It was a provocative statement, considering that it amounts to saying British Muslims who have never given any support to Islamic extremists are still somehow partly guilty of their crimes.
And when those crimes include the horrors Islamic State is guilty of or the likes of the Taliban attack in Kabul yesterday, it’s a serious thing to be accused of. Should we all have to denounce, vocally and regularly, anything that is done in the name of our religion, no matter how obviously different from our own views it might be? How often is enough?
Keeping in mind we may always be next, here’s a helpful list of ten things Christians may be ‘quietly condoning’:
1. Westboro Baptist
These truly awful people picket funerals and tell mourners that their loved ones are in hell. If you are regularly engaged in discussions with non-Christians they are bound to have come up. You will have said they are not representative of true Christianity, which is good because they are not, but when last did you do it? Because, as the PM’s declaration makes clear, just speaking out against people doing terrible things in the name of your faith when they are directly linked to your community is not enough. Westboro-denouncing should take place daily.
2. American Christian terror groups
Christians like the Army of God, who kill abortion doctors may look nothing like your Thursday morning prayer and coffee circle, sure. And any number of wacko individual Phineas Priests and survivalist cults in the backwoods of America may have little in common with how you worship, but many call themselves Christian. What have you done lately to distance yourself from their violence?
3. Angola’s persecution of Muslims
In 2013, mostly Christian Angola closed all the country’s mosques, essentially banning Islam. When similar stuff happens to minority Christian churches in other countries, we call it persecution. These moves (some of which have since been reversed), were justified because Islam was ‘an invasion of Angolan culture and a threat to Christian values.’ If we have not vociferously denounced these actions, are we quietly condoning the kind of behaviour we deplored in the likes of the Taliban when they forced their religion on others?
Whatever you believe about what Scripture teaches about homosexuality (and I believe there are legitimate beliefs on both sides), any decent Christian who has read the New Testament knows that treating people with hate, attacking them verbally or physically and even being unkind to anyone is wrong. And yet, speak to any openly gay person about their experiences at the hands of Christians convince you that very often our high ideals are not being lived out.
5. The KKK
The Ku Klux Klan, along with many other white supremacist groups, thinks of itself as Christian. It has long been a symbol of racism, hatred and violence of the most appalling kind. When last did you do something to stop it?
6. The Lord’s Resistance Army
Joseph Kony and his band of lunatics, child soldiers and war criminals have terrorised central Africa for a long time. They have committed some of the most horrific acts Africa has seen. They claimed, at least at one time, to be acting on behalf of God, protecting Christians and doing His will. If you haven't publicly distanced yourself from them, have you condoned their actions?
7. That campaign against the Lord’s Resistance Army
Kony 2012 was a phenomenally successful viral campaign to raise awareness of The Lord’s Resistance Army’s crimes and the particular brand of crazy that was personified in its leader, Joseph Kony. It was super popular, but many thought it was overly simplistic and made things harder for more responsible campaign groups. The people behind it? Christians. Are you quietly condoning them?
8. Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson inadvertently made himself the poster-boy for Christianity when he created The Passion of the Christ. But mad Mel has done the faith he came to represent no favours in recent years. Accusations of anti-Semitism, abusive attitudes to women and drink driving have all been levelled at him, and I have foolishly never thought to distance myself from him.
9. Take your pick in Northern Ireland
What are the sides called most often in Northern Ireland? 'Catholic and Protestant' at least as often as 'Republican and Unionist'. Now, smart people know that very few conflicts are ever so simple that they can be entirely attributed to religious causes. But that doesn’t mean religion hasn’t played a major part in the spiral of violence in our back yard. Do you feel duty-bound to apologise for that?
10. The Anti-Balaka
“Tens of thousands of Muslims flee Christian militias” is not a headline we’re used to reading, but that’s probably because we don’t live in the Central African Republic, where Anti-Balaka militias, supposedly formed to protect Christians and animists, are now accused of worse war crimes than any Muslim group in the country. Next time you talk about Christians being persecuted in Africa, I hope you mention this. Otherwise… well, you know.
Just as we don’t want to be blamed for – or even associated with – the actions of many of the individuals and groups named above, so we must avoid grouping all Muslims as complicit in, or in some way culpable for, the atrocities conducted at the hands of ISIS. Our challenge as Christians is to extend love and grace to all people – both the Christians with whom we disagree, and those of other faiths. How will we graciously love the Muslims in our communities?