I want to see the day very soon when those who have separated themselves from the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church march hand in hand to witness to the relevance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to transform a hurting Society. Very soon I would like to see those who have chosen separation from and hurtful commentary about structures which they once supported and contributed to become a model of the power of God to make all things new in the solidarity of loving witness to the relevant and transforming presence of God in the world.
Why are these things especially relevant now? Why should we call for nothing less? Simply because the Christians of Egypt are demonstrating how far we in the West can fall short of what God demands of us – to recognize our differences, eschew destructive spiritual pride which destroys our witness and relevance, and then walk together humbly with our God.
Just as Muslim Sheikh Reda Ragab and Coptic priest Father Khazman walked hand-in-hand through Tahrir Square in Cairo at the height of the anti-Mubarak demonstrations, I want to see ANiC and CANA leaders walking hand-in-hand with Anglican Church of Canada and Episcopal Church leaders to witness to God in our midst. Surrounding Sheikh Ragab and father Khazman were a throng of Christians and Muslims chanting, “Muslim and Christian, we are all one”. When will Anglicans say, “we are all one?” It’s only to our shame if we can’t.
Sheikh Ragab addressed the massive Tahrir Square crowd that day saying, “We came here today to show the world that there is no sectarian strife…” The crowd chanted in response, “The time of strife has passed.” Indeed it has. And those who perpetuate law suits and on-going wrangling here in Canada and south of the border need to reconsider.
As Arab wisdom has it, “Your neighbor is your other self dwelling behind a wall. In understanding, all walls shall fall down.” Sounds like Jesus’ challenge to us – here presented in the words of Kahlil Gibran, early 20th century Arab Christian revolutionary writer and artist.
Maybe what we need is not the on-going religious dialogue gatherings which don’t seem to have gotten us as Anglicans too far, but a grassroots movement led by what might be considered the next generation and those who support the idea that Anglicanism has a future as part of the Mission of God. And, Indeed, young Anglicans have plenty to say – many determined not to repeat what they see as the ‘theatre of the absurd’ played out by some who would weaken our witness by attempting to chronically wear it down.
We should particularly appreciate the observations of Rev. Canon Paul-Gordon Chandler, rector of St. John’s Church, an international Episcopal church that serves the diplomatic, NGO, academic and business communities in Cairo. Chandler is a long time participant in the on-going dialogue and bridge-building between Christians and Muslims in Egypt that we, in reality, hear very little of.
Chandler points out that the bomb explosion outside a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt last New Year’s Eve which killed 23 people and wounded 90 more was meant to build sectarian tension. Instead, six days later, when Coptic Christians across Egypt celebrated Christmas, many Muslims attended services with them to show their solidarity. In the streets, people displayed posters and bumper stickers showing the cross and crescent next to each other, often interwoven in design, with the phrase, “We are all Egyptians.”
To Canon Chandler, the most moving of images during the recent Egyptian grassroots uprising was of the Coptic Church service held in Tahrir Square that Muslims helped facilitate. “When the service came to an end, all jointly shouted, ‘Amen, amen.’ Similarly, Christians with hands clasped together encircled Muslims so they could pray without harassment.”
These amazing images, observes Chandler, represent “selfless support for each other, Muslims and Christians together.” Surely grass-root Anglicans can do this on our much smaller scale.
Indeed, in Egypt, new attitudes are taking root among Christians. Christians who have had nothing but hard words about their Muslim neighbors are re-examining their underlying convictions. Anglicans in North America need to carefully examine their rhetorical responses to each other and come to some new convictions about one another.
If Muslims and Christians in Egypt can make a start at getting beyond the destructive and often absurd religious conflict that has plagued them, surely Anglicans can move beyond some of the sad shenanigans such as ‘who has a right to worship in what space in what church at what time’ that have happened right here in our own diocese. Pathetic indeed when we think of what God is doing in some parts of the world.