Saturday, 15 March 2008

Guardian: The Atheist Delusion

[...] For Dawkins and Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Martin Amis, Michel Onfray, Philip Pullman and others, religion in general is a poison that has fuelled violence and oppression throughout history, right up to the present day. The urgency with which they produce their anti-religious polemics suggests that a change has occurred as significant as the rise of terrorism: the tide of secularisation has turned. These writers come from a generation schooled to think of religion as a throwback to an earlier stage of human development, which is bound to dwindle away as knowledge continues to increase. In the 19th century, when the scientific and industrial revolutions were changing society very quickly, this may not have been an unreasonable assumption. Dawkins, Hitchens and the rest may still believe that, over the long run, the advance of science will drive religion to the margins of human life, but this is now an article of faith rather than a theory based on evidence.

It is true that religion has declined sharply in a number of countries (Ireland is a recent example) and has not shaped everyday life for most people in Britain for many years. Much of Europe is clearly post-Christian. However, there is nothing that suggests the move away from religion is irreversible, or that it is potentially universal. The US is no more secular today than it was 150 years ago, when De Tocqueville was amazed and baffled by its all-pervading religiosity. The secular era was in any case partly illusory. The mass political movements of the 20th century were vehicles for myths inherited from religion, and it is no accident that religion is reviving now that these movements have collapsed. The current hostility to religion is a reaction against this turnabout. Secularisation is in retreat, and the result is the appearance of an evangelical type of atheism not seen since Victorian times. Read more
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Lambeth invitations 'will be reviewed'

The question of Lambeth Conference invitations will be reviewed by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Windsor Continuation Group (WCG), sources familiar with its deliberations tell The Church of England Newspaper.

Chartered last month by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, the WCG will take a second look at the decision not to extend invitations to the African consecrated American bishops of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Nigeria, and may also discuss the question of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire’s non-invitation.Were Dr. Williams to accept advice to broaden the Lambeth Conference invitation list, “that would change everything,” one global south leader told CEN, and prevent Lambeth from being a “bust.” Read more
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Forward in Faith UK condemns 'Graceless and Totalitarian Mindset' of TEC

Forward in Faith UK deplores the recent actions against the retired Bishop of Quincy, the Right Revd Ed MacBurney, by the House of Bishops of TEC as both pastorally and politically inept: pastorally on account of Bishop MacBurney’s age and tragic family circumstances; politically because of the certainty that it will alienate others across the Communion who have not yet grasped the extent of the graceless and totalitarian mindset which now dominates the Episcopal Church.

We are at a loss to understand why it is an offence for a bishop in good standing in one province of the Communion to offer episcopal ministry (at the request of its bishop) to a parish in another. Link
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REFORM Chairman Writes Letter Over Threat to Suspend J.I. Packer

The Reform Council have written very similar letters to the Church of England Newspaper and the Church Times.


The threat by the Bishop of New Westminster in Canada to suspend the Revd Dr Jim Packer from ministry because his church has sought the oversight of the Primate of the Southern Cone has rightly created a huge sense of outrage across the Communion and especially among evangelicals in the Church of England. We are all indebted to Dr Packer for his monumental contribution to our understanding of Christian doctrine. To treat such a scholarly, godly and elderly man, who has been a key evangelical leader for over half a century, in this mean-spirited and aggressive manner is deeply upsetting.

At its most recent meeting, the Council of Reform was of the view that this development demonstrated that there are only really two sides to the current controversy over human sexuality - and we can now see clearly what they are. Read more
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TEC Presiding Bishop Plans to Try Bishop Duncan before the Lambeth Conference

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church plans to poll the House of Bishops in April 2008 for approval of a plan to move the possible deposition of Bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh forward from September 2008 to May 2008.

This was announced at the post-meeting press conference yesterday. Bishops Ed Little, Roskam, Curry, and Alvarez were among those present at the conference.

