact, it takes an exceptional man and a whole heep of guidance from the Holy Spirit to survive at all!

Even so, as Thomas Beckett discovered, you cannot make any decision without giving grave offence to someone. The latest news from Lambeth Palace certainly confirms that by announcing that the Archbishop is to address a gathering of Muslim Clerics at the centre of Islamic learning in Egypt. No doubt this is the culmination of a number of years of negotiation, possibly even going back to the previous Archbishop's tenure of office, and no doubt too there has been much to-ing and fro-ing to get diaries sorted out, avoid major festivals or dates when the Archbishop and his counterpart are not required to be at other events, functions or festivals. But it is disquieting that the date finally agreed is September 11th this year. I would have hoped that someone on the Archbishop's Diary staff would have recognised the sensitivity of this date and the importance of not giving fuel to the strong feelings which both gave rise to the attack and to those injured both physically and psychologically by it. Let us hope that there is a change of schedule or date which will alleviate this one!

I, for one, hope that this date has not been selected by the hosts to make a political statement, and I hope, too, that the Archbishop does not attempt to gloss over the very real feelings of hurt and anger that so many Christians feel and share that the unprovoked and inexcusable attack on the World Trade Centre have evoked. I hope too that he will use the opportunity to express the anger and disquiet of Christians everywhere at the brutal suppression of Christianity and the enslavement of those who refuse to convert in Southern Sudan, in Northern Nigeria, and in other Islamic countries ruled by Muslim Fundamentalists. To not do so would be inexcusable, but we must also recognise that to do so may derail all the progress made to date - much of it out of the public eye and ignored by the press (good news doesn't sell papers after all) - which is helping to bring the radical and fundamentalist branches of Islam under increasing pressure to accept change and to put a halt to the poison preached by them.

Rather than attacking the Archbishop for this, we need to pray for him, for what he and many others are trying to do to ease tensions and get raproachment moved forward. There does need to be a recognition that not all Muslims are evil, that not all Muslims are bombers, terrorists, or even fundamentalists. These are the Muslims we need to help, to encourage so that they in turn can deal with the elements of poison within their faith.

Please pray for the Archbishop and his staff as they do their best to bring God's work and His word into the world and the debate between these two faiths. It is part of the calling of the Church that it must reach out to those who are of a different faith, it must comment on the activities of governments, and it must comment on the actions of individuals which are contrary to the Gospel. It is a minefield, and, even worse, there is no map, no mine detector, and there is someone always ready to plant a few more as soon as the Archbishop has cleared some away.

Yes, this seems a hugely insensitive action, but remember that we do not know yet what he will say to the assembly, we do not have a copy of his text, and the reports we have so far are designed to sell newspapers based purely on speculation, rabble rousing, and rumour. Take what you read in the popular press with a shovel full of salt until we have something from the Archbishop himself - and then make sure you read all of it and not just the selective bits the press will use out of context.

Personally I hope and wish that the Archbishop changes the schedule and the date, but I think there may be other forces at work here of which we know little and understand less. Pray, my brothers and sisters, for the Archbishop, and let us wait to see what flows from it in the fullness of time. It would not be the first time God has done things through circumstances and events which beggar belief.

Posted by The Gray Monk at July 27, 2004 09:01 AM