These are trying days for Christians and Jews. Around the world followers of these two great faiths are being slaughtered in the most gruesome fashion. So who will speak for the dead and stand up for their right to worship wherever they are without fear of bloody execution?
Not the Archbishop of Canterbury. He would rather calm reflection over action, solidarity and cautious thought over deeds.
Witness the limp words issued Monday by the Most Rev Justin Welby in response to the murders carried out by Islamic terrorists against Jews in Europe and Christians in Africa.
“The terrible cruelty of the murders in Denmark, Libya and Nigeria call for deep compassion for the bereaved and killed,” his statement reads. “The killers seem to rejoice in ever more extreme acts carried out to inflict ever greater terror. We must all weep with those affected, and know that in the love of Christ all evil will be overcome.
“In Egypt and Libya, the home of Christian faith, of saints and martyrs since the earliest centuries, more suffering has been perpetrated. The Coptic church has responded with courage and as always with faith. The light and peace of Christ are at the heart of the faithful lives of Christians, and will not be overcome by the darkness which ISIS seek to spread. I have been in touch with the Anglican Church in Egypt to express solidarity.
“Let us pray for the peace of Christ to be evident, and for governments affected to be wise and courageous.”
That’s it. No call for the slaughter to end and nothing to condemn the perpetrators. Just a flogging with the wet lettuce of ecclesiastical humbug.
A pity that the moment when so many fear the fight for liberal freedoms is being lost that a man nominated as a leader of the Church of England should choose to back away from his responsibilities.
What is wrong with speaking up for the dead? How long will we have to wait for real words of action and direct response?
If a strong cry for freedom comes, it will not be from Lambeth Palace.
We witnessed another hint of that priestly prevarication last Friday when the archbishop told a German congregation of his “profound feeling of regret and deep sorrow” over the attack on the city of Dresden during the Second World War.
His comments came in a speech at the Frauenkirche in Dresden during ceremonies to mark the 70th anniversary of the allied bombings of the city.
“Over three days in February allied bombers brought death and destruction on a scale and with a ferocity it is impossible to imagine,” Welby said.
“Much debate surrounds this most controversial raid of the allied bombing campaign. Whatever the arguments, events here 70 years ago left a deep wound and diminished all our humanity. So as a follower of Jesus I stand here among you with a profound feeling of regret and deep sorrow.”
“Regret and deep sorrow” are only ever expressed when one is sorry for something. It is impossible to logically argue otherwise. This point was made by Conservative MP Philip Davies in the Daily Mail.
“These remarks do sound to me like an apology. For the archbishop to make an apology for our defeat of Hitler is bizarre,” Davies said.
“I would have thought the last thing we should be doing is apologising. We should be praised for defeating Hitler. These words are an insult to the young men who gave their lives in the defeat of Germany.”
Former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth agreed. He added: “I do not hear Angela Merkel apologising for the Blitz”.
Quite right. Let’s not forget the facts.
On February 13, 1945, allied forces did unleash a massive 37-hour bombing raid on the previously untouched city of Dresden. The resulting firestorm, initiated through the use of incendiary bombs, destroyed over 13 square miles of the city’s centre and claimed the lives of up to 25,000 people.
Some progressive critics believe the attack strategically unjustified as Hitler’s Germany was already effectively defeated and the raid seemed exclusively directed at non-combatants rather than military assets.
Other critics more grounded in facts, not sentiment, point out that all of Germany became a military target on September 1, 1939, when Adolf Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland.
That is why some 55,000 Allied aircrew in Bomber Command died in raids over Europe between 1939 and 1945, the highest loss rate of any major branch of the British armed forces.
Those men flew and fought and perished in a conflict their leaders didn’t seek nor start. Yet total war demanded a total response, especially in the light of deaths in London, Liverpool and Coventry caused by German bombing raids.
This fact at least was clear to the German President, Joachim Gauck. Speaking at the same ceremony as the Archbishop of Canterbury, he laid the blame for the horror of the war on Germany alone. He rejected any attempt to compare it with allied responsibility.
“We know who started the murderous war, we know it,” President Gauck said. “And that’s why we will never forget the victims of German warfare. We do not forget, even as we remember here today the German victims.”
No words of regret there for the actions of Bomber Command. President Gauck also made clear that the Archbishop came under no German pressure to express regret.
“A country that is responsible for a monstrosity like the Holocaust cannot expect to go unpunished and emerge undamaged from a war that it had provoked,” President Gauck concluded.
The Archbishop has since tried to clarify his words. A spokesman said: “Any suggestion that the Archbishop was apologising is manifestly false.
“The Archbishop’s comments were a reflection in a solemn ceremony on the tragedy of war.”
Yes, solemn reflection. Very noble but about as effective as saying a quiet prayer for world peace in the face of almost unimaginable terror.