The reasons for this move have not been made public, however, the effect of such a move is clear. The Lambeth Conference begins in July. Were Bishop Duncan to be deposed prior to the Lambeth Conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury would be forced to decide whether to honor the Episcopal Church’s deposition and disinvite Bishop Duncan or to disregard it, a decision similar to the one he faces with regard to Bishop Schofield of San Joaquin. Read more
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Deposition Votes Failed to Achieve Canonically Required Majority

Slightly more than one-third of all bishops eligible voted to depose bishops John-David Schofield and William J. Cox during the House of Bishops’ spring retreat, far fewer than the 51 percent required by the canons.

The exact number is impossible to know, because both resolutions were approved by voice vote. Only 131 bishops registered for the meeting March 7-12 at Camp Allen, and at least 15 of them left before the business session began on Wednesday. There were 294 members of the House of Bishops entitled to vote on March 12.

When questioned about canonical inconsistencies during a telephone press conference at the conclusion of the meeting, Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina said the bishops had relied on advice provided to them by canonical experts, and did not examine canonical procedure during plenary debate prior to the votes to depose bishops Schofield and Cox. Read more
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Friday, 14 March 2008

The Telegraph: Stop prayers or face being sued, council told

A town council is being advised to stop prayers before meetings or face the threat of legal action under race discrimination or human rights laws.

The warning has come from the National Association of Local Councils (NALC).

Bideford town council in Devon has been told by the association that councillors and members of the public could argue that their right to practise any religion could be infringed by the saying of short Christian prayers before meetings.

Bideford council was planning to hold a meeting to discuss a possible ban but it is understood the matter will be adjourned until Hazel Blears, the Local Government Secretary, has made the Government's position clear.

NALC has urged the authority to stop the traditional practice of prayers before council meetings to "eliminate any risk" of challenge in the courts.

An email sent to Bideford council outlines Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance."

In January Bideford council voted to keep the pre-meeting prayers after a Liberal Democrat councillor tabled a motion to scrap them.

Geoffrey Cox, the Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon, who is a QC, criticised the NALC, saying its advice "is quite simply misleading and wrong".

Mr Cox added: "This situation is proof of a disturbing tendency to try to use spurious legal arguments under the Human Rights Act and equality legislation to eliminate the Christian faith from the fabric of our public life." Read more
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Former TEC Bishop (80) charged with boundary crossing

Bishop Edward MacBurney, bishop retired of the Diocese of Quincy, has been formally charged with canonical violations by the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. These charges stem from events occurring in June, 2007 when Bishop MacBurney was invited to make a pastoral visit to a non-Episcopal church in San Diego, California. MacBurney, 80 years old, retired from his position as a diocesan bishop in 1994, but as a bishop in good standing still actively ministers to churches throughout the country and also in other parts of the Anglican Communion..

The basis of the charges against MacBurney relate to the allegation that he did not receive permission to perform liturgical rites from the sitting Episcopal diocesan bishop in San Diego. Even though the church MacBurney visited had severed ties with the Episcopal Church in the United States and had re-affiliated with the Anglican Bishop of Argentina, a primate of the worldwide Anglican Communion, the charges allege that MacBurney impermissibly crossed Diocesan boundaries. Read more
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Thursday, 13 March 2008

BBC: Kidnapped Iraqi Archbishop found dead

An archbishop seized by gunmen last month in Iraq has been found dead.

The body of Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, was found in a shallow grave close to the city.

Pope Benedict XVI said he was profoundly moved and saddened, calling the archbishop's death an act of inhuman violence.

Archbishop Rahho was kidnapped not long after he left mass in Mosul, in northern Iraq, on 29 February.

According to the SIR Catholic news agency, the kidnappers told Iraqi church officials on Wednesday that Archbishop Rahho was very ill and, later on the same day, that he was dead. Read more

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Bishop Schofield responds to the HOB decision, ABp Venables responds

The Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield, bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin, a member diocese of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone of South America, was disappointed by today's decision of the Episcopal House of Bishops but he was not surprised by it.

