We expect strong words and prophetic leadership from Archbishops, if their public statements don’t make us stop and think then something is missing.
Using a word like 'blasphemy' is guaranteed to attract attention. It is highlighted as the ultimate sin in the Gospels – "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" ie speaking against the loving voice of God. Jesus commanded us to love God and love others, so there is no doubt that walking the path of hate is to walk away from Christ. It might seem like a stretch to call hate "blasphemy", but to express Christianity through anti-Muslim hatred denies the message of love.
One of Archbishop Justin's priorities is reconciliation. This idea - that reconciliation is as at the heart of lived Christianity - comes from Jesus himself. He told us to "be at peace with each other" (Mark 9:50). Paul takes up the theme in 2 Corinthians 5 where he tells his readers that he is involved in "the ministry of reconciliation".
Someone was arguing with me last week that this reconciliation is only about preaching the gospel and focusing on the salvation of individuals. But it is not. We can’t preach it – inviting people to respond to our message – one moment and then deny it the next with words of hate – whether those words are directed at Muslims, those who are LGBT, Donald Trump or even people who voted differently to us during the Brexit referendum.
One of the problems with modern Christianity, in some of its versions, is that it is too individualistic. It is not rooted in exactly how we relate to our neighbours (whoever they are) but focuses on my beliefs as so unarguably right that I can express them as intemperately (unkindly or worse) as I like. This is very far from the message of Jesus.
So, yes, Archbishop Justin was spot on. If Jesus had been at Regents Park Mosque last week he would have said – "How dare you hate Muslims! Don’t forget that you’re all rubbing along together in God’s world. How can you pray one moment and preach hatred the next?"
I’ve heard anti-Muslim messages from the pulpit. There have even been preachers who have caught the public eye with their messages of hate. This is not the way of Jesus.
In Justin Welby’s world, and mine, being at peace with people of other faiths is as normal as breathing. For me at least, getting to a place where I value peace and reconciliation required some reprogramming as those who sought to guide me as a young Christian were not so committed to this cause. I’m pretty sure that they still preach intolerance towards those who are Muslims. My hope is that we all take heed of the Archbishop's words and check ourselves for the blasphemy of hated. Let's sign up to be reconcilers instead.
I have Muslim friends who are so massively keen themselves on this journey of reconciliation that they are going to church during Lent. Another good Muslim friend came to an Ash Wednesday service with me, and she literally was the only hijabi in church. The priest and congregation could not have been more welcoming. This is in fact what that Gospel looks like. This is the Messianic and prophetic model – "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out." (Isaiah 42:3). If only more Christians followed it, then we might see the kind of society that we pray for.
Julian Bond is the former director of the Christian Muslim Forum and freelance inter faith activist and blogger
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