Life, Afghanistan, and the Anglicans: 24 August

A lovely week at Rainbow Cottage, Fenny Bentley, Derbyshire, punctuated by a session of Praying Jesus’ Way and a baby’s funeral in Bilston. In PJW we looked at ‘Forgive us our sins…’ including the need to separate ourselves, our new beloved children selves, from the bad habits of our old selves, which stick around. An illustration was a pair of shorts I first wore playing rugby when I was 11, 41 years ago, and in which I go for occasional runs. They couldn’t believe I used to be that tubby.

A Christian friend came to see us, back from 4 months working in a military hospital in Afghanistan. Knowing soldiers now dead was, predictably, tough. ‘But what about the ones sent home with one leg, one arm and no testicles, to be cared for by overstretched relatives on an MOD pittance?’ We don’t hear about the many non-fatal casualties of landmines.

The Taliban collect up old Russian landmines, pile them up to six in a stack, and find ingenious ways to detonate them. Before they pick out the third vehicle in a convoy, they top the landmines with nails buried in faeces. The victims not only suffer multiple lacerations but multiple internal infections. ‘But,’ my friend said, ‘if my country was invaded by a powerful well-equipped army and I had to make do to defend my people, would I act any differently?’

British troops are in Afghanistan, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, because ‘three quarters of the most serious terror plots investigated in the UK have links back to the border region in Pakistan,’ and ‘Afghanistan is the source of 90% of heroin in the UK…’ (Letter from Ivan Lewis, Minister of State, 30/7/09)

‘Terror plots’ ‘having links’ is vague. The London bombers had links, but their primary organisation was in this country and their primary motivation was actually fuelled by our military presence in Afghanistan. If anything, our troops there make those ‘terror links’ stronger. We are talking about plots – which, all except one, have come to nothing. The threat to mainland UK is not great enough to warrant 100s of our soldiers dying and many more horrifically injured.

And the source of heroin is not the main problem. If Afghanistan was not the end of the supply chain, that chain would find somewhere else to end, driven by the demand in the UK. That demand is what we need to combat. It is senseless and ineffective to send British soldiers to die and be maimed in Afghanistan because other young Brits are druggies.

Where is the public outcry? Where are the Christian voices calling for our troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan? All we hear is the need to ‘support our troops’, including supporting what they are doing. We need a UK equivalent of the campaign by Jim Wallis and others in the US questioning the whole military intervention in Afghanistan See . Wallis writes: ‘a report recently published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace … states, “The mere presence of foreign soldiers fighting a war in Afghanistan is probably the single most important factor in the resurgence of the Taliban.”

The Anglican Communion continues to drift apart, the ‘Instruments of Unity’ ineffective. The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church in America has declared that any church buildings which used to be the home of a Conservative congregation which has now left TEC, may be sold – to anyone but their former congregation. These places of worship can become Hindu Temples or nightclubs to provide finance to TEC, but on no account, for 5 years, may they be used for their original purpose by the people wh0o know and love them most.

This policy is yet another example of TEC’s refusal to treat their dissenting, Conservative, minority as sisters and brothers in Christ. TEC are set on the path of jejection. They treat former members of their church, recognised still as Anglicans across the Communion, as worse than enemies. They are fully engaged already in the ‘competitive hostility’ which Rowan Williams said would be ‘one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated.’

Why, then, is the Archbishop of Canterbury doing or saying nothing against TEC? He is meant to be instrumental in preserving unity. Surely this means at least urging TEC to take a different approach? The longer he connives in such hostility the harder it will be to mend relationships between Liberals and Conservatives across the Communion.

Mark Lawrence, Bishop of South Carolina, has written a tremendous exposition of why and how he is leading his Diocese to try to find ‘a place to thrive’ as Conservatives within TEC. Mark L is bravely trying to counter rejection with grace and truth. He cannot go along with gay marriage but neither does he want to leave TEC. He, and his Standing Committee, want ‘to begin withdrawing from all bodies of governance of TEC’  that support and promote gay marriage, while ‘building missional relationships with “orthodox” congregations isolated across North America,’ and staying officially in TEC.

All that Mark L is calling for should be possible. All it needs is for people to be creative with Church structures from a foundation of graceful acceptance of difference within the one family. Such acceptance is a key part of our Anglican tradition, as Rowan W has pointed out.

But will TEC accept such restructuring? The TEC leadership have a majority mandate to go ahead with promoting gay marriage and they continue to indicate they will reject any minority which refuses to go along. Will they allow the ‘semi-withdrawal’ of South Carolina, especially when it affects finances? I am not hopeful, but applaud Mark L in his attempt.

Roger Harper

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