Is God to blame for Covid-19?


A theology for a post coronavirus world?

We are all struggling to reassess our relationship with God in view of the coronavirus crisis. These are some personal reflections from William Morris, Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation, on what God is, and what God can and cannot do, prompted by the acute crisis that coronavirus-covid 19 has created for each and every one of us. To listen click on this link.


Meanwhile, Stafford Clarry, a senior member of the Next Century Foundation in Northern Iraq, where at the time of writing the entire Kurdistan region is under lockdown (and if you break the rule your car is confiscated), sends these comparisons with one or two key countries. He notes that effective testing and analysis are key to controlling the spread of covid-19:

CHINA. The facts are that China, a country of 1.4 billion people,  is where covid-19 began and where transmissibility (spread) has been brought under control. These are observable, recognized facts.
We may question the numbers reported by China. China’s population is 4x US’, 25x Spain’s, 23x Italy’s, 17x Germany’s, and 22x France’s. Yet, the number of reported confirmed cases is higher for these five far less-populated countries than China.
Further, compared to China’s reported deaths, the number of deaths is also higher in these five countries. Within a few days, US deaths (currently 8,500) are likely to be 3x China’s (3,333). Even the UK, with half as many cases as China, has 1,000 more deaths than China. Deaths in Italy are almost 5x China’s, Spain 4x, and France 2x.
While later evaluation may judge the extent of China’s transparency, the observable, recognized fact remains that China has brought its spread of covid-19 under control. People have begun to move out of their homes and are going back to work and into reopened markets. Restaurants and bars are reopening. Yesterday, China added only 19 new cases and 4 new deaths.
How did China do it?  Partly, China applied severe measures that would likely be impossible to apply in other countries. There are smartphone videos of the main doors of high-rise apartment buildings being welded shut so the occupants could not leave. Testing was conducted at “fever stations” and suspected cases were immediately isolated so they could not return home and infect their families. Other suspected cases were forcibly removed from their homes.
As China’s citizens move out of forced quarantine and isolation, their temperatures are checked when they enter train and bus stations, and every building, including their own apartment buildings. (This is similar to security measures at shopping malls, hotels, some restaurants, and other places in the Kurdistan Region.) If they are found to have a fever, they are referred to fever stations to be medically evaluated and questioned about their contacts.

SOUTH KOREA.  With a population of 51 million, without the severe measures applied by China, South Korea has also brought the spread of covid-19 under control, ranking 14th in the number of reported confirmed cases (10,200) with only 183 deaths.
South Korea has conducted aggressive testing by close tracking of every case and all those in contact with confirmed cases. Per capita, testing in South Korea has been far higher than the current level of testing in the US.
Force was not only absent in South Korea’s approach, but it also did not shut down its economy. Schools were closed but most of the country remained open for business. To mitigate the impact of deaths, South Korea has 4x the number of hospital beds per capita as the US.

TAIWAN.  With a population of 24 million, Taiwan reports only 355 confirmed cases and only 5 deaths. What’s Taiwan’s story?  See the CNN article below.

Much is still unknown about the coronavirus that causes the covid-19 disease and its impact on the body. As more experience and data are acquired, more is being learned and treatment is being adjusted accordingly. In the meantime, there are intense, widespread efforts to produce an effective and safe vaccine for prevention, and apply the most effective treatment to mitigate the impact on infected people.
COVID-19 is highly transmissible. Effective tracking and treating of every case, physical distancing, hand washing, not touching your face, and wearing face masks in public are keys to controlling the spread.

5 April 2020
Taiwan’s coronavirus response is among the best globally
By James Griffths, CNN
Hong Kong (CNN) — On January 25, as the world was still waking up to the potential danger of the novel coronavirus spreading rapidly out of central China, two governments recorded four new infections within their territory. 
Australia and Taiwan have similar sized populations of about 24 million people, both are islands, allowing strict controls over who crosses their borders, and both have strong trade and transport links with mainland China. Ten weeks on from that date, however, Australia has almost 5,000 confirmed cases, while Taiwan has less than 400.
The question is not what Australia did wrong — 20 countries have more cases than Australia, and seven have more than 10 times as many — but how Taiwan has kept the virus under control when other parts of the world have not.

