Canon Andrew White until recently pastored St George’s Church in Baghdad – and is popularly known as ‘The Vicar of Baghdad’. Previously, he was Director of International Ministry at the International Centre for Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral, England. At present Andrew White spends much time in Jordan, where he has set up a school for Iraqi refugee children. He answers some questions:
YOU work to bring understanding and peace amongst religious groups in the Middle East. Have you anything to say about reconciliation between and within churches and Christian organisations?
Christianity is a highly complex phenomenon, a very complicated religion with many different denominations and strands – Orthodox, Anglican, Catholic, Protestant Evangelical, Charismatic and so on. The Church is a very divided community. Reconciliation is needed – within and across the denominations.
In our crisis amongst Christians in Iraq, amidst the rise of DAASH, the ISIS terrorists, we have seen the greatest act of unity ever. In persecution we have become one – people in Iraq don’t say anymore, “I’m Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, Chaldean or Orthodox.” All they say now is, “We are followers of Messiah”. That’s all that matters. It’s awful to realise that our incredible unity is a result of dire suffering, persecution and massacring – only that has brought us together.
Do you think there are signs of persecution towards Christians in the UK?
A few people have lost their jobs for wearing crosses. We here in the West do not know what persecution is or the meaning of suffering for our faith. We do not know the meaning of being a suffering church and yet such suffering is happening all around us in the world. The un-persecuted church needs to stand with the persecuted church. We the unbroken need to stand with the broken.
I can’t see persecution of the church in the UK in future. People are not serious enough about religion. To get persecuted as a Christian, you have to be serious about your position. We could see something from Islamic extremists but I think that general persecution is very unlikely. The UK is a safe, exclusive, secluded and secure society.
As a Christian community we must, in the West, stand strong and say, “I believe! Help thou my unbelief.”
Do you have hope and vision for the church in the UK?
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” Our hope is in Christ and our hope is that the church here in the UK is beginning to stand with the suffering persecuted church abroad. I used to need $165,000 dollars every month. Now, I need over $1000, 000 dollars every month. It is coming from Christians in England. When presented with the message, they are willing to stand with those who are suffering.
My book, Older Younger Brother, outlines how the church in England has persecuted the Jews over 2000 years. We have done some bad things. Our hope is now, when facing real opposition, we can stand together for hope and life and transformation.
One of the problems with the churches in the UK has been self-appointed communities without strong external leadership. Every church needs apostolic episcopal leadership. Without that we will fail. Churches should be part of a movement. There is always a danger when churches are totally independent and not accountable to any organisation. Every church needs to be under strong leadership and every church needs to be responsible for appointing that strong leadership.
You spend a lot of time in refugee camps in the Middle East. We are now seeing many such refugees coming to Europe and the UK. What would you say to our churches about this?
Dealing with the despised and rejected of whatever faith – be it Christian, Muslim, Mandaeans or Yazidi – lies at the very heart of our ministry and calling as Christians.
These are the people God has called us to love and work with and be part of. It is vital that we do everything to support them. Doing something like teaching them English is at the heart of that ministry. Teaching them English is not just a good academic project; it is about loving and caring and saving life. In essence it’s showing the love of Jesus. It’s showing the love of Jesus that changes people – not talking about it.
In all of our work in Iraq and the Middle East, I’ve never preached apologetics to show the Bible is right. In Iraq, there are so many Muslims wanting to become Christians. Why? It’s not because we have preached but because we have loved them. They’ve been so challenged by seeing that love.
And what about our attitude to Muslims and the many Muslim refugees that are coming over to the UK?
Our experience of working and living with Muslims has taught us what is important: love, love, love and care, care, care and show them that you really appreciate them. Show them you’re not trying to convert them – you are just trying to love them.
And finally, have you any message to the Jesus Fellowship?
Don’t take care; take risks and love. Be prepared to make big decisions. The most important thing is to love, love and love.