My dear friends,
In days to come we shall all be asked: 'What were you doing when the twin towers of the World Trade Centre crashed to the ground?' In my case I was sitting in my study talking to John Peterson, Secretary General of the Communion, when Eileen walked in and said with a stunned air: 'A plane has just crashed into the World Trade Centre!'
Even now it is very difficult to get one's mind around the events of that day. What sort of face was it we saw that day? Perhaps there were several, including the hideous face of terrorism using Islam to try to cower a great nation.. We thank God that America was not cowed by such evil. Another face we saw was altogether gentler and heroic, the face of compassion rescuing many from a tragic end. We saw sorrow and grief, but also a determination that evil should not triumph.
As I write the allied forces are seeking to prise Osama Bin Laden from his hiding place in Afghanistan. While we may have varying views about the means it is clear that those guilty must be held to account. The world is not safe until such perpetrators are brought to justice.
One simply cannot imagine the mentality of men who will take over planes and use them as guided missiles to destroy. But neither can I understand a theology which assumes that such evil deeds grant one access to paradise. It is vital that Muslims leaders continue to address this distortion of Islamic theology as a matter of urgency.
But there is another issue that seems to be to be lost in the present debate. Put simply it is this: Our increasingly secular, consumer driven societies often find it hard to understand people who are quite prepared to die for their beliefs. We are increasingly cocooned in a culture of comfort-where all danger and risk are kept at arms length.
Most Christians of course will have some insight of the notion of the sacrificial life although nothing in our faith leads us to kill others for religious ends. Our faith calls us to live and die for Christ himself whose ways are justice and peace. And isn't there a challenge here for us all? As I write this letter I have just heard that eighteen fellow Anglicans of the Church of Pakistan were murdered by extremists whilst at worship! Our hearts go out to their families as we commend those who have died and their families to the loving arms of Almighty God. It brings home to us all the cost for so many fellow Christians in following Christ today. For those of us living in more secure lands we are challenged to work out for ourselves the cost of following our Lord.
Early last century, Bishop Frank Weston of Zanzibar who had been preaching the University sermon at Cambridge University challenging students to give up their lives to become missionaries in Africa was greeted by a student who said: 'I couldn't possibly live in Africa!' Weston thundered: 'I did not ask you to live there - I asked you to be prepared to die there!' And dying for Christ was often the reality of those missionaries of that period. Do we not need to consider where the element of sacrifice has gone in modern Christianity? If our discipleship does not take the form of direct suffering for Christ, perhaps we have to work out for ourselves those forms of obedience that are sacrificial and costly that might lead to the benefit of the Church and humanity.
To return to the present situation. While nothing justifies the awful events of Sept 11th, the Western world must wake up to the fact that terrorism feeds on such realities as the gross and obscene inequalities between West and East; the deep despair at the heart of refugees in so many parts of the world, including Palestine; the alarming ignorance and lack of opportunities for those millions of children who have no future to look forward to. I thank God for our Communion which is present in so many parts of the world where issues of life and death are enacted daily.
Finally, this leads me to children and their future. What kind of world are we preparing for them? How may the joy, peace and love that Christmas brings become a cradle for their growth as leaders of reconciliation and bearers of hope?
I thank God for those young faces that have greeted Eileen and me in every part of our Anglican Communion family. This year, we have been grateful for their enthusiasm and excitement we found in Southern Ohio; for their vitality we encountered in Nigeria; for their courage we experienced in Palestine; and the tenacity of their faith in Bahrain and Qatar. My prayer is that we shall make children a priority in our mission, worship and life.
O Holy child of Bethlehem
Descend on us we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
That great glad tidings tell
O Come to us Abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.