"It is a shame that the disciplinary process of The Episcopal Church has been misused in this way," Bishop Schofield said in responding to the news that the Episcopal House of Bishops voted to depose him. "The disciplinary procedures used by the House of Bishops, in my case, were intended for those who have abandoned the Faith and are leading others away from orthodox Christianity, as held in trust by bishops in the Anglican Communion - and which The Episcopal Church had previously upheld also."

"The question that begs to be answered by the House of Bishops," said Bishop Schofield, "is, why bishops who continue to teach and publish books that deny the most basic Christian beliefs are not disciplined while those of us who uphold the Christian Faith are?" He added, "At least I am in good company. It is a privilege to know that I am standing along side of one of the outstanding theologians of our time, J. I. Packer, who is under similar discipline by the Canadian Church and who, also, has placed himself under the authority of the Southern Cone." Read more
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Damian Thompson: Catholics have forgotten the white working class

A BBC survey suggests that white working-class people feel ignored by politicians . They are certainly ignored by the mainstream churches in this country – and especially by the Catholic Church.

The “magic circle” that controls English Catholicism is dominated by an alliance between Left-leaning bishops and Tabletista busybodies who spend their time – forgive the cliché – preaching to the converted about climate change. They exhibit a slightly creepy obsession with ethnic minorities, but very little interest in the white working class. Read more
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The Times: Church of England benefits from budget

The Church of England will benefit to the tune of £8 million from the Chancellor’s budget.

The Church is one of the charities that has most to gain from Alistair Darling’s announcement that charities can continue to to claim 22 per cent on Gift Aid donations for three year, instead of having it cut to 20 per cent in line with the new rate of income tax. Read more
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Communiqué from GAFCON leadership meeting

We met in England as the leadership team of the Global Anglican Future Conference and Jerusalem Pilgrimage from March 10-12, 2008 and were encouraged by the support and enthusiasm of bishops, clergy and lay leaders around the Anglican Communion who have welcomed GAFCON and expressed their desire to attend.

We affirmed that the goals of GAFCON are to:

1. Provide an opportunity for fellowship to continue to experience and proclaim the transforming love of Christ.
2. Develop a renewed understanding of our identity as Anglican Christians within our current context.
3. Prepare for an Anglican future in which the Gospel is uncompromised and Christ-centered mission a top priority.

We received reports from our various task forces involved in logistics support and program development and are grateful for the remarkable progress already made. We are confident that our time together in the Holy Land will be one of great blessing for the wider Christian community, a positive witness of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and anticipation of our future as Anglican Christians.

Most Rev. Peter J. Akinola
On behalf of the Leadership Team.
12th March, 2008
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Wednesday, 12 March 2008

TEC House of Bishops consents to deposition of John-David Schofield, William Cox

The House of Bishops voted March 12 to consent to the deposition from the ordained ministry of the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield, bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin, and the Rt. Rev. William Jackson Cox, bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Maryland, resigned.

Members of the House of Bishops are preparing a statement regarding these actions and for release after a March 12 afternoon session.

The process used to work through these resolutions took into account the importance of prayer and careful reflection before each vote was taken. Specifically, in both cases the House was first led in prayer by a chaplain, followed by small-group discussion, and then plenary discussion. After this, voting commenced. Each vote was cast clearly in the majority, with some nay votes, and some abstentions.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori asked the bishops assembled "to continue to reach out" in pastoral care to both Schofield and Cox.

"Abandoning the Communion of this Church does not mean we abandon a person as a member of the Body of Christ," Jefferts Schori said.

Full texts of the resolutions follow. Each resolution was considered and voted upon separately. The resolution pertaining to Schofield was acted upon first. Read more
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Open Evangelical website attacks member of Ridley Hall council regarding appointment of new principal

What particularly worries me in regard to Ridley is the fact that Andrew Dalton is apparently on its Council as well as that of Wycliffe. The Clare MacInnes correspondence with James Jones makes some particularly strong allegations concerning Mr Dalton's behaviour on the Wycliffe Council and yet it seems that no one is able (or willing) to bring him or the other members of the Council to account. Read more
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Tuesday, 11 March 2008

STDs rife among US teenage girls

One in four teenage girls in the United States has a sexually-transmitted disease, a study has indicated.

