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Justin Welby

The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued a moving statement, which covers not only the crisis in Iraq, but links it up to outrages elsewhere:

“With the world’s attention on the plight of those in Iraq, we must not forget that this is part of an evil pattern around the world where Christians and other minorities are being killed and persecuted for their faith. Only this week I received an email from a friend in Northern Nigeria about an appalling attack on a village, where Christians were killed because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Such horrific stories have become depressingly familiar in countries around the world, including Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.”

He is right, and as Dr Thompson points out in the Spectator (in one of the many good pieces we have had from him there since he was released from durance vile at the Telegraph) it:

is both brave and perfectly judged. What an outstanding representative of English Christianity he is turning out to be – in sorry contrast to his predecessor.

But why the final clause? Dr Thompson is not alone here, and in mentioning this, a wider phenomenon emerges, that of adding our own agenda to a cause.

I can understand the urge to point out that neither Mr Obama nor Mr Cameron have drawn attention to the pattern which Archbishop Justin does, just as I can understand the urge of others to point up the double-standard whereby some on the left cry havoc about Gaza and say nothing on Iraq. The ‘Stop the War coalition’ appears to be misnamed, it is only certain wars which attract its disapprobation. But tempting as all this is, is it helpful? As with those who bring into their comments on this their agenda on Mr Obama – and here I may be alone – I find something jarring. Hypocrisy on the left was best summed up by Disraeli, who said that what he objected to was not so much Gladstone’s habit of playing the ace of trumps from his sleeve, but the claim that the Almighty had put it there; I doubt any conservative arguing with a liberal has not felt the same.

It was the plight of the Christians in Mosul which first drew many of us to the unfolding disaster there, and there was more than irritation felt as the media ignored it and went on about the more fashionable cause of Gaza. For those whose trousers are not nailed to either polarity of that conflict, there was the added piquancy of the fact that a media focussing on the deaths of children, said nothing about Arab children dying on the road from Mosul. These things, like the tendency of Archbishop Rowan to be crystal clear on the rather simplistic old socialist economic beliefs he appears to hold, and to seem to be as clear as mud on the subject on which is is a world expert, theology, irritate some. I am not immune to such feelings myself, although I do remind myself that it might be my mental processes and not ++Rowan’s which are at fault sometimes.

At a time when Christians here in the West, not least those who would identify themselves as being of a conservative and orthodox point of view, feel under pressure, and are coming, slowly, to terms with the unsettling fact that a settlement with the State going back to Theodosius in the late fourth century which has often given them a ‘most-favoured religion’ status is going (in my view it has all but gone in Europe), all of this irritation and desire to hit out is natural; but it needs to be resisted by Christians, who are not called upon to be the jaw bone which strikes these modern philistines.

Yes, Christians and Yedizis are being slaughtered, but if we Christians can adopt the latter as our brothers and sisters to be helped, so too we can with the Shia Muslims who are also being beheaded. That does not take away from the need to emphasise our solidarity with our fellow Christians, but it adds to it the Christian impulse to help all who suffer from persecution. Neither does it take away the natural irritation at the smug, self-satisfied one-sidedness of some of the reactions from some on the left; but that too we can offer up – as we can our own shortcomings and sins.

What it would do, however, would be to detract from an agenda which saw Islam itself as the problem. That is a very tempting route down which to go, not least because it is the religion which ISIS professes, and to deny them their self-description smacks of an attempt to wriggle out of this unacceptable face of Islam. The (not very recent) statement by the Muslim Council of Great Britain is, as most such statements are, worthy, but, unlike Archbishop Justin’s, lacking in punch. It is tempting to ask why its members are not more prominent in public condemnation of what ISIS are doing? But when Islamic leaders say that what ISIS is doing is contrary to the core values of Islam, it invites the caustic response that Muslims have done this in the past, and the people doing it now are Muslims. But down that road we all go to perdition, and cue Dawkins going on about Christian atrocities in the past, and misdeeds in the present. We can all poke each other with barbs until the whole world is jumping around; which would be to the taste of the extremists.

The Archbishop has said what needed saying, and, in the spirit of this post, we shall not mention the fact that the last statement from his opposite number in my own Church was on 31 July, (although he has just said something) but rather rejoice that the Pope has been very active in his support for the persecuted. We can set aside our petty irritations and our own agenda, and pray, with the Archbishop and the Pope, and thank God for their example and the work of those who put themselves in harm’s way to help those in most need.