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'Religion is not the problem--extremism is'

Jan Nunley of Episcopal News Service talks to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. George Carey, in an exclusive interview.

Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey was in New York as
part of the observances of the first anniversary of the
September 11th attacks in America.

ENS: What do you feel, in broad terms, was the spiritual
significance of September 11?

CAREY: Actually, I regard it as a declaration of war. I
really would put it in terms like that. I think we've all been
well aware for a very long time of these very dark forces in the
world and within the Islamic societies of anger towards the
West, and then suddenly September 11 brought it back, with that
declaration of war on the West, its culture, its life, its
economy, its freedom. They attacked America particularly because
America is seen as the major place where capitalism reigns, and
the targets such as the World Trade Center, Washington--not only
the military base but it looked like one of the planes was going
to hit the White House. It was devastating, and the implications
if the President had been there and wiped out, quite
devastating. And the mischief done by that, because who is
behind it?

I think the President then after that initial shock has done
extremely well in consolidating the Western position, and he got
a broad-based consensus from China, Russia, the UK, Europe,
throughout the world to say 'we must fight this battle against
the al-Qaeda evil.' That's been moderately successful. I say
'moderately successful,' because we haven't yet got Osama bin
Laden, and that's important. We've got to carry on that war, and
it is a war, against terrorism in every shape and form.

It's not completed yet, and we've got a long way to go. So
that's very important.

Now the spiritual side of that, actually, I think it made
people aware of how very fragile life is, how very vulnerable
life is--that's going to be the theme of my sermon in Trinity
tomorrow [September 11, 2002]. I'm going to take on two things:
vulnerability, and our interconnectedness. The vulnerability is
the fact that--I'm going to use the idea of the bell, John
Donne's poem that when 'the bell tolls, it tolls for
thee'--'every man's death diminishes me.' The other one, Donne
is saying that we're connected, we're not an island, we're 'part
of the main,' he says.

So those two things are very important. That's why at the
moment it does look as though America is out of step with the
West on Iraq. I think from the British point of view those of us
who are raising questions at the moment are saying so, because
we said a year ago, America sought the help and encouragement of
its allies. It got it. Now, as we embark on what may be the
second phase, it needs the support and affirmation of its
allies. That I think is terribly important. As you know, I'm not
convinced that this is right to go for a ground war yet on Iraq,
unless we have clear evidence.

From a Christian point of view of course we do want a
peaceful world, and I think September 11 did actually make
people aware not only of vulnerability and how transitory life
is, but there are forces of good and honor and justice which
speak to us of God and his love for us. And I think the church
actually, your church and our church, we've actually responded
incredibly well to that. What happened here and what happened in
Trinity and at St. Paul's Chapel, was a remarkable witness of
Christians, local Christians reaching out to others.

'Say our prayers for us'

ENS: Some commentators have suggested we found the limits of
organized religion in the response to 9/11 -- the initial spike in
church attendance falling off as the year went on.

CAREY: I don't think we ought to be disappointed if, for
example, it peaks and comes down again. It is obvious that at
moments of raw emotion, people turn to the church, and that in
itself is saying something quite remarkable. They don't turn to
the local football stadium, they turn to the church, and they
say 'will you please say our prayers for us? We don't know, come
up with the language, but we know it must be God to whom we
turn.'

So I think we ought to be honored by that in your society,
our society. It doesn't really matter if people revert back to
the old habits. But we're there, we're there to help them and
respond to their needs. And I do know in Britain of people who
are now regular churchgoers, for whom they made a definite
commitment because of September 11, and I'll give you two
illustrations.

One is a mother, a mother-in-law. Her son, British, married
to an American girl, they had a small daughter, and the
daughter-in-law was wiped out. But it brought that mother-in-law
and son back to God. That in itself is quite a story. And then
quite recently I was in correspondence with a young lady who
lost her husband, and for her it meant the same thing: a
rediscovery of the importance of Christian faith, and what she
said to me was that, 'I realized that God was there in my
suffering, and therefore I'm not going to walk away from him
now, just because I've got over the raw emotion. He was there
for me then, so I'm going to walk with him.' And you hear that
kind of story, and it comes from ordinary people--outside the
church.

Religion is not the problem

ENS: What effect has September 11 had on relations between
Christians and Muslims?

CAREY: I don't think in my dealings with Muslims it is seen
by moderates, a majority Muslim position, as a Christian-Muslim
conflict. I know that there are extremists on both sides who
might see it in those terms, and certainly my moderate Muslim
friends tell me that the fundamentalists do. But they're not
speaking for the main body.

I think what has happened, actually, is that September 11 has
given a spur, a renewed urgency, to dialogue between the great
faiths. We all assumed it was going extremely well, and so this
has really shattered us. Let me mention two things: First of
all, my prime minister, Tony Blair, phoned me ten days after
September 11. He said, 'We've got to do more on the
international side,' and asked me if I would convene an
international gathering, which I did in January -- our government
paid for it, totally paid for it, quite an unusual, unique thing
for a government to do that. Left the organization to me, but
took great interest, and we're repeating it next year in Qatar
in April, and the Emir of Qatar is actually paying for that. So
that's deepened the dialogue on the international level.