The study, by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found an even higher prevalence of STDs among black girls.

Researchers analysed data from a nationally representative sample of 838 US girls aged 14 to 19.

A virus that causes cervical cancer - HPV - was the most common, followed by chlamydia, trichomoniasis and herpes.

The CDC says the study is the first in its kind to examine the prevalence of common sexually transmitted diseases among adolescent girls.

It found that nearly half of the African-American girls surveyed had at least one STD, while the rate was 20% among white and Mexican-American teenagers. Read more
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Generosity and Mission Conference

Archbishop Douglas Hambidge – Anglican Church of Canada

There’s a message that bombards us that money impinges every part of our lives but somehow we must never talk about it in connection with who we really are as those entrusted with life and a world by God. I want to say that money is much more than something to pay the bills. No matter how important those bills are, that is not what money is for.

I believe that money has a sacred quality – almost a sacramental nature – because beneath its outward appearance there’s a deep spiritual meaning. Money is me in miniature. It says what I’m doing with my life. It says what I have done with my life. All my energies, all my time, all my skills, all the things I do. And right at the heart of worship I have an opportunity to say to God, this is who I am, this is what I have been doing with my life, this is me in the most complete form and expression that I know.

And as an outward sign of the offering of myself to you, I offer this expression of myself, this symbol of my life. I ask you to take what I offer and, in blessing it, make me more and more the kind of person you intended me to be. Consecrate my offering – consecrate me to be your person in the world. I am not giving because the church needs money. I am not giving because I might win something. I am not giving because there’s a tax benefit involved. I’m not even giving because there’s some crisis in the world. Before these things, important as they are, I am giving myself and the only way to do this that I know is to take this common commodity that expresses me and give it.

There’s a story in 2nd Samuel, chapter 24. There had been an epidemic of some kind in the land and pray had been offered that it would be taken away and the plague dies out. So David the King and the people decide that they will celebrate God’s blessing (by removing the plague) and that they will offer sacrifices of thanksgiving. And so they went to the place where the last of that plague was seen and built an altar to offer sacrifice on this piece of land. It belonged to somebody else and so he said to the owner, “How much? I want that piece of land.” And the owner said, “But you are the King. It’s yours. I’ll give it to you for nothing.” David said, “I will not offer to the Lord my God that which costs me nothing.”

What does that say to the kind of appeal that you hear so often: “Just give another dollar a week, you won’t notice it.”? We are meant to notice it! We’re giving ourselves and it’s painful and it hurts and we notice it. Giving according to proportion of faith – you will notice it. It will cost you something.

The other side of the offering is to look up and see there on the altar bread and wine. And in the bread and the wine God is saying to me and to you and to the whole Church, now do you see how much you mean to me? Now do you see how much I love you? There’s the bread and the wine – symbols of a life. Now do you understand?

And there right beside it, if I had my way, there’s a plate full of money and it’s made out of my little offering and yours and all of us – tokens of our lives, tokens of ourselves sitting right there on the altar. I would destroy all those side tables that they use to put the offering on.

And there on the altar are the offerings that we’ve gathered, inadequate as they are, symbols and tokens of ourselves, representing all that we have and all that we are, tokens of ourselves right beside it. As we’re saying to God, now do you see how much you mean to us, now do you see how much we love you? At the heart of it the offering has nothing to do with the needs of the Church or the needs of the poor or the hungry. At the heart of it the offering has nothing to do with those things – that comes later. At the heart of it it has nothing to do with paying bills, meeting deficits or responding to a crisis somewhere else. I didn’t say these things weren’t important, I said that at the heart of it this is not where it is at.

