Thursday, February 7th, 2008


I’ve had a lot of visitors this week, for which I have to thank Kendall Harmon and the folks at the Layman Online. Since my traffic is still way up, this is as good a time as any to let you know that I’ve started a second blog called The Redeemer Daily. This one is focused on the ministry here in Northern Virginia, as Redeemer EPC looks forward to its public launch on Easter Sunday, March 23. The new effort will focus on what is happening and will be happening at Redeemer, as well as on other facets of the faith (I’ve had posts during this first week on Transfiguration, Shrove Tuesday, and Ash Wednesday, for instance–if you’d like to see an example of my preaching, the Ash Wednesday post has the text of a sermon I preached several years ago). If you want controversy and news of the universal Church, this is still the place to be. If you want local news and edification, I’d welcome to take a look at The Redeemer Daily. Comments, as always, are more than welcome.

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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, keeps talking about stuff he knows nothing about, and the result is, well, you know…embarrassing. According to the BBC:

Dr Rowan Williams told Radio 4’s World at One that the UK has to “face up to the fact” that some of its citizens do not relate to the British legal system.

Neither do most criminals, but they have to face the music sometimes.

Dr Williams argues that adopting parts of Islamic Sharia law would help maintain social cohesion.

Actually, it would result in splitting British society apart. Imagine the resentment it would cause among all other Britons if Muslims didn’t have to answer to British law. Imagine the problems it would create just in the Muslim community if some objected to being subject to a non-British legal system against their will.

For example, Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court.

And those who consider the sharia law on marriage barbaric would just be stuck, or would they have to face the wrath of the Islamists by rejecting the system’s hold over them?

He says Muslims should not have to choose between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty”.

If he had said “religious loyalty,” he might have had the beginnings of a point. But “cultural loyalty”? That’s inane. Just the fact that you emigrate from one country to another is a declaration that you either 1) prefer to live under a different system than the one from which you have come, or 2) that it is your intention to subvert the one into which you are moving. Let’s face it: you can’t move from Karachi to Mogadishu and reasonably expect to live exactly the same way in London or Minneapolis, just richer. For that matter, why would you?

In an exclusive interview with BBC correspondent Christopher Landau, ahead of a lecture to lawyers in London later on Monday, Dr Williams argues this relies on Sharia law being better understood. At the moment, he says “sensational reporting of opinion polls” clouds the issue.

No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter if sharia is the greatest thing since chocolate chocolate chip ice cream. It’s not possible to run multiple legal systems as normative for different communities in one polity. That’s not to say that religious communities can’t regulate themselves to some extent–for instance, divorce is legal in the UK, but not allowed by Roman Catholicism. That means that if one contemplates divorce, one has to choose between one’s religious commitment and one’s legal privilege. What Williams is suggesting (if he actually has any idea what sharia law is) is an alternate form of civil and criminal law, not religious. Sharia governs all of life, and it does so without admitting the validity of any other type of law, which is why it has become the civil and criminal law of Pakistan, for instance. Muslims who want to impose sharia will not be any happier with having only parts of it applied to their community–they won’t be happy until the whole of it (for instance, cutting off the hands of thieves) is applied, and to the whole country, not just themselves.

He stresses that “nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that’s sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states; the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well”.

But Dr Williams says the argument that “there’s one law for everybody… I think that’s a bit of a danger”.

It’s actually the basis of a coherent society, but who needs that? As for not wanting “the kind of inhumanity” that you see, who is Williams to tell Muslims what form of sharia they can have? Not very multicultural there, Archbishop.

“We don’t either want a situation where, because there’s no way of legally monitoring what communities do… people do what they like in private in such a way that that becomes another way of intensifying oppression inside a community.”

So he wants them to have sharia, but it should be British sharia–polite, well-mannered, respectful of everyone’s rights, with court sessions no doubt adjourning for afternoon tea. To say Williams isn’t a political scientist is like saying I’m not a digestive biscuit–so obvious that it doesn’t need to be said. But if he doesn’t understand the first thing about basic political or legal theory, why does he keep opining on it?

There’s an old saying that it’s better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you’re a fool than to open your mouth and confirm it. Rowan Williams really needs to meditate on that this Lent.

UPDATE: In the comments, Christopher Johnson of MCJ left the URL for the entire interview upon which this article is based. (Thanks, Chris.) I don’t have time to look at it now, but I’ll try to get back to it later. In the meantime, take a look at Chris’ treatment. He does his usual excellent job of smiting the ignorant. He also has links to a variety of responses in the British press, which may be summed up as, “Have you lost your mind?”

Pastor Bill Stephens of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, Florida has posted a letter to his congregation on the church’s Web site, in which he explains what’s gone one there. He wrote:

Last Sunday, 1032 “active members,” came to the Covenant campus in order to vote. I am so proud of you for caring enough to come and participate in this important process! As Jake announced from the front, 76% or 787 people voted to request dismissal, while 24% or 237 voted against dismissal.  As you will remember, we have followed the Presbytery guidelines throughout this entire process.  They required that we have two-thirds of our active membership present on site for the vote to count and we had 76% of our active membership here!  They required that we have three-fourths of those voting to request dismissal and we had 76% request dismissal.

On Monday the 4th at 2 pm, a task force from the Peace River Presbytery met with Pastor Stu, myself, our trustees and elders.  They are asking the 76% to leave quickly and quietly, but your leadership feels like we owe it to all of you who worked diligently and faithfully to meet their requirements, to stand before them and request that they honor their process. [Emphasis added.]

They have called a “special presbytery meeting” on February 14th at 1:30 up in North Port to hear the recommendation of their task force which met with us Monday, and to appoint an Administrative Commission and give them the power to come to Covenant and take over.  We will be present and plan to ask them before the entire presbytery to honor their process and the will of the majority of this congregation.  You are invited to join us at this meeting, where we will stand up for what is faithful and fair.

Based on the emphasized passage, it sounds like the presbytery’s strategy is to deliberately split the congregation so as to have a reason to retain the property. Despite the vote, there is nothing that says that most if not all of the people who voted against leaving wouldn’t stay–after all, people generally have a stronger attachment to their congregation than to the denomination of which it is a part. But in this case (and now that I look back on it, in lots of others, I suspect), the presbytery may well be looking to give a financial incentive in the form of ownership of the facilities to the minority in order to get them to split off from the rest of the congregation and stay. That’s just speculation on my part, but I won’t be surprised if Peace River votes next week to anoint the 24% the “true church,” give them the property, and then bid the rest including the pastors good-bye.