Tag Archives: Melanie Phillips

The Church of England and Melanie Phillips

Church of England Inter-Faith Relations:

a Response to Melanie Phillips’s article in The Spectator

by Guy Wilkinson

National Inter-Faith Relations Adviserand Secretary for Inter-Faith Relations to the Archbishop of Canterbury copublished with the Spectator, 18 March 2009

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We have seen in recent days in Northern Ireland just how deep antagonisms go and how long their poisonous roots remain in the ground, ready to spring to life like nettles to sting. And to continue the metaphor, we have seen in Luton how some kinds of words can be the means by which such roots are strengthened and enabled to spread.

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Anything that matters deeply to people – religion, politics, football, patriotism – gives rise to passion and to passionate words. And passionate words can make for good or for ill, for peace or for violence. The words which tend to ill are those which are generalised, accusatory and inaccurate because they wound and lead to indignant responses which confirm everyone in their pre existing views of the other.

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Melanie Phillips, in her recent article (The Spectator, 7 March 2009) brought together a very personalised attack on three Anglican clergy with a very generalised criticism of the Church of England for a combination of ‘extreme hostility towards Israel’, ‘appeasement of Islam’ and “with Christians around the world suffering forced conversion, ethnic cleansing and murder at Islamist hands, the church utters not a word of protest”; and finally that: “the church is truly supping with the devil and setting the stage for a repeat of an ancient tragedy.”

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These are remarkably hurtful words for the very many in the Church of England who have worked for years in parishes and dioceses, at home and abroad precisely to find ways in which religious communities can live together peaceably and fruitfully in our neighbourhoods for the common good. This may be a naïve aspiration but it remains one which we believe to be not only worthwhile, but directly inspired by the Christian gospel. To be open to one religious community is not automatically to be hostile to another; to seek to live at peace is not necessarily to agree with the religious other; to speak softly is not to be fainthearted about our own faith nor to fail to witness to it in the hope that others might want to share it; not to grandstand in blogs and in the media when fellow Christians are under persecution is not to be taken to mean that nothing is done.

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The Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion can be proud of the role that they have played over many decades where relations with other religions are concerned.

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In relation to Judaism the record is clear. The earliest of its formal approaches goes back to 1942 with the formation of the Council of Christians and Jews at the instigation of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple and every Archbishop since then has been the Chair of the Presidents of the Council. In 1988 the Lambeth Conference set out its approach to relations with Judaism and Islam in its document: “The Way of Dialogue” and the Church of England followed this is with a serious study of relations with Judaism in 2001: “Sharing one Hope?”. In 2006 the present Archbishop signed a joint declaration with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel which included the words: “We reaffirm our belief in the rights of the state of Israel to live within recognised and secure borders and to defend itself by all legal means against those who threaten its peace and security. We condemn without reserve those who deny a place for Israel and especially those who engage in the evil work of seeking to bring about its destruction.” Since then the Church of England has made a major submission to the All Party Committee on anti Semitism and the Archbishop has hosted at Lambeth the inter Parliamentary Conference on anti Semitism earlier this year.

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In recent years the Church of England and Archbishop Williams have made many initiatives towards Islam, building on the work of Archbishop Carey. These include the dialogue with Al Azhar University, the formation of the Christian Muslim Forum and the Building Bridges Seminars of Christian and Muslim scholars. And in case it should be thought that these two streams of relationship with Judaism and Islam never come together, the Archbishop with the Chief Rabbi led a visit of the leadership of all religions in this country – including representatives of the Muslim Council of Britain – to Auschwitz – Birkenau last October. Can this really be ‘supping with the devil’?

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Lest it be thought that this work is limited to the Church’s national leadership, the Presence and Engagement programme of the past four years, affirmed in the General Synod debate on it in February and alongside the debate and resolution on the uniqueness of Christ, highlighted the work of the thousand parish churches across the country whose parishioners include substantial numbers of Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and other faiths.

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As for the comment that the Church is indifferent to the suffering of Christians around the world, suffice it to say in a short article such as this, that nothing could be further from the truth.

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Last year the Church published an important document: “Generous Love – the truth of the Gospel and the call to dialogue”. The ‘generous love’ referred to is the generous love of God which embraces those who are persecuted for their faith, which encompasses all people of all faiths and which calls us to witness to the truth of the gospel and as part of that, to engage in dialogue with others.