I am convinced that if we began to take our offertory moment seriously – not just bread and wine but our total offertory moment seriously – lives will be changed as people are allowed, encouraged, to say to God, “this is what you mean to me because I know what I mean to you.”
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The Guardian: Gay bishop criticises Williams for Lambeth snub

The gay American bishop whose ordination caused ructions in the Anglican church has criticised the Archbishop of Canterbury for his failure to unite the communion.

Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire, made the remarks after declining to attend the Lambeth conference, the 10-yearly gathering of the world's bishops, because his invitation was was a "non-offer".

He told a spring gathering of the US Episcopal Church House of Bishops: "It has been a very difficult 48 hours sitting here and hearing your plans for Lambeth.

"In my most difficult moments it feels as if, instead of leaving the 99 sheep in search of the one, my chief pastor and shepherd, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has cut me out of the herd."

Conservatives and liberals have accused Dr Rowan Williams of being indecisive on the issue of homosexuality and the church. He has also been under fire, from both sides, about the extent of Robinson's participation at Lambeth.

Robinson acknowledged the predicament, saying he had "respect and sympathy" for Williams. "I was trying to help him, and it just didn't work."

His bid to attend Lambeth started almost a year ago, he revealed, and organisers rang him days before official invitations were sent out.

Episcopal officials were also negotiating, with Chris Smith, the chief of staff at Lambeth palace, and the Rev Canon Kenneth Kearon, from the Communion office, for Robinson to take part in worship and study groups. Read more
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Christian Today: Study suggests homosexuals should not be discouraged from seeking change

When Stanton Jones first began to study psychology, homosexuality was a malady, listed and described in the official "diagnostic Bible," the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In 1973, that diagnosis was dropped. Now the American Psychological Association's official website states, "The reality is that homosexuality is not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable." The website warns that "conversion therapy" is poorly documented and could cause potential harm. The American Psychiatric Association's website adds, "[T]here is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of 'reparative therapy' as a treatment to change one's sexual orientation. The potential risks of 'reparative therapy' are great, including depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior."

What to make, then, of the apparently sincere personal testimonies of people claiming to be ex-gay? Longtime Wheaton College professor of psychology and provost Jones, working with Regent University professor Mark Yarhouse, found an anomalous situation. Professional opinion made unusually absolute statements of the impossibility of change, considering older studies of homosexuals under treatment that showed substantial evidence of change. Critics of the older research noted shortcomings but offered no better evidence in support of the contention that change is impossible, even dangerous.

Jones and Yarhouse address this lack of good evidence in their book, Ex-Gays?: A Continuing Study of Religiously Mediated Sexual Orientation Change in Exodus Participants. By taking a sample of people entering ex-gay programs under the Exodus umbrella and following them with detailed questionnaires over several years, Jones and Yarhouse tested the impact of ex-gay programs on participants—whether they actually experienced change, and whether the attempt to change caused additional distress. Participants are still being followed, but the findings to date clearly upset the professional consensus. A substantial minority of participants showed significant change from homosexual patterns of behavior and thought, and there was no overall evidence of additional mental distress. The change observed was generally modest, perhaps comparable to the results of therapy for alcohol and drug addiction, for troubled marriages, or for personality disorders. Read more
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Monday, 10 March 2008

Book Review: Why Liberal Churches Are Growing

Why Liberal Churches Are Growing
edited by Martyn Percy and Ian Markham
T & T Clark, 176 pp., $39.95 paperback

This volume of essays explores evangelistic growth where it is coupled with liberal or progressive theology. The strongest chapters outline new sociological data or paint panoramic views of discrete segments of the church. The editors' diagnostic reflections on the nature of liberal churches are wonderful.

