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Luke Coppen's Catholic Herald Blog

The Anglican provision: All about Islam?

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Did the Pope’s overture to Anglicans have something to do with Islam? That notion is being discussed pretty vigorously across the Atlantic.

It all started with Ross Douthat’s column in the New York Times, suggesting that the Apostolic Constitution was part of Pope Benedict’s “response to the Islamic challenge”. He wrote:

In making the opening to Anglicanism, Benedict also may have a deeper conflict in mind – not the parochial Western struggle between conservative and liberal believers, but Christianity’s global encounter with a resurgent Islam.

Here Catholicism and Anglicanism share two fronts. In Europe, both are weakened players, caught between a secular majority and an expanding Muslim population. In Africa, increasingly the real heart of the Anglican Communion, both are facing an entrenched Islamic presence across a fault line running from Nigeria to Sudan.

Where the European encounter is concerned, Pope Benedict has opted for public confrontation. In a controversial 2006 address in Regensburg, Germany, he explicitly [questioned] Islam’s compatibility with the Western way of reason – and sparked, as if in vindication of his point, a wave of Muslim riots around the world.

By contrast, the Church of England’s leadership has opted for conciliation (some would say appeasement), with the Archbishop of Canterbury going so far as to speculate about the inevitability of some kind of sharia law in Britain.

There are an awful lot of Anglicans, in England and Africa alike, who would prefer a leader who takes Benedict’s approach to the Islamic challenge. Now they can have one, if they want him.

Douthat was promptly accused of advocating a “holy war” against Islam.

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald wrote:

It’s hard to imagine anything more inflammatory, hostile and outright threatening than a call for Christians of all denominations to unite behind the common cause of fighting against Islam as Christianity’s most ‘enduring and impressive foe’.

Adam Server of The American Prospect added:

Douthat is considered a ‘reasonable conservative’ in liberal circles, but this column is downright nutty. It’s frightening enough that someone who attended school in a city as international as Boston could endorse the idea of viewing Muslims worldwide as a ‘foe’ of Christianity. But consider the fact that there are probably a number of people in charge of making foreign policy decisions in the last administration, who saw Christianity and Islam as ‘foes’ and acted or advised accordingly.

And Andrew Sullivan, Douthat’s former stablemate at the Atlantic, commented:

I’m with Greenwald and Serwer about 80 per cent. But they miss Ross’s context: Islam currently is nowhere near the levels of openness and dialogue that have been achieved in the West within Christianity these past few decades. It isn’t wrong to point this out or to see it as a very large obstacle to a civil modus operandi between Muslim citizens and the liberal Western state. In fact, to deny this is to betray those who really are working within Islam for some kind of reformation.

Now, a rabbi has backed Douthat’s thesis. Rabbi Ben Kamin believes the New York Times columnist was on to something.

But the real question is, why aren’t people in Europe and Africa – the continents where intra-church tensions most simmer – making more noise about this bold exploit? One reason may be that since the 1960s there actually has been an improvement in ecumenical discussion and relations and that the Catholic Church has proven its relevance by spending a lot of time on pertinent issues such as the environment, social justice and world peace. The other reason, not spoken out loud perhaps: Islam.

My own view is that there is no obvious Muslim dimension whatsoever to the new provision.

Photo: A mosque and a church stand side by side in Doncaster, South Yorkshire (John Giles/PA)

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Written by Luke Coppen

October 28, 2009 at 1:36 pm

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