People must come first: there are many ways of being conservative - September 2009:

by Graham Kings

Date added: 11/09/2009

By plotting a graph of the expansion of the monasteries throughout the Middle Ages we might easily have concluded that nine-tenths of the British people were celibates today.’ John V Taylor’s wisdom, in his prophetic, ecological gem Enough is Enough (SCM Press, 1975), is worth remembering concerning any future predictions, not least the growth of Islam in the West. None of us knows what is round the corner.

Another shrewd attitude towards the past and the future is that taken by Zhou Enlai, the Chinese prime minister who died in 1975. When asked how he assessed the French Revolution, replied, ‘It’s a little too early to judge’.

Are Anglican conservatives in the Anglican Communion turning their attention away from issues of sexuality to the threat of Islam? From reading articles and comments and taking part in various private discussions, this seems to me too simplistic an analysis. Perceptions on both these subjects may interweave and are likely to feature in future comment and campaign.

Anglican conservatives are no more a monolithic block than are Anglican liberals. Some, sadly, are so caught up in the combat of the single issue of sexuality that their words appear to many to be blinkered and splintered. Others, while remaining conservative on sexual issues, may have friends and relatives who are gay and join in with long term private conversations and organized discussions on the subject. Oliver O’Donovan has recently published A Conversation Waiting to Begin: the Churches and the Gay Controversy (SCM Press, 2009), which originated as a series of articles on Fulcrum. And there are many who are betwixt and between these general positions.

Concerning Islam, some see it as a monolithic, demonic structure and their words imply that they would prefer it to be eradicated from the face of the earth. They campaign politically and religiously against its threat, see dialogue as a waste of energy and warn Christians that there is no such thing as a ‘moderate muslim’. Others, while holding firmly to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and fully aware of the hegemonic aims and brutal methods of ‘islamist’ groups, may have friends who are muslims: they long to introduce them to the one whose whole life was lived in the loving, peaceful submission of his will to God. Again, there are many who are bewildered and betwixt these general positions.

Richard Sudworth, a Church Mission Society (CMS) mission partner in Birmingham working for a confident, relational engagement with muslims, has written Distinctly Welcoming: Christian Presence in a Multi-Faith Society (Scripture Union, 2007) and has recently started a four-part series on Fulcrum, ‘The Church of England and Islam: Hospitality and Embassy’.

Sudworth is following in the tradition of an earlier CMS mission partner, Temple Gairdner who died in 1928. Constance Padwick, in her Temple Gairdner of Cairo (SPCK, 1929), records the perceptive comment of Yusef Effendi Tadras: ‘Other teachers taught us how to refute Islam; he taught us how to love Muslims’.

Implicit in this remarkable saying are four contrasts: Gairdner’s approach was more positive than negative; it was concerned with people more than with systems; it involved love rather than attacks; and it was effected by example rather than by theory.

Michael Nazir-Ali’s new mission of support for persecuted Christians who live in minority contexts is a venture of faith and a vocation of courage. A scholar of the nuances of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations, and author of essays and books on these subjects, he has been in touch with Christians under pressure throughout his ministry as a bishop in Pakistan, secretary of the Lambeth Conference 1988, general secretary of the Church Mission Society and Bishop of Rochester. He has been involved in dialogues with muslims at academic and popular levels over many years.

He is a president of the Network for Inter Faith Concerns in the Anglican Communion, in which I am also involved. Key meetings and resources of this group include the Building Bridges series of dialogues with muslims and Generous Love: the truth of the Gospel and the call to dialogue (Anglican Consultative Council, 2008), a foundational Anglican theology of inter faith relations.

There has been a perceptible shift over the summer concerning the future shape of the Anglican Communion. In The Episcopal Church, a definitive clarity of ‘local autonomy’ overriding ‘Communion interdependence’ has occurred at General Convention. From the Archbishop of Canterbury a distinctive response has been elicited of a ‘two track’ Communion for those who sign up or not to the Anglican Covenant. It may be that lessons learnt from dialogue between faiths may be helpful in the ongoing dialogue between differing Anglican views on sexuality.


Graham Kings

Graham Kings

A bronze

Wood panel


Wood panel