Secondly, a project that the president of the World Bank, Jim
Wolfensohn, and I have developed called the World Faiths
Development Dialogue. Jim was getting a lot of problems from his
board in the World Bank. They said essentially that the World
Bank shouldn't have any truck with religion--even the Archbishop
of Canterbury, you see? And so they weren't prepared to back it.
September 11 happened, the president of the World Bank phoned me
up and said, 'George, my board are now saying to me, we were
wrong. This is an idea whose time has come.' And I think there's
no doubt about it--we've got to find ways of deepening that
dialogue to show that religion is not the problem--extremism is.

If there are Muslims who believe that they've got to kill
Christians to make a way for the Islamic faith in the West, not
only would they be disappointed, but it will lead to conflict,
there's no doubt about that. But we've got to find ways, however
strong our faith is in Allah, or in our case Jesus Christ, we've
got to find ways to live together in this very small world.

Vulnerable Christians and Muslims

ENS: How has September 11 affected Christian evangelism among
Muslims, especially in the so-called "10/40 window" of
least-evangelized nations, West Africa to East Asia -- from 10
degrees north to 40 degrees north of the equator, where most of
the world's Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists live?

CAREY: I think that's a very important point. See, what has
happened post-September 11 has made Christian minorities in
Islamic countries far more vulnerable. Pakistan -- since then,
there've been three killings, two churches, one Christian
hospital, where my wife Eileen visited some fifteen years ago.
Work done by wonderful Christian people, Pakistani Christians,
who've been killed. It made them very vulnerable indeed, and
we've got to be aware that whatever we do in the West now has
its effect on our brothers and sisters living in these
countries--in Palestine, in Saudi Arabia -- Christianity is banned
from Saudi Arabia, but there are many, many Christians there
and throughout the Middle East.

And indeed, one is so delighted to know that, I visited the
Gulf last November, a very flourishing Christian congregation
there, Anglican congregations to boot, and they were trying to
establish a new church in Qatar. And that's very exciting,
because if we can get it going, get the agreement, it will be
the first Christian church in the Sinai Peninsula since the
seventh century. So that's very good indeed.

But I think we've got to be very careful, that the
vulnerability of our minorities after September 11 is very, very
precarious.

ENS: What about Muslims in majority-Christian nations?

CAREY: Initially, of course, they had a rough time in your
country and my country. There were some wonderful stories over
here, one Episcopal priest I know went out of his way to go
along to the mosque the following day and to say, 'I'm here for
you. I'm not blaming you.'

In my own country there've been attacks on Muslims, on their
mosques. But they have been very few in number, and I think
actually after that initial shock we've addressed many of these
issues, people are living together more comfortably.

But there are many Christians who cannot understand the fact
that we give such freedom to Muslims and the rest. In my country
there are 1500 mosques. But we find it difficult to build
churches and Christian schools, meeting in Pakistan and places
like that.

ENS: Do you plan to continue working on this issue during
your retirement?

CAREY: Oh, yes, definitely. I want to do three or four
things, and I have worked with Jim Wolfensohn on this World
Faiths Development Dialogue, because I know that we have got to
try to make the faiths part of the answer, because in some
places they're part of the problem. So helping to focus on
development, on the poverty of so many people, that sort of
thing.

Secondly, I'm going to be working with the World Economic
Forum, trying to bring faith leaders into contact with
business -- very similar to the other one.

ENS: Will that also involve conversations about corporate
responsibility and ethics?

CAREY: Absolutely. That comes into the World Economic Forum
part of that, is to challenge them to invest in the poorer
world. Africa only represents less than 4 percent of the
world's gross productivity. And that's the problem, you see?
Africa could fall off the back of the lorry and no one would
notice it in world economic terms. And that's why there are such
problems in Africa. So we've got to change a mindset and say to
businesses, invest in those parts of Africa where there's now
stability, where there's no conflict. I can understand they
can't invest where there's war, but where--they can invest now
in Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya--many places, and
they're not doing it. And so there's a moral challenge there.

Focus on the Gospel

ENS: What are your thoughts about the Anglican Communion as
you move closer to retirement in October?

CAREY: As a leader, what has come first has not been the
'issues,' but the Gospel itself, and to create a confident,
vibrant Christian church that loves God and has got a message
worth believing in. That remains the impulse within me.

Within the Anglican Communion we have this tendency to focus
too much on issues. One I've been passionately committed to, of
course, is women's ministry; I believe solidly in it as a Gospel
issue and we've found our way through that. The other
issues -- what we need to do with them, they are important, but we
should be going not from the viewpoint of controversy, but
actually with prayer and support for one another, spending time
with one another, not colliding and fragmenting.

So my plea to the Communion, and to the primates and the
bishops in the church, is -- we can do our work better, we really
can. One of the motions I want to bring to the ACC [Anglican
Consultative Council] when it meets in Hong Kong in ten days'
time, I want to produce a motion, a resolution urging all
dioceses, before they make a change that affects the faith and
order of the Anglican Communion, that they refer it to their
province for consideration and agreement, and the province
refers it to the wider church so we can keep in step with one
another. And if we could do it in that kind of way, there'd be a
little less controversy, and hopefully we'll be able to focus on
the bigger issue, and the others will take care of themselves.

To all Episcopalians of the American church, I'd love to say:
Thank you for your support, thank you for your rich contribution
to the Anglican Communion. I say this in so many parts of the
world -- you will never find me criticizing ECUSA because they are
one of the most generous branches of the Anglican Communion, and
I want to say to them, thank you very much and keep that support
going. -- ENS

[The Rev. Jan Nunley is deputy director of Episcopal News Service.]

Posted to Trinity News on September 10, 2002

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