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Canon Guy Wilkinson is the National Inter-Faith Relations Adviser and Secretary for Inter-Faith Relations to the Archbishop of Canterbury

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First published by Fulcrum

For a personal response to Melanie Phillips see here.

For the replies published by the Spectator see here.

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No Axis of Evil: Letters to the Spectator Editor

The following letters have been published in the Spectator in response to a libelous article by Melanie Phillips Beware the New Axis of Evangelicals and Islamists

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Sir: Melanie Phillips’s article (‘Beware the new axis of evangelicals and Islamists’, 7 March) contains untruthful statements about me. I have never said that I wish Israel, in her words, ‘to be destroyed’ or to ‘disappear just as did the apartheid regime in South Africa’. I have never believed this and categorically reject any position that threatens the integrity of Israel as a sovereign nation. I have, however, spoken out against Holocaust denial as well as religious extremism. Far from seeking to ‘appease radical Islam’, I have criticised Islamist attacks against Christians in Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan. I have never knowingly, to use her words, ‘given interviews to, endorsed or forwarded material from American white supremacists and Holocaust deniers’. My publishers in the USA, InterVarsity Press, occasionally arrange interviews for me. I trust their judgment.

I do wish to see the present illegal occupation of Gaza, the Golan Heights and the West Bank brought to an end, but only as a consequence of the peaceful implementation of all relevant UN resolutions, the road map to peace previously agreed by the US, EU, Russia and UN in April 2003, the Annapolis Agreement of November 2007 and Quartet Statement of December 2008.

What saddened me most, however, about Melanie Phillips’s article were her concluding remarks criticising the archbishops and bishops of the Church of England. I have been a Christian minister for just short of 30 years but have yet to meet a priest, let alone a bishop or archbishop, who displays ‘extreme hostility towards Israel’ or who wishes to ‘accommodate and appease’ Islam.

Stephen Sizer
Christ Church, Virginia Water, Surrey

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Sir: I did not, as Melanie Phillips claims, ‘rubbish’ anyone in my review of Global Jihad. I offered a measured but critical response to Dr Sookhdeo’s analysis of Islam and terrorism.

Phillips claims I justify Palestinian terrorism, but provides no evidence. In addition, citing a 2002 article of mine on contemporary anti-Semitism, she omits to mention that right after the part she quotes, I also describe how ‘European culture has a history of anti-Semitism’ partly rooted in ‘the shameful teachings of many in the Church’.

It is a shame if there cannot be disagreement on important issues without recourse to slurs and disingenuously selective quotations.

Ben White
Sao Paulo, Brazil

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Sir: Melanie Phillips accuses me of insinuating that the Jews were ‘people who are instructed by their religion to be violent, treacherous and imperialist’. This would, if I had said or meant it, be a thoroughly disgraceful piece of anti-Semitism. But anyone who reads my piece will see that it was actually a paraphrase of Dr Sookhdeo’s attitude to Muslims.

Andrew Brown
Editor, Belief, the Guardian, London N1

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Phillips and the facts

Sir: Melanie Phillips (‘Beware the new axis of evangelicals and Islamists’, 7 March) states that I was present at the meeting last July, at All Nations Christian College, Ware, Hertfordshire, organised by Global Connections and the group Christian Responses to Islam in Britain. I was not there. Facts are sacred in journalism. This is one of many inaccuracies in the article, which were mentioned in letters last week. Global Connections and Christian Responses to Islam in Britain are to be commended for their sensitive work.

Graham Kings
St Mary’s Church, Islington, London N1

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Smear by association

Sir: Melanie Phillips was so anxious to vent her wrath against Revd Stephen Sizer (‘Beware the new axis of evangelicals and Islamists’, 7 March) for his role in persuading the Church of England to divest itself of shares in Caterpillar, the American company which makes the armoured bulldozers used by Israel to flatten Palestinian villagers’ homes and uproot their olive groves, that she presented misinformation about me in order to perpetrate a smear by association against Sizer. The fact that Sizer’s email bulletins sometimes land in my inbox is no basis for suggesting that he and I are of the same mind.

