Anglicans Online banner More about the gryphon
Independent On the web since 1994 More than 200 000 readers More than 10 000 links Updated every Sunday

New This Week
Everything new is here.

News Centre
News archive
News flash: a summary of the top headlines
Start here
Anglicans believe . . .
The Prayer Book
The Bible

Read letters to AO
Write to us

Resources A to Z

World Anglicanism
Anglican Communion
In full communion
Not in the Communion

Dioceses and Parishes
New Zealand

Vacancies Centre
List a vacancy
Check openings worldwide

Add a site or link to AO
Add a site to AO
Link to AO

About Anglicans Online
Back issues
Awards and publicity
Beginnings, AO today
About our logo

Support AO
Shop for AO goods
Help support us!
Thanks to our friends

Our search engine


Hallo again to all.

In the earliest days of Christianity, Christians were outcasts or even outlaws. Many were put to death simply for being Christian and many for attempting to convert others to Christianity. A study of the lives of the saints shows humanity's remarkable creativity in finding new ways to kill and maim, to 'martyr' the saints. A thousand years after the Nicene Creed was written, many kings and emperors were Christian -- which made it far less dangerous for an ordinary person to profess Christianity.

Islamic historians assert that during those dark ages, Christians persecuted Muslims. This widely-distributed history of Islam in Spain asserts that the Spanish Inquisition effectively wiped out Spain's Muslims, though history written by Christians tends to assert otherwise. Conflict between Christianity and Islam seems to be getting worse. Just a few months ago, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Rumbek, Sudan, referred to Islam as the enemy and asserted that persecution by Muslims would be the biggest problem faced by the next pope. Last month the Church Times wrote about Sudanese government officials evicting the Archbishop from his cathedral. And Anglicans Online columnist Pierre Whalon, who visited Iraq shortly before the recent war started, has recently written a new essay on being Christian in modern-day Iraq.

It's easy to assign blame for the increase in hostilities between Christians and Muslims. If only there were a consensus about where to assign it, perhaps the hostilities could be lessened. It is much harder to find a credible idea for how to lessen and move past those hostilities. Until then (if ever), the risk of being a Christian in a non-Christian country seems to be increasing. Organisations that keep track of such things claim that modern-day persecution of Christians is far worse than it was in the days of lions and spears.

Alas, it's not just Christians versus non-Christians. We Christians seem to be very good at fighting amongst ourselves. Only in the last few centuries has the notion of one group of Christians persecuting or feuding with another been significant. Whilst every Sunday we say that we believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church, we seem to have amongst ourselves very different ideas of who is in that one holy church and who is in other less-holy churches. We now see the spectacle of one group of Christians insisting that they are the real Christians and that those other people over there are not Christians, but heretics who will burn in hell. In the States, there is a small but determined movement with the goal of turning South Carolina into a Christian Democracy. Each side is looking for some authority, some governance structure, to smite its enemies.

From the Renaissance was born the concept of the separation of church and state. For centuries, that was a meaningless concept; popes and bishops crowned kings, kings appointed bishops and funded popes, and the world kept on turning. The concept of separation of church and state has been explored and refined for a few dozen generations -- and not everyone agrees that it is a good idea. Certainly many in the Islamic world believe that the only good government is an Islamic government. Pakistan, Iran, Mauritania, and Afghanistan formally call themselves Islamic republics, and many states in northern Nigeria have adopted Islam's sharia for state government. An Islamic republic is a theocracy, in which the country is governed by a religious leader.

In a country with an established church, the government exerts significant control over the governance of the church. In a theocracy, the church is ultimately responsible for running the government. In neither case is there separation of church and state. The origins of the Anglican Communion come from an established church in England, and much of the combat within the church possibly carries with it the unspoken assumption that 'things would be better if someone in a position of authority could tell my opponents what to do'. But our Anglican tradition is steeped in the cultural assumption that the imposition of some authority is good for the church. Baptists have no such problem; every Baptist church is free to interpret scripture for itself.

We try hard not to take sides in all of this, but we do believe that the imposition of central authority is not good for the church. Jesus did not choose just one apostle, He chose twelve, and empowered each of them equally. Despite the global conflict with Islam and the increase in persecution of Christians, we think that Anglican churches are more likely to die by boredom than by fire. The biggest enemy of our church is not the threat of torture, but the promise of golf and brunch. We wouldn't be at all surprised if that were also true for most of us.

See you next week. After church.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 15 August 2004

A thin blue line
This web site is independent. It is not official in any way. Our editorial staff is private and unaffiliated. Please contact about information on this page.
©2004 Society of Archbishop Justus