Anglicans and Methodists unite to ‘challenge Islamophobia’
Could anyone have predicted 20 years ago that moves towards the institutional convergence of Anglicans and Methodists would result in an alliance to combat specifically 'Islamaphobia'? One wonders what John Wesley and George Whitefield would have made of the following job advert:
Sheffield Methodist District
Challenging Extremism in South Yorkshire
This is a new project, funded by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, to challenge Islamaphobia, racism and divisive politics.
We wish to recruit: Project Manager - Full time, salary £35,000
To lead the project, develop its work, and build strong and broad partnerships
Communications Officer - 0.6 FTE, salary £27,000 pro rata
To develop consistent key messages and build communications capacity in the community.
The application pack is said to be available from an e-mail address at the Anglican Diocese of Sheffield. The employer is thus the Sheffield Methodist District with the Diocese of Sheffield having placed the advert. So, two Christian denominations are closely involved in the organisation of these two secular-funded roles which are not restricted to professing Christians and are clearly aimed at the wider community.
The questions raised by this for the Church's mission are far from trivial.
What place does challenging 'Islamaphobia' have in the Church's mission? If 'Islamaphobia' is defined as a refusal to show Christian love and hospitality towards Muslims with whom Christians ought to be sharing the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, then it certainly deserves to be challenged.
But that is not the politically-correct definition of 'Islamaphobia'. In fact, the orthodox doctrine of the Church of England would have to be branded 'Islamaphobic' according to PC criteria. Article 18 of the 39 Articles of Religion - Of Obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ - pronounces 'accursed' those who claim that people can be saved by the 'Law or Sect' that they profess: 'Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved,' it affirms.
Furthermore, this PC-defined form of extremism is to be challenged in the wider non-Christian community who have no interest in Christian evangelism and little commitment to biblical authority. Thus, it would seem that the Church, with funding from the State, is getting involved in preaching PC morality to the community rather than the gospel.
Challenging racism is clearly something the Church must engage in - racism is a barrier to the gospel and is a profoundly unloving attitude, unworthy of Christians. That is why I (His Grace’s curate) personally support the ban on clergy being members of the British National Party: membership of a racist political party intrinsically constitutes conduct unbecoming.
But surely challenging racism where it is found is part of the role of front-line clergy engaged in evangelism in their communities. The cost of the project manager approximates to that of a full-time minister deployed in a parish, and the cost of the communications officer to that of a youth worker. Should the Church be involved in deploying secular-funded central staff dedicated not only to challenging racism but also 'Islamaphobia' as apparently defined by PC criteria and 'divisive politics'?
Surely in a democracy politics is inherently divisive - people are allowed to vote for different parties and debate the issues freely and disagree openly: one is permitted to divide along party lines.
Furthermore, is not 'Christianaphobia' as great if not a greater problem now in British society than ‘Islamaphobia’, and of more immediate concern to Christian organisations such as the Sheffield Methodist District and the Diocese of Sheffield? What about the situation faced by Christians in the public sector suspended or fired from their employment simply for offering to pray with clients or for saying 'God bless'?
What about the situation faced by Christian street preachers accused of hate speech simply for affirming the Bible's teaching?
What about the situation faced by confessing Anglicans who wish to uphold the doctrine of the Church of England?
There is no doubt that an Anglican-Methodist partnership led by John Wesley and George Whitefield would have spent the money on a full-time evangelist - even if that meant losing the grant from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire. His weblog is Cranmer's Curate