Among the contributors, Benjamin Watts presents a fascinating look at social justice and church growth in current and historical African-American churches; Terasa Cooley gives us a statistical analysis of the overall growth in Unitarian Universalism; and Scott Thumma suggests that an "open and affirming" approach to gays has no correlation—positive or negative—with congregational growth. Adair Lummis reflects thoughtfully on aspects of theological congruence between pastor and congregation in liberal congregations, and David Roozen incisively analyzes pockets of vitality within old-line Protestantism. Martyn Percy uses James Hopewell's Congregation: Stories and Structures to discuss one diocese's "tragic" stories ... Read more
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Sunday, 9 March 2008

Bishop Michael Ingham's panentheism?

[...] Diarmuid O'Murchu in Quantum Theology: the Spiritual Implications of the New Physics says we should stop thinking of God as a supernatural Being located outside the universe. Instead, he says, we should think of the universe itself as a pulsating, vibrant dance of energy alive with benign and creative potential in which God calls to us from within, not without.

He says we should stop thinking of ourselves as created beings, and see ourselves instead as woven into the fabric of a dynamic, evolving and self-renewing universe in which we must play our part or become extinct. The damage we are doing to the planet and to other life forms may leave the universe no choice but to spit us out, as it has done to countless species before us.

Old forms of religion that perpetuate the idea we humans are some sort of crown or pinnacle of creation, the very best that God could do, may actually be dangerous, he says, in that they foster illusions of superiority that divorce us from the rhythms of nature, the pulse of existence, and prevent us from acquiring the humility we need before the vast mystery of life itself.

I am fascinated by all this. The new physics seems like more of a friend than an enemy. It brings a new understanding of the non-predictability of events, starting with Heisenberg's "Principle of Uncertainty," that begins to leave room for the unexplained, like the healing miracles of Jesus and the inexplicable interventions of God in human affairs. It begins to look as though science and religion don't necessarily conflict. It's just bad science and bad religion that conflict, and if we want to outgrow that period in human history then we need to re-think our faith as well as our science.

Easter, for example, is much more than a story about the body of Jesus walking out of a tomb. Easter is a kind of uncertainty principle thrust into the heart of our tidy, ordered universe, undermining all our theories about how things ought to be. It's an event that makes everything unstable. Read more
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Excerpts: Jim Packer speaks on Anglican realignment

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Ed Husain: It's Arabs who are showing us how to tackle extremism

[...] When I lived in Saudi Arabia, the one aspect of Saudi intolerance that irked me most was their refusal to allow people of other faiths to worship freely. There was no church for the millions of Christians in a country that is considered the West's closest ally. And yet Saudi Arabia remains free to inject millions of dollars into mosques across Europe. To date, there is no single Saudi cleric who has openly supported the cause of the largest religious minority to worship freely. Nor will the British or American governments request these basic rights for their citizens, lest they upset the House of Saud.

I met a professor of Islamic studies from Qatar University. Dr Abdul Hameed al-Ansary, without my prodding, reiterated his public position of support for churches in Qatar. Meeting an Arab Muslim scholar from a conservative Gulf state who proudly tells me that Qatar's first church building is nearly complete gives me a sense of hope that soon Saudi Arabia may follow where its neighbours lead. There are churches in Kuwait, Dubai and ancient Christian prayer halls in Yemen. The Arabian peninsula now has churches as Europe has mosques.

Meanwhile, the extreme, vacuous misinterpretation of Islam that focuses on rituals and rigidity is alive and well in Britain. Recently, I was at a sermon at Imperial College, London, where a young, radical preacher fired off a sermon about excommunicating Muslims, or takfir. It is out of such rhetoric that the jihadist mindset is born, taken from an ahistorical reading of scripture. When this is married to political grievances, pioneered by Islamist movements, we have suicide bombers.

Those who share my religion in Britain are yet to follow Qatar and publicly admit to an extremism problem in our communities. For as long as radical sermons go unchallenged, and Islamist groups adopt doublespeak in public discourse, condemning terrorism while disseminating extremist literature, British Muslim activists will be in the grip of extremism.

The older generation of immigrant Muslim leaders must move aside and give way to younger British voices. Then perhaps we, like those in Doha, can admit that social and political extremism is rife in Muslim communal discourse. Read more
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