Hard learned lessons

During the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2003, Taiwan was among the worst-hit territories, along with Hong Kong and southern China. More than 150,000 people were quarantined on the island — 180 kilometers (110 miles) off China’s southeastern coast — and 181 people died. 
While SARS now pales in comparison to the current crisis, it sent shockwaves through much of Asia and cast a long shadow over how people responded to future outbreaks. This helped many parts of the region react faster to the current coronavirus outbreak and take the danger more seriously than in other parts of the world, both at a governmental and societal level, with border controls and the wearing of face masks quickly becoming routine as early as January in many areas.
Taiwan has a world-class health care system, with universal coverage. As news of the coronavirus began to emerge from Wuhan in the run up to the Lunar New Year, officials at Taiwan’s National Health Command Center (NHCC) — set up in the wake of SARS — moved quickly to respond to the potential threat, according to a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
“Taiwan rapidly produced and implemented a list of at least 124 action items in the past five weeks to protect public health,” report co-author Jason Wang, a Taiwanese doctor and associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford Medicine, said in a statement. “The policies and actions go beyond border control because they recognized that that wasn’t enough.”
This was while other countries were still debating whether to take action. In a study conducted in January, Johns Hopkins University said Taiwan was one of the most at-risk areas outside of mainland China — owing to its close proximity, ties and transport links.
Among those early decisive measures was the decision to ban travel from many parts of China, stop cruise ships docking at the island’s ports, and introduce strict punishments for anyone found breaching home quarantine orders.
In addition, Taiwanese officials also moved to ramp up domestic face-mask production to ensure the local supply, rolled out islandwide testing for coronavirus — including retesting people who had previously unexplained pneumonia — and announced new punishments for spreading disinformation about the virus.

It is Lent, that time of year when some of the Christians fast. Which means what?


Lent means Sacrifice – Or what?

It’s that time of year when Christians get heavy in the pre Easter quasi-fast they call Lent. But what about if you have lost hope? What then? What matters when the chips are down and you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. William Morris, Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation, shares a few very personal thoughts: (image by aalmeidah from Pixabay )

On Loyalty


Men, women, you, me, everyone: In relationships, all of our genuine relationships, whether with God or with one another or with our pet dog, we all both require and offer loyalty. Loyalty means being there for one another, in the good times and the bad. It means a degree of MUTUAL commitment. This is deep and abiding friendship. And this is the real underpinning of love.

There are relationships not underpinned by loyalty, and these are not the mere dross of life, they are the weft and the warp of life. They too matter. But they are moments in the tapestry. They are not the threads that last.

We also have, all of us in some degree but moreso in some of us, an animal nature. Now there are the saints, the celibate and the indifferent. And we may go through phases in life, times when survival becomes more important than that other great driver, our sexuality, which is of course the engine that keeps the universe turning. Without the drive for procreation that affects and infects all that is, there would be stagnant nothingness.

For many of us, there is a need for a dimension in life in which there is raw intimacy, or at least the potential for intimacy, of the kind associated with procreation. This does not have to be with someone with whom we share a bond of mutual loyalty. But it is more satisfying in a deep and abiding way, if the two strands, the sensual animal nature, and the friendship, loyalty and affection, can be drawn together into one strand in a relationship with one other person.

Sometimes we build relationships with another that are founded on physical intimacy, or potential intimacy (which is the same thing really) in which one or other or both of us pretend loyalty, perhaps pretend even to ourselves. Those are relationships built on a deceit. And they are relationships all the same and can, in a very real sense, fulfill a need. Especially if both parties are exploiting each other. But often one party is abusing the other, making use of them to a greater degree. Which is difficult but is human nature.

These needs for intimacy, friendship, love and loyalty, may ebb and flow but are with us through eternity. They will always in some degree be unresolved because they are EVOLVING needs. They are a dimension of the potential to choose what we do or do not do which is substantially what makes us truly alive.

“Weep all of your tears and laugh all of your laughter,” once wrote the great Lebanese mystic Kahlil Gibran. And we do. And William Shakespeare once wrote, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” And we don’t. But we should perhaps.

Some of us have a need to fill cups of varying sizes with wine to drink. The vessel labelled friendship is pretty big, as are those labelled love and loyalty if we are lucky. But the one labelled intimacy is far smaller. Sometimes it even stands empty. Which is fine too if we are fine with that. There is a purity in the empty cup, in celibacy. Though not all of us are strong enough to keep an empty cup before us of our own volition.

Which leaves us with what? Well for one thing it leaves us with a reminder to be forgiving. There but for the grace of God go I . . .

So we should forgive. These are, after all, issues we all have to deal with. And the fact that some of us deal less well with these issues than others does not remove our obligation to feel compassion for each other.

