Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘Christian doctrine is offensive to Muslims’
Dr Rowan Williams also criticised Christianity’s history for its violence, its use of harsh punishments and its betrayal of its peaceful principles.
His comments came in a highly conciliatory letter to Islamic leaders calling for an alliance between the two faiths for ‘the common good’.
But it risked fresh controversy for the Archbishop in the wake of his pronouncement earlier this year that a place should be found for Islamic sharia law in the British legal system.
Dr Williams is also facing immense pressures from inside his own Church of England and Anglican Communion.
The Archbishop’s letter is a reply to feelers to Christians put out by Islamic leaders from 43 countries last autumn.
In it, Dr Williams said violence is incompatible with the beliefs of either faith and that, once that principle is accepted, both can work together against poverty and prejudice and to help the environment.
He also said the Christian belief in the Trinity – that God is Father, Son and Holy Ghost at the same time – ‘is difficult, sometimes offensive, to Muslims’.
Trinitarian doctrine conflicts with the Islamic view that there is just one all-powerful God.
Dr Williams added: ‘It is all the more important for the sake of open and careful dialogue that we try to clarify what we do and do not mean by it, and so I trust that what follows will be read in this spirit.’
He told Muslim leaders that faith has no connection with political power or force, and that Christians have in the past betrayed this idea.
‘Christianity has been promoted at the point of the sword and legally supported by extreme sanctions,’ Dr Williams said.
Islam, he continued, has been supported in the same way and ‘there is no religious tradition whose history is exempt from such temptation and such failure.’
The Archbishop appeared to rebuke his colleague, Bishop of Rochester Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, who criticised his sharia lecture and who maintains that Christianity is central to British law, politics and society.
Christian doctrine is offensive to Muslims? Uhuh. And Islamic doctrine is offensive to Christians. Anyone familiar with the teachings of both religions understand that Christianity and Islam are — like many religions — mutually incompatible.
While religions may have many ethical and philosophical approaches in common, fact is that certain core doctrines — teachings considered essential the a given faith — can not be accepted without violating the central tenets of another faith.
Rowan Williams does not appear to be a wise man. Witness, for instance, his recent support for the acceptance of Sharia law in England. His current comments about violence in Christianity’s history as ill-advised as well. Centuries ago much violence and other evil has been committed by people claiming to represent Christianity. Today, however, Islam — in one form or another — is behind much of the violence seen throughout the world.
Willams should, perhaps, pay more attention to Christian doctrine — using sound theology to deal with several crisis situations within the church he supposedly leads.
That said, his call for Christians and Muslims to “work together” against poverty and prejudice and to help the environment is commendable. However, it would be helpful to know where Rowan Williams actually stands with regard to such interfaith projects.
There are various views and approaches to interfaith activities and inter-religious dialog:
- Convergence on social issues
Some believe that adherents of various religions can converge (come together and unite) on common social issues (e.g. fighting poverty or drug addiction), without necessarily coming to a consensus on doctrinal issues.
Interfaith activities can cause people to erroneously assume that participating religions are (or consider each other to be) equally valid.
- Convergence on social issues and affirmation of legitimacy/equality
Others believe that adherents of various religions can converge on such social issues and (eventually) accept each others doctrines as valid (regardless of conflicting claims to truth).
- Dialogue and debate
Yet others see interfaith dialogue as a way for adherents of various religions to learn about and understand each other beliefs – without accepting conflicting claims to truth. Often, this is seen as a step toward (more effective) debate and/or evangelism.