Leave it to ++Rowan to have his head in the sand (again) when it comes to the plight of believers in his own country.
Dr Rowan Williams called on those who live in “comfortable environments” to keep their fears “in perspective” and not become obsessed by “the future of Church and society”.
He reminded them that Christians in countries such as Nigeria, Iraq, Egypt and Zimbabwe are facing “butchery and intimidation”, and are in desperate need of support.
His comments will be interpreted as a pointed rebuke to senior figures in the Church of England who believe Christianity is being driven out of public life in Britain.
Last week five prominent bishops and Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, warned in a letter to The Sunday Telegraph that Christian beliefs are “simply not being upheld” in this country and urged political parties to address the problem in the election campaign.
They claimed that the current employment tribunal case of Shirley Chaplin, an NHS nurse who was told to stop wearing a cross around her neck, represented “yet another case in which the religious rights of the Christian community are being treated with disrespect”.
In the BBC’s flagship religious programme for Easter Sunday, the presenter Nicky Campbell will argue that “paradoxical” human rights laws and the ignorance of councils are leaving churchgoers feeling sidelined.
But in his ecumenical Easter Letter to leaders of other denominations, the Archbishop of Canterbury says that the plight of Christians is far more serious in other countries.
Dr Williams wrote: “When St John tells us that the disciples met behind locked doors on the first Easter Day (John 20.19), he reminds us that being associated with Jesus Christ has never been easy or safe.
“Today this is evident in a wide variety of situations – whether in the terrible communal violence afflicting parts of Nigeria, in the butchery and intimidation of Christians in Mosul in recent weeks, in the attacks on the Coptic faithful in Egypt, or in the continuing harassment of Anglican congregations in Zimbabwe.”
He went on: “We who live in more comfortable environments need to bear two things in mind. One is that fellow-Christians under pressure, living daily with threats and murders, need our prayers and tangible support – by personal contact, by continually reminding our governments and media of these things.
“But the second point to remember is that we need to keep our own fears in perspective. It is all too easy, even in comfortable and relatively peaceful societies, for us to become consumed with anxiety about the future of Church and society. We need to witness boldly and clearly but not with anger and fear; we need to show that we believe what we say about the Lordship of the Risen Christ and his faithfulness to the world he came to redeem.”
Dr Williams recently criticised Labour’s Equality Bill over its attempt to interfere in the employment practices of religious groups, saying it would be “deeply dangerous for liberty in general”.
However he has not intervened in any of the cases involving “persecuted” Christians that have been before courts and employment tribunals in recent years.
It is interesting that ++Rowan calls attention to the plight of Christians in other parts of the world to deflect the criticisms of his predecessor and five other senior bishops concerning the unfair treatment of Christians in his own country. It is commendable for the Archbishop to address the persecution of Christians in places like Nigeria, Iraq, Egypt, and Zimbabwe (one might add Sudan, Iran, and any number of other countries). The unfair treatment of a nurse for wearing a cross would seem to pale in comparison to the slaughtering of women and children and the annihilation of entire villages. ++Rowan is also correct in observing that Western countries such as his (and, to a much larger extent, the United States) are "comfortable and relatively peaceful societies."
But is it not precisely because the church in the West exists within such "comfortable environments" that church leaders in those countries where persecution is so severe have roundly criticized ++Rowan and others who have done little or nothing to address the slide toward equivocation on homosexuality and other issues of moral import? The ecclesiastical mess over which ++Rowan now presides did not grow up overnight. When the church in the West took those first baby steps away from doctrines and practices which had been in place for centuries, those who, at that time, warned of dire consequences were, like Lord Carey and his fellow bishops today, dismissed as being "consumed with anxiety about the future of Church and society."
History has a tragic way of repeating itself.