However: It also leaves us with an obligation to make choices. We should choose our lives – not drift storm-tossed by the next current. If we fail to make choices we are just part of the dross of the universe, the flotsam and jetsam washed in on the next tide. With each deliberate choice we make we shape the future in ways both small and great. And make more of a difference than we shall ever know.

But there is something more. The true intimate relationship, that between a lover and the beloved, is the archetype, the model, for so much more. It is representative of the relationship between God and creation, between a ruler and the ruled, and in the best of organisations, between the bosses and the employees, or even between the head of the tribe or family and those in his or her care. The relationship between the ruler and the ruled must at its best be like the relationship between lovers. Only then does it truly work. Only in so much as a ruler loves his or her people, is that ruler worthy. So too the relationship between mankind and creation. We should be lovers. We have much to learn. And the longer we live the more we have yet to learn. When we are young we know everything. As we grow older we learn how little we know.

Which begs the question, should not the relationship between the ruler and the ruled be that of the parent and the child? So too the relationship between God and his children? Well yes – and no. A paternalistic worldview is fine enough in a feudal world. But we should be moving beyond that. Is the created equal with the creator? In some senses no, of course. But they are worthy of equal respect. Which is what we are taught when the “Old Testament” concept of God in dominion is set aside for the “New Testament” concept of the church as the bride of Christ. We are equal in many ways. We have an equal capacity for love because perfect love is just that, perfect. And we are equally worthy of respect. We are precious to one another. Christ is our brother, sister, lover. So too with the ruler and the ruled, and yes, so too in a perfect world, with the employer and the employee. We do not dominate one another, we serve each other.

Ruminations of a Sufi Master

Sufism is a means of focussing away from the commonplace, and the temporal, and transcending oneself as a means of encountering unity with God.

The absolute otherness of God is central to the Sufi approach. While humankind may perceive, comprehend and aspire to the attributes of God; such as Justice, Truth, Love and Mercy, the Essence of God is unknowable through the usual human means of knowing. This unknowability is the realm which Sufis endeavour to inhabit; the way of mystery and wonder. For Sufis the material world is a manifestation of God therefore all nature is imbued with the Divine while having its own temporal existence. God is the Prime Mover, the Progenitor and yet transcends space and time.  This is far from being a cause for humanity feeling abandoned by God in creation, rather a spur to search for the means by which we may glimpse the essence of the Creator through devotional practice, study and opening the heart and mind to a higher level of enlightenment. Such a life committed to seeking God is of necessity all-consuming. Religious language, practice and ethics draw us near to the Divine but the way of the Sufi is beyond traditional confessional faith structures and institutions; it is the way of the mystic, the spiritual pilgrim who is longing and striving to experience God is a way beyond knowing.

This God, who is the beginning and the end of all existence, is also the author of all existence so we, as humankind, are ourselves manifestations of God. Such an elevated view of humanity is a source of hope for a human universalism; if all could recognise our essential oneness with each other all ethnic, gender, religious or ideological differences would melt away. The Sufi is in this sense the vanguard of a New Humanity.

All world religions are subject to the limitations of their projections of God and God’s purposes. These projections are often based upon fear rather than love hence the tendency to binary opposites: Heaven and Hell, Good and Evil, Sinner and Saved etc.  These are well meant but are misconceptions; they detract from the Ultimate search for God and leave us in half-way state of comprehension and understanding. The Sufi pursues the essence of God and conceives it obliquely through the Beautiful and the Good; all that is life giving and life enhancing in the world. The Sufi is a practitioner of love in this world as their identity rests not upon any human esteem but on the deep understanding that they are loved by God in a reciprocal relationship of lover and loved.

“Soul, if you want to learn secrets, your heart must forget about shame and dignity. You are God’s lover…” Rumi

The above reflections on Sufism were penned by Rev Larry Wright, Convenor of the Religious Affairs Advisory Group, following an evening in discussion with Ayatollah Safavi, a man who radiates the calm, intelligent, enlightened personae of a dedicated and seasoned devotee. As a Sufi master he commands the respect and admiration not only of his followers but of people of good will from other faiths and none. As an Iranian he embodies the traditions of Persian and Shia Islamic culture with their poetic imagination and natural wonder.

Safavi shared his discourse  on the Sufi approach to The Divine, the Ultimate Cause;  God for some, Allah for others.  He began with a meditative chant or mantra which is part of his daily practice for centring his being and mind upon God.  Such practice is indication of the highly prayerful and mystical nature of Sufism.


