'Christendom' ideology is barrier to improved Christian-Muslim relations

London, UK - Sep 22, 2006 The continuing confusion of Christianity with the dominant assumptions and institutions of Western society is one of the main barriers to improved relations with Muslims, the UK think tank Ekklesia has suggested today.

It suggests a conscious reversal of ‘the Christendom settlement’, which links the interests of the church with the preservation of the status quo, includes a rejection of arguments against Turkey’s accession to the EU and a response to today’s Muslim ‘Day of Anger’ against the Pope with a “dialogue of love”.

In an article published today, Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow says that senior Christian leaders have become “accustomed to operating from a position of power, prestige and protection”, and that this makes the Pope’s recent miscalculation over quoting a Christian Emperor in his recent German university speech “natural, if unintentional”.

The think tank says churches are “urgently challenged to deconstruct the colonial and military symbols which have become part of their faith”, pointing out that the central Christian image for God is a wounded healer, not a crusading warrior.

A post-Christendom church should reject violence and coercion, make the distinction between church and state clear, and argue against any attempts by politicians to have ‘God on our side’, says Ekklesia.

The think tank’s call comes at the same time as the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, has told the BBC that Europe’s “Christian identity” should be preserved and that Turkey’s admission to the European Union might risk “mixing cultures”.

Ekklesia says that such an approach is “profoundly mistaken”. The church should seek “difficult exchange not convenient isolation” with people of other convictions, it argues. It should also stop treating Christianity and Western culture as if they were the same thing, and should commend the Gospel through the peaceful witness of “communities of example”, not by attempts to impose Christian labels or rules on plural societies.

Today (Friday 22 September), aggrieved Muslim leaders from Qatar to Qom and Gaza have called a ‘Day of Anger’ against the Pope. They say his apology for the impact of quoting an ancient attack on Muhammad is insufficient and that he should be “humbled”.

Ekklesia says that the best response to bitterness is “a dialogue of love”. It commends a Muslim initiative to help rebuild churches recently attacked in the West Bank and Gaza, and points to the recent exchange between US Mennonite theologian David Shank and Iranian President Ahmadinejad as “small signs of hope in a climate of bitterness and fear”.

Barrow argues that “Christendom is in retreat. But it is also in denial.” He cites the Catholic maintenance of a powerful City State, the Church of England’s “jealous guarding of Establishment”, and attempts by the US religious right to impose its views through money and power.

Continues the Ekklesia co-director: “It is these realities, together with the flag-waving and military chaplaincy that sometimes accompanies them, which makes it difficult for many Muslims (not just ‘radicals’) to understand the true difference between Christianity and Western interests. This remains the case even though the majority of Christians are poor, black and located in the global South; and even though a clear majority of the world’s churches have been highly critical of US-led military adventurism and the ‘war on terror’.”

Ekklesia commends the Pope’s view that linking violence to God is both wrong and incoherent, but says that if constructive conversations are to be had about distortions in Islam, they must proceed from practical repentance about the way Christendom was spread by the sword.

Adds Barrow: “We’re not being soft-headed about the very serious problem of religious violence. What we’re saying is that the calling of the church is to wage peace, and to refuse identification with policies based on the idea that might begets right – in whoever’s name they come.”