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A Church Divided

British evangelicals tussle over Islam and Israel.

12:00 AM, Mar 17, 2009 • By MARK TOOLEY
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A bit of a ruckus among British evangelicals and Anglicans has arisen over charges of accommodationism toward radical Islam. The latest controversy flared up in January when a British evangelical group, Fulcrum, negatively reviewed a new book by Anglican priest and critic of jihadist Islam Patrick Sookhdeo. In reaction, defenders of Sookhdeo alleged a secret campaign among British evangelicals to discredit critics of radical Islam and supporters of Israel. British evangelical groups that allegedly met secretly for this purpose insist they simply want better relations with Britain's growing Islamic population.

In the Fulcrum review, author Ben White decried Sookhdeo's Global Jihad: The Future in the Face of Militant Islam for its "political decontextualisation, unsustainable generalisations, and a simplification or misrepresentation of Islamic theology," with an "extremely skewed analysis of radical Islamism and the 'war on terror.'" White also noted disapprovingly that the book's U.S. version includes endorsements from neoconservatives such as David Frum and Frank Gaffney.

Fulcrum describes itself as a "network of evangelical Anglicans, seeking to renew the centre of the evangelical tradition and the centre of Anglicanism." It published a response to White's review from Sookhdeo's group, The Barnabas Fund, which advocates on behalf of persecuted Christians living under Islamist regimes. This article defended Sookhdeo's understanding that Islamist terror has "religious and theological motives." And it accused White of reflecting the "widely discredited secularisation theory that religion in the modern world would be progressively marginalised in all cultures."

Barnabas emailed a more strongly worded response to its supporters, accusing White of "ideological propaganda" and accepting the "racist Islamist view that anything said or written by Jews or Israelis, no matter how scholarly, cannot be credible simply because of who they inherently are." White was portrayed as attempting to "glorify Bin Laden" and replicate the British appeasers of the 1930s.

Barnabas later sent a prayer alert to its supporters after a British Muslim blogger named Indigo Jo linked to White's negative review of Sookdheo, under the headline "Review of rotten book by the Sookhdevil." Indigo Jo, a convert to Islam who supports sharia, reported that White himself had alerted him to the review. The Barnabas alert also cited a "secret" gathering of British evangelical leaders last July at All Nations Christian College to chart a new stance towards British Muslims through a soon to be released declaration called "Gracious Christian Responses to Muslims in Britain Today."

The British evangelical ministry network called Global Connections that organized the "secret" July meeting quickly denied any sinister or covert purpose and any "personal attack" on Sookhdeo or intent to "undermine the important work of the Barnabas Fund." Instead the meeting was about the "training Christians receive on Islam" and to formulate the upcoming "Gracious Christian Responses to Muslims in Britain Today." Meanwhile, a March 4 op-ed in the British Spectator alleged a "dangerous new alliance between anti-Israel Christians and radical Muslim groups, often plotting in secret against their common enemy." The columnist was Melanie Phillips, who in 2006 authored Londonistan, an expose of Islamization's influence in Britain.

Phillips alleged that many British evangelical leaders are attempting to discredit "aggressive" Christians who are "increasing the level of fear" by warning of radical Islam's threat. Instead, these evangelicals want to emphasize the "grace approach to Islam," which "tries to let Muslims interpret Islam rather than telling them what their religion teaches." Its ultimate aim is to "discredit and stifle those Christians who warn against the Islamisation of Britain and Islam's threat to the church," such as Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali, conservative British stateswoman Baroness Cox, and Sookhdeo.

According to Phillips, British evangelicals within the Church of England are divided between Zionists and anti-Zionists, which also reflects their overall willingness to confront or accommodate radical Islam. "Extreme hostility towards Israel is the default position among bishops and archbishops, while the establishment line is to reach out towards Islam in an attempt to accommodate and appease it," she wrote. "With Christians around the world suffering forced conversion, ethnic cleansing and murder at Islamist hands, the church utters not a word of protest."