بناء عالم أفضل

dap_20160526_induction_0013-xlالخنجر والرصاصة والقنبلة، لا يعرفون الأخلاق، غايتهم القتل وإنزال الضرر. ولكن من يملكون هذه الأسلحة، هم كائنات أخلاقية اختارت العنف. يستمدون هذا الاختيار من معتقداتهم، ومعتقداتهم مستمدة من القضايا او من الايديولوجيات التي اختاروها، او من الاثنين معاً.

إذا كان اختيارهم للعنف مستمد من التطرف الايديولوجي، ففي هذه الحالة هم يرون ان العالم منغلق وغير متسامح، بل ويجب ان يكون كذلك. فعليه، انه من الطبيعي بالنسبة لهم ان لا يبقون ولا يذرون كل من يقف في طريقهم لتحقيق غاياتهم. لذلك هم يتبنون مظهر القوة التي لا تقاوم.

ولكن، ماذا سيحدث عند تصادم القوة التي لا تقاوم بمجسم ثابت؟ في الواقع، لا يوجد شيء في الطبيعة لا يقاوم بشكل مطلق او ثابت بشكل مطلق. في واقع الصراعات على السلطة، الفعل وردة الفعل يحدثان بدرجات متفاوتة، وكلاهما يعكس الجانب الأسوأ من الآخر.

هل انا أصف داعش؟ قد اكون أصف نموذج كرومويل للجيش الانجليزي في فترة ما بعد ١٦٤٠ ميلادي. او قد اكون أصف الأنظمة الفاشية الأوروبية في الفترة ما بين ١٩٣٠ – ١٩٥٠ ميلادي. كلهم كانوا يعتقدون بأنهم بقوة لا تقاوم، ولكنهم كلهم قد هُزٍموا في نهاية المطاف. إرثهم الذي خلفوه كان ومازال هو العنف.

مقولة أفلاطون الشهرية، “وحدهم الأموات شهدوا نهاية الحرب”.

العنف يولد العنف، وأشقائه هم: العقاب والثأر والهجوم المضاد. الحكومات، بل وحتى الأفراد، يتبنون هؤلاء الأشقاء ويطلقونهم كيفما شاءوا وقتما شاءوا. ولكي نكسر دائرة العنف، يجب علينا ان نقاوم قوى العنف والانتقام من جذورها.

كل الحروب والصراعات تنتهي، وذلك يكون عن طريق إنهاك الأطراف المتنازعة او استسلامها او التدخل الخارجي او العملية الدبلوماسية. ولكن نهاية الصراع نادراً ما يكون بداية السلام المستدام، غالباً ما يكون توقف القتال مجرد انطباع بالسلام، وفي حين انه مجرد هدنة مستقبلها غير واضح.

لسنوات عديدة، لَبٍسَت امريكا وبريطانيا وحلفاؤهم عباءة الأخلاق التدخلية بالشؤون العالمية. وقد رأى الكثيرون ان هذه السياسة جاءت متأخرة جداً او على الأسوأ انها كارثة لكل من يعنيهم الأمر. ولأول مرة في التاريخ المعاصر، نتيجة للبس عباءة الأخلاق الغير صادقة في جوهرها، قد جلبت السياسة التدخلية العديد من ضحاياها الى شواطئ وشوارع الدول المتبنية لهذه السياسة. معاناة الصدمة واليأس والجوع والجرح الجسدي والنفسي لهؤلاء الضحايا تمثل خسارة للغرب، بقدر الخسارة التي يمثلها قتلى وجرحى جنود الغرب وحلفاؤه في الحروب الأخيرة.

وهناك رد فعل عنيف جديد يتجسد في عودة القوى السياسية الرجعية الشعبوية في امريكا واوروبا واماكن اخرى. الشعارات الشعبوية التي ينادون بها تنبذ ما يسمى بالقيم الليبرالية والديموقراطية التي هيمنت على الخطاب الدولي منذ عام ١٩٨٩ ميلادي. هذه القوى الجديد غير متحيزة الى، او تعارض، فكرة الأخلاق الدولية. وسيستخدمون العنف (الخطابي والفعلي) لتأمين حدود بلادهم، وسيولدون عقلية الحصار الوطني، وسيمارسون العزلة عن التدخل في الشأن العالمي، بدلاً من محاولة القيام بالتدخل بشكل أفضل.

