Following a report in the Daily Telegraph last week, I posted an explanatory blog here in which I tried to clarify matters. Judging by the rather eclectic responses, it obviously didn’t work. Several responses – apart from being somewhat patronising – seem still to be responding to the Telegraph headline which was not only wrong, but bore no relation to what I actually said and believe. However, it seems to suit some people to assume the headline is accurate and not to bother going further. (I have given up complaining about sub-editors not reading the articles for which they provide – often arresting but misleading – headlines.) So, here goes with a number of responses to the responses.
First, the Telegraph headline was not only wrong, but it could not be derived from the article that followed. (The article itself elided two completely separate General Synod debates that were not linked at all – as anyone there will tell you.) I did not say that Christians can learn from Muslims how to be a minority. (And why did the headline put the word ‘minority’ in inverted commas? What was that about?) I said that, just as Muslims are having to learn what it is to be a minority in the West, so Christians who find themselves in a minority here in England have to ask serious questions about what it means to be a church in this context. It is the phenomenon of learning afresh that was the point – which I thought was obvious.
Second, I was not implying and did not make any comparison with Christian minorities in Muslim countries. I was specifically speaking about the challenge of being a Christian church in Bradford (and one or two other English cities), not Iraq, Iran, Egypt or Saudi Arabia. I am not responsible for a dodgy headline on an odd newspaper article that then gets re-shaped as it gets transmitted around the internet, ending up as a story almost totally unrelated to the original fact. Those who rather uncritically told me to wise up might just take a moment to consider this: in the global interfaith work I do (representing the Archbishop of Canterbury) I consistently raise the question of these Christian minorities. I neither fear nor favour, and have never hesitated to ask these questions. Occasionally I have met resistance, but often it has given an opportunity for forthright conversation. The plight of Christian minorities in Muslim countries is serious and one to whcih I give serious attention. To suggest that I am ignorant, fearful or stupid is itself absurd.
Third, my argument would have stood without reference to Muslims. The reality here in Bradford is that entire communities are now Asian. That is fact. Those who don’t like that fact can moan all they like about Muslim threats, but that doesn’t help one iota address the challenge of what it means to be a church right here. Outsiders can scream all they like about ‘segregation’, but they often do so from a distance and never venture to offer a strategy for addressing it. So far, not one respondent has offered anything constructive. Which leads me to the fourth (linked) point…
Fourth, what I said in my Synod speech was that the challenge this provokes is one the church should grasp and not simply cower away in fear. I was precisely encouraging the church to stand firm, maintain Christian witness, not abandon these areas; but, they have to engage with being Christian churches in these areas in new ways. They are admirable because they bring committed Christians into these areas precisely in order to be present and engaged. Or would the respondents prefer us to run away and hide?
Fifth, I would love to know how many of these respondents have the first idea about Bradford. Which of them lives here? Or has even visited the place? Andrew Carey in the Church of England Newspaper admonishes me for my encouragement of Christians to rise to the challenge – yet I wonder what he knows of Bradford. When was he last here? Before I came to Bradford as bishop I refrained from commenting on interfaith matters here (despite having read alot and heard alot) on the grounds that the grassroots reality is always different. I thought it would be arrogant to comment on what I didn’t know from experience, and had only read about. I am amazed at how people who don’t live here are kind enough to offer me their patronising advice. (A charge I am not aiming at Andrew Carey, but some of the commenters on the blog.)
Finally, Bradford is probably unique in some elements of its population make-up and this presents real challenges. Shouting about Islamism isn’t likely to help anyone address these. Seeing ourselves as victims isn’t likely to do much either. I want to encourage our Christian churches to stay stuck into all our parishes – regardless of their ethnic complexions – and being confident, resourceful and joyful. My job is to support them in doing so and to put my back (as well as my prayers) into developing Chistian presence and witness in all these areas. No fear. No favour. No running away. And no wasting time pandering to the ignorance of those who shout advice from outside a place they do not know.
That’s it. From now I will turn to blogging about other things of interest.