The Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, recently condemned the barbarism of the Islamic State, but for some reason felt compelled to add: “It has nothing to do with real Islam….”
Meanwhile, Amel Shimoun Nona, the exiled Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, warned European and Western Christians that they “will also suffer in the near future” because:
you are welcoming in your countries an ever-growing number of Muslims…. You think all men are created equal, but that is not true: Islam does not say that all men are created equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.
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Archbishop Nona doesn’t bother to distinguish between real Islam and false Islam. He takes it for granted that when you invite mass immigration from Muslim countries, you are inviting trouble.
The difference between the two bishops, as one columnist put it, is the difference between “innocence” and “experience.” But it’s more than that. It’s not just innocence on the part of the Australian archbishop and other Western prelates who say much the same thing about Islam. It’s also a conscious defense of a certain narrative about Islam that has developed among many Church leaders. According to this narrative, Islam is one of many valid expressions of the religious impulse and is therefore a good thing. Islamic terrorism, on the other hand, is a betrayal of true Islam.
Why does the narrative need to be defended so assiduously? Well, for one thing, if Islam is intrinsically flawed, then the assumption that religion is basically a good thing would have to be revisited. That, in turn, might lead to a more aggressive questioning of Christianity. Accordingly, some Church leaders seem to have adopted a circle-the-wagons mentality—with Islam included as part of the wagon train. In other words, an attack on one religion is considered an attack on all: if they come for the imams, then, before you know it, they’ll be coming for the bishops. Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t provide for the possibility that the imams will be the ones coming for the bishops.
In addition to fears about the secular world declaring open season on all religions, bishops have other reasons to paint a friendly face on Islam. It’s not just the religion-is-a-good-thing narrative that’s at stake. Other, interconnected narratives could also be called into question.
One of these narratives is that immigration is a good thing that ought to be welcomed by all good Christians. Typically, opposition to immigration is presented as nothing short of sinful. During a homily at the Italian island of Lampedusa—the “Ellis Island of Italy”—Pope Francis reprimanded Christians for their “indifference” to immigrants and for being “insensitive to the cries of others.” In a similar homily at the U.S.-Mexico border, Cardinal Sean O’Malley decried “the xenophobic ranting of a segment of the population” who refused to acknowledge the positive benefits of immigration. And Catholic leaders are not alone in criticizing opponents of immigration. In a 2010 poll, 75 percent of Protestant church leaders in the Netherlands said that a Christian could not vote for Geert Wilders’ anti-immigration party, because, as one of them put it, “Wilders’ …views contradict Christianity.”
But liberal immigration policies have had unforeseen consequences that now put (or ought to put) its proponents on the defensive. In Europe, the unintended consequences (some critics contend that they were fully intended) of mass immigration are quite sobering. It looks very much like Islam will become, in the not-so-distant future, the dominant force in many European states and in the UK as well. If this seems unlikely, keep in mind that, historically, Muslims have never needed the advantage of being a majority in order to impose their will on non-Muslim societies. And once Islamization becomes a fact, it is entirely possible that the barbarities being visited on Christians in Iraq could be visited on Christians in Europe. Or, as the archbishop of Mosul puts it, “If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.”
If that ever happens, the bishops (not all of them, of course) will bear some of the responsibility for having encouraged the immigration inflow that is making Islamization a growing threat. Thus, when a Western bishop feels compelled to tell us that Islamic violence has “nothing to do with real Islam,” it’s possible that he is hoping to reassure us that the massive immigration he has endorsed is nothing to worry about and will never result in the imposition of sharia law and/or a caliphate. He’s not just defending Islam, he’s defending a policy stance with possibly ruinous consequences for the West.
Of course, presidents and prime ministers say the same sorts of things about Islam. President Obama recently assured the world that “ISIL speaks for no religion,” Prime Minister David Cameron said that the extremists “pervert the Islamic faith,” and UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond asserted that the Islamic State “goes against the most basic beliefs of Islam.” They say these things for reasons of strategy and because they also have a narrative or two to protect. In fact, the narratives are essentially the same as those held by the bishops—religion is good, diversity is our strength, and immigration is enriching.
Since they are actually involved in setting policy, the presidents, prime ministers, and party leaders bear a greater responsibility than do the bishops for the consequences when their naïve narratives are enacted into law. Still, one has to wonder why, in so many cases, the bishop’s narratives are little more than an echo of the secular-political ones. It’s more than slightly worrisome when the policy prescriptions of the bishops so often align with the policies of Obama, Cameron, and company.
Many theologians believe that the Church should have a “preferential option for the poor,” but it’s not a good sign when the bishops seem to have a preferential option for whatever narrative stance the elites are currently taking on contested issues (issues of sexual ethics excepted). It’s particularly unnerving when the narratives about Islam and immigration subscribed to by so many bishops match up with those of secular leaders whose main allegiance is to the church of political expediency.
When the formulas you fall back on are indistinguishable from those of leaders who are presiding over the decline and fall of Western civilization, it’s time for a reality check.
Editor’s note: Pictured above is Iraqi Chaldean archbishop Emil Shimoun Nona.