لقد تضائل النفوذ الغربي في بلاد الشام، بل وينظر اليه كأمر غير مرغوب فيه. وفي الوقت حينه، قد ملئت قوى إقليمية أخرى الفراغ، ولكن هذه القوى تملك أجندة تاريخية وايديولوجية معادية للغرب. وفي الوقت نفسه، يشهد الغرب افلاسا اقتصاديا؛ فإن منظمة الأمم المتحدة تواجه نقص في الدعم المالي وفي حالة من التحفظ على مجلس الأمن للأمم المتحدة، والنظام الأمريكي الجديد عديم الخبرة ويفتقر الى المصداقية، واوروبا تتفكك كمشروع سياسي. يبدو انه قد تم حصر التدخل الغربي الى جانبين: ضربات عسكرية مستهدفة في بلاد الشام ومن جانب أخر الى القلق بشأن الاتفاقات التجارية في مناطق أخرى. يبدو ان الغرب يعاني من الجمود او التعطيل الأخلاقي.

إذاً من أين ستنشأ طاقة جديدة للتوفيق والتقارب العالمي؟ هل من روسيا او الصين او تركيا او الهند؟ هل نحن في فصل الشتاء الدبلوماسي؟

(لا خير في كثير من نجواهم إلا من أمر بصدقة أو معروف أو إصلاح بين الناس ومن يفعل ذلك ابتغاء مرضات الله فسوف نؤتيه أجرا عظيما) – الآية ١١٤ سورة النساء.

(طوبى لصانعي السلام) – انجيل متى ٩:٥

اذا كان الأجر العظيم لمن يصلحون بين الناس فنحن نحتاج ثورة من صانعي السلام وجيش من المصلحين. (اراميا فاونديشن؟ نكست سينتوري فاونديشن؟ انيشيتف اوف شينج؟) نحتاج تحالف بين الذين يعملون بلا كلل ولا ملل ويضحون من أجل السلام؛ مطالبين بتجديد السياسات الخارجية القائمة على الأخلاق، وتجديد النزعة الدولية، ومد اليد الى الأعداء ووهب شيئا من النور الى أظلم الاماكن.

كشخص متديّن، انا اتفهم نقاط ضعف التديّن، ولكن في الوقت ذاته اعرف قدرة الدين على الإلهام وتغيير حياة الكثيرين وإضفاء الرؤية الطموحة والأمل للبشرية في أيام الظلام.

يجب ان يلعب الايمان والتدين دورا هاما في سوريا والعراق في مرحلة ما بعد الصراع. ستحتاج سوريا والعراق الى كل النوايا الحسنة التي يمكن حشدها، والى مشروع اقتصادي واجتماعي غير مسبوق مثل مشروع مارشال. هذه تكلفة ذنوب الغرب وعناد الشرق وعدم ترابط الشرق الاوسط.

في إطار اي خطط مستقبلية للمناطق التي مزقتها الحرب في بلاد الشام، يجب ان تحظى القدس على مكانها في هذه الخطط، تلك المدينة في أعلى التل، التي تمثل نقطة يتجه اليها الكثير من البشر الذين يتوقون للرب.

نتمنى ان نجد الأمل والرؤية والعزم لبناء مستقبل حيث يرى الأحياء فيه نهاية الحرب.


Joint Statement from the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem

The following statement from the church leaders in Jerusalem and the Holy Land will not be reported in the mainstream press. What seems to be happening is a concerted effort by certain elements in the Knesset to erode Christian authority in Jerusalem. Please give this some thought and prayer. 

“Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed…” Isaiah 1.17
In July 2017, we, the heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, were compelled to issue a public statement of concern regarding breaches of the Status Quo that governs the Holy Sites and ensures the rights and privileges of the Churches. This Status Quo is universally recognised by both religious authorities and governments, and has always been upheld by the civil authorities of our region.
We now find ourselves united once again in condemning recent further encroachment on the Status Quo. In such matters as this, the Heads of the Churches are resolute and united in our opposition to any action by any authority or group that undermines those laws, agreements, and regulations that have ordered our life for centuries.
There have been further actions that are a clear breach of the Status Quo. The judgement in the “Jaffa Gate” case against the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which we regard as unjust, as well as a proposed bill in the Knesset which is politically motivated that would restrict the rights of the Churches over our own property, are further assaults on the rights that the Status Quo has always guaranteed.
We see in these actions a systematic attempt to undermine the integrity of the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and to weaken the Christian presence. We affirm in the clearest possible terms that a vital, vibrant Christian community is an essential element in the make-up of our diverse society, and threats to the Christian community can only increase the troubling tensions that have emerged in these turbulent times.
Such attempts to undermine the Christian community of Jerusalem and the Holy Land do not affect one Church only; they affect us all, and they affect Christians and all people of good will around the world. We have always been faithful to our mission to ensure that Jerusalem and the Holy Sites are open to all, without distinction or discrimination, and we are unanimous in our support of the actions, including a High Court appeal, against the judgement in the “Jaffa Gate” case and in our opposition to any proposed law that would restrict the rights of the Churches over our properties.
We therefore, as those to whom Divine Providence has entrusted the care of both the Holy Sites and the pastoral oversight of the living, indigenous Christian communities of the Holy Land, call upon our fellow Church leaders and faithful around the world, as well as the heads of governments, and all people of good will, to support us in order to ensure that no further attempts are made from any quarter to change the historical Status Quo and its provisions and spirit.
We cannot stress strongly enough the very serious situation that this recent systematic assault on the Status Quo has had on the integrity of Jerusalem and on the well-being of the Christian communities of the Holy Land, as well as on the stability of our society.
We, the Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, stand resolutely together in working for reconciliation and for a just and lasting peace in our region, and we ask God’s blessings on all the peoples of our beloved Holy Land.
The Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem
+Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
+Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator, Latin Patriarchate
+Fr. Francesco Patton, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
+Archbishop Anba Antonious, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem
+Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Aba Embakob, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey, Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate
+Archbishop Mosa El-Hage, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate
+Archbishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East
+Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land
+Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
+Msgr. Georges Dankaye’, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
(September 2017)

President Trump and the Acquiescence of Faith


On 22 August, five days after the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia; President Trump spoke to a large crowd of supporters in Phoenix, Arizona.  His speech was a mixture of political and patriotic exhortation, and the denunciation of those working against his vision, especially the liberal media.  He reasserted previous statements of condemnation of white supremacists and the KKK.

As part of the build-up to the speech he chose two well-known religious figures to open with unapologetic Christian prayers: Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham) and Dr Elvida King (Niece of Martin Luther King Jnr). Revd Graham’s prayer emphasised American exceptionalism and the danger of current social trends which overlook the poor, disregard equality and promote a personal ethic of greed and self-assurance. Dr King prayed for the right to life, a renewal of Christian virtue and a closing committal prayer to a One Almighty God.

President Trump was fulsome in his praise of those who had prayed and reasserted that America was a nation of faith. His speech then built upon an assumption of values which were inclusive and welcoming. The tenor of his speech was, thereafter, in parts polemical, wistful and condemnatory. The condemnation was particularly directed at those he regards as expressing a pernicious insouciance to the present and future state of America. The central part of the speech was a denunciation of the mainstream media, particularly CNN.  Though this admonition was central to his speech and garnered much vocal approval from the audience, others factors were significant:  President Trump referred to his love of all Americans and his desire for unity and cooperation. His demeanour throughout the speech was demotic and declamatory. This is a President who is realistic to his core supporters and not unaware of the ambiguities of his detractors, which he sees as their weakness.

From a religious perspective what were the main points of reference of his speech?  The prevailing assumptions underlying his oratory were that of American supremacy in the world and the importance of rallying the overlooked electorate to a renewed vision of an America under God which sets a standard for world polity. There were references to historical failures,   the triumph of American greatness over adversity and a belief in the destiny of America to lead the world by example and persuasion.

The event had a religious atmosphere – the feeling of a 19th century revivalist meeting – where all are included though not everyone belongs. There is a dissonance of this theology. Those who follow a path of inclusivity and universalism and believe in a God who is greater than any one nation, creed or character would hear phrases which challenge their view of an inclusive God.  Martin Luther King Junior once said:

“I’m not going to put my ultimate faith in the little gods that can be destroyed in an atomic age, but the God who has been our help in ages past and our hope for years to come, our shelter in the time of storm and our eternal home… Storms may come and go; our great edifices will come and go.  This is the God that demands and commands our ultimate allegiance”.

If his niece, and Franklin Graham, had referred to this vision it may have elevated the Phoenix speech to a higher level of oratory. As it stands, their contribution and President Trump’s speech are an expression of a set of political passions which play to a section of the American public but leave many more apprehensive and excepted.  If we are to assess Mr Trump’s presidency by its religious tenor, we can either acquiesce to his vision of religio-patriotic ascendency or pray that another “still small voce” penetrates the fascination of this populist, militant credo.

Fr Larry Wright, Religious Affairs Advisory Council, Westminster, London, September 2017