Sizer approaches the plight of Palestine from his position as a Christian who, it seems to me, has an internationalist and non-racialist outlook. I am a religiously agnostic British Nationalist and racialist who recognises that the Palestinians, since 1948, have faced an invasion of their homeland by aliens who have set about expropriating Palestine for themselves. I see similarities between what has happened to the Palestinians since 1948 and what has happened to the indigenous British people over the same period.

The National Front — at least while I was involved with it from 1969 to 1983 — was not ‘neo-Nazi’. It was a nationalist party with a fully democratic constitution at every level. There were self-proclaimed neo-Nazi groups around at that time, but they were formally proscribed by the NF. All this is fully on record, including in various High Court proceedings. Phillips was also wrong to describe me as ‘the former leader’ of the NF. I served as its National Activities Organiser under a number of leaders.

Martin Webster
Via email

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For a longer response to Melanie’s article see here.

For the reply from the Church of England see here.

For an insight on Melanie’s political views see Wikipedia, that bastion of objectivity and truth, especially her views on Israel.

For the perspective of a Jewish Israeli see Jeff Halper here

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Melanie Phillips: Beware The New Axis of Evangelicals and Islamists

Melanie Phillips’ article “Beware the New Axis of Evangelicals and Islamists” published in the Spectator last week is libellous. It contains untruthful statements about me which may injure my reputation or standing in the community.

I have never said that I wish Israel, in her words, “to be destroyed” or to “disappear just as did the apartheid regime in South Africa.” I have never believed this and categorically reject any position that threatens the integrity of Israel as a sovereign nation.

On the contrary I have repeatedly stated in writing (for example here, here and here) that I wish to see a safe and secure Israel with internationally recognised borders, alongside a sovereign, viable, independent Palestine.

I have, however, spoken out against Holocaust denial as well as religious extremism. I have also highlighted British involvement in saving Jewish people from the Nazi Holocaust. I have specifically challenged Christians who see nothing incompatible with membership of the BNP.

Far from seeking to “appease radical Islam”, I have criticised Islamist attacks against Christians in Iraq here and here, as well as in Afghanistan. I have challenged Iran’s human right’s record here and here and commended an important book about the Church in Iran here.

I have never knowingly, to use her words, “given interviews to, endorsed or forwarded material from American white supremists and Holocaust deniers”. My publisher in the USA, InterVarsity Press, occasionally arrange TV and radio interviews for me with Christian stations to promote my books. I trust their judgement.

On her use of the term “islamofacism“, I subscribe to the view of a leading authority on Fascism, Walter Laqueur, who concluded that “Islamic fascism, Islamophobia and antisemitism, each in its way, are imprecise terms we could well do without but it is doubtful whether they can be removed from our political lexicon.” The best piece of writing I have seen recently on “Radical Islam” is by Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek.

I keep an extensive and growing mailing list and am no more responsible that Melanie Phillips is for how others make use of material I write, or forward, which is invariably from mainstream newspapers and journals. Unlike those who choose to use anonymous blogs and websites to express their opinions, I have made my own views plain and my external ministry public.

“we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2).

To clarify my position and to anticipate such criticisms, in my book Zion’s Christian Soldiers?, I wrote the following:

“It is true that at various times in the past, churches and church leaders have tolerated or incited anti-Semitism and even attacks on Jewish people. Racism is a sin and without excuse. Anti-Semitism must be repudiated unequivocally. However, we must not confuse apples and oranges. Anti-Zionism is not the same thing as anti-Semitism despite attempts to broaden the definition. Criticising a political system as racist is not necessarily racist. Judaism is a religious system. Israel is a sovereign nation. Zionism is a political system. These three are not synonymous. I respect Judaism, repudiate anti-Semitism, encourage interfaith dialogue and defend Israel’s right to exist within borders recognised by the international community and agreed with her neighbours. But like many Jews, I disagree with a political system which gives preference to expatriate Jews born elsewhere in the world, while denying the same rights to the Arab Palestinians born in the country itself.”

I endorse the position taken by the Heads of Churches in Israel regarding the need for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Others such as former US President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have made comparisons between Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories and South Africa under apartheid.

I do wish to see the present illegal occupation of Gaza, the Golan and the West Bank “disappear”, but only as a result of the peaceful implementation of all relevant UN Resolutions, the Roadmap to Peace previously agreed by the US, EU, Russia and UN in April 2003, and Annapolis Agreement of November 2007 and Quartet Statement of December 2008.

I have a high regard for Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali and the courageous stand he has taken on inter-faith as well as ecclesiastical issues. Indeed I helped organise and promote his recent visit to Guildford Diocese.

I also deeply regret hearing that Patrick Sookhdeo has received a death threat as a result of writing his recent book, Global Jihad. Unfortunately, it is increasingly common. I have too. Veiled threats even feature on pro-Zionist Christian websites that seem to want me dead. Another example on the same website has the author lament, “Unfortunately (in my opinion) we no longer publicly and immediately stone false prophets to death.” then a few sentences later asserts, “One of the latest in a very long line of succession is a false teacher by the name of Stephen Sizer.” Thankfully, the police take these threats seriously and have arranged a measure of additional protection for my family also.

Back to Melanie Phillips. Her inflammatory alleagations about my involvement in interfaith conferences or TV programmes, alongside Jewish or Islamic leaders, is a tried and tested method intended to alienate, isolate and silence the views of those deemed critical of her own. Prior knowledge of, or agreement with, the views of others invited onto radio or TV programmes or conference platforms is not a significant criteria I use to decide whether to participate. Gaining a hearing for an explicitly Christian perspective committed to peacemaking and non-violence is.

What saddened me most, however, about Melanie Phillips’ article, were her concluding remarks criticising the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England. This is what she wrote:

“Many will be deeply shocked that the Church of England harbours individuals with such attitudes. But the church hierarchy is unlikely to act against them. Extreme hostility towards Israel is the default position among bishops and archbishops; while the establishment line is to reach out towards Islam in an attempt to accommodate and appease it. With Christians around the world suffering forced conversion, ethnic cleansing and murder at Islamist hands, the church utters not a word of protest. Instead, inter-faith dialogue is the order of the day…”

I have been a Christian minister for just short of 30 years but have yet to meet a priest, let alone a Bishop or Archbishop who displays, “extreme hostility towards Israel” or who wishes to “accommodate and appease” Islam. Just the reverse. While there is clearly a spectrum of opinion on the best way to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict within the House of Bishops, and the most appropriate way to present the good news of Jesus Christ in a multi-faith context, they are nevertheless united in opposing racism and religious intolerance whether directed toward Jewish people or Muslims.

One has to ask what has motivated her to compose such a mendacious and libellous caricature of Christians within the Church of England concerned for justice and peace in the Middle East? Is it to deflect attention from Israel’s recent wanton killing spree in Gaza? Or was it written out of frustration at the decision of the Church of England Synod to divest its shares in Caterpillar? Or just part of the wider Zionist lobby targetting Barak Obama’s new Administration? Or is it perhaps a precursor to an imminent pre-emptive attack against Iran? Lets hope not otherwise it won’t be the libel or calumny we are debating but whether her friends who seem anxious for Armageddon are right after all.

For answers – check out Melanie’s Wiki entry – that bastion of ‘objectivity’ and truth. It alleges,

“Phillips strongly defends Israel and its actions. She argues the Palestinians are an “artificial” people who can be collectively punished for acts of terrorism by Islamist terrorists because they are “a terrorist population”. She believes that while “individual Palestinians may deserve compassion, their cause amounts to Holocaust denial as a national project”.[12] She has repeatedly claimed that footage of those injured in Israeli attacks on Palestinian areas has been “fabricated/faked”.[13][14]

She frequently accuses Israel’s critics (including many Jews) of being motivated by anti-Semitism. She has described the paper “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” written by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt as a “particularly ripe example of the ‘global Zionist conspiracy’ libel” and expressed her astonishment at what she calls “the fundamental misrepresentations and distortions in the paper”.[15]

In a recent article, she criticised the membership and leadership of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches in Britain, and specifically the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, accusing them of antisemitism because of remarks made by the Archbishop about the plight of Bethlehem Christians under Israeli occupation; another factor was an opinion poll showing that the majority of Anglicans were opposed to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. The article ended with a condemnation of what she sees as the churches’ failure to criticise the President of Iran’s desire to “destroy Israel”,[16] and that “the churches in Britain are not only silent about the genocidal ravings emanating from Iran but are themselves helping pave the way for a second Holocaust“.[17]

I think its time Melanie came back to church and stopped telling porkies.

For the official response from the Church of England – see here.

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