Having introduced Geert Wilder’s Fitna film and surveyed its political repercussions over the past few days, in part 3 I will examine how the Christian world is officially responding to Fitna. First up, the Roman Catholic response; then, we’ll look at the Protestant response.
Roman Catholic Response
Silence So Far on Fitna
So far I have not found any official statements from the Vatican or other Roman Catholic sources regarding Fitna. If the Vatican’s past action of condemning the offensive Danish cartoons is any indicator, perhaps we should expect an official Vatican condemnation of Fitna soon. However, Vatican’s slow response may involve continued tensions in Vatican-Muslim relations due to Magdi Allam’s Easter baptism.
Ongoing Natural Law Tensions Perhaps Slowing Positive Momentum
The recent conversion and Easter baptism by Pope Benedict of Magdi Allam may have slowed the positive momentum in Christian-Muslim relations, evidenced most recently by the scheduled Vatican forum to discuss A Common Word in November and the Vatican’s negotiations toward opening a Catholic church in Saudi Arabia. In spite of the official Vatican preemptive press release about Allam’s baptism, Professor Aref Ali Nayed, a signer of the A Common Word letter, strongly condemned the Pope’s baptizing of Allam, claiming the Easter baptism to be a political spectacle.
Nayed’s condemnation received a rebuttal by Father Federico Lombardi, who reiterated the Vatican’s commitment to continuing the A Common Word dialog while at the same time re-stating the Pope’s arguments regarding Islam’s failure to navigate the church-state relationship in a post-Enlightenment world. (See Pope Benedict’s 2006 speech for his Enlightenment critique of Islam.) Speaking of the Vatican’s response to Nayed, Jeff Israely writes for Time.com:
Nonetheless, Allam’s public conversion is another reminder that the Vatican is not shying away from the more prickly questions in its complicated relations with Islam. Benedict has made what he calls a “frank” public conversation with the Muslim world a high priority of his papacy, arguing that Islam should address the violent minority within its ranks by incorporating the theories of “natural law” the way Christianity did with the Western ideas of the Enlightenment (A Muslim Critic Turns Catholic by Jeff Israely).
Thus, the differences between Roman Catholicism’s view of human rights as grounded in the Thomistic nature-grace dichotomy (and natural law theory) and Islam’s failure to distinguish church and state is thrust once again to the forefront of the Vatican’s relations with Islam.
Official Protestant Responses
Protestant Churches in the Netherlands
On 17 March 2008, ten days before the Internet premier of Fitna, the following groups issues a joint declaration against Fitna entitled, Declaration of Churches and Muslim Organizations in the Netherlands (PDF):
- Contact Committee Muslims and Government (CMO),
- Contact Group Islam (CGI),
- Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PCN), and
- Council of Churches in the Netherlands.
In addition to publishing the Declaration, the Protestant groups sent a delegation to various Muslim countries to ensure Muslim leaders that Wildres does not speak for the Protestant church in the Netherlands:
In view of the situation that has arisen because of the film of Mr. Wilders, the executive leaders of the CMO, CGI and PCN felt it necessary to again meet and come to further agreements. The general secretary of the Council of Churches in the Netherlands also attended this consultation. The outcome of this consultation was the decision to jointly visit a number of Islamic countries, to show that the relations between Muslims and Christians in the Netherlands are good, and to explain that the churches strongly reject contempt for another person’s religion. The statements of Mr. Wilders show that his intention is to drive a wedge between the Islamic community and the rest of Dutch society.
As Muslims and Christians, we are convinced that, in these complex times, we have the task of building bridges, overcoming distrust and combining our efforts for justice and peace. The chief purpose of the visit is to draw attention to the fact that the majority of the Dutch people reject the insulting of Islam. (Quoted from the Declaration.)
Protestant Responses Outside the Netherlands
Netherlands churches were not the only Protestant groups to issue official statements condemning Fitna as bigoted propaganda. In another preemptive Protestant effort, the Council of Churches in Indonesia sought a ban on Wilders’ film. Likewise, in February of this year the World Council of Churches (WCC) issued a brief statement echoing “concern expressed in the Netherlands and in other parts of the world following rumours of the release of a film against the Qur’an by a Dutch member of parliament.” These statements make clear that the worldwide Christian community is starting to distinguish, at least on paper (if not yet in practice in local communities), between political propaganda (i.e. blatant attempts to stir up “Islamophobia”) and the actual faith and practice of the Muslims who live next door.
WCC’s Press Release Regarding A Common Word
Although not directly related to the Fitna film, the March 26 press release explaining the WCC’s response to A Common Word–just one day before Fitna was released–could be seen as as well-timed “political” move by the WCC, as if to prove its robust commitment to interfaith dialog amidst the Fitna fiasco. (See the Reuters report on the WCC’s A Common Word response.)
More to the Protestant Picture
By reporting these official responses from the likes of the WCC I do not intend to give an unqualified affirmation that either (a) the WCC speaks for all Protestants (i.e. the WCC is not the “Protestant Pope”) or (b) that the WCC response represents a monolithic Protestant stance. The full spectrum of the Christian response needs to be filled out a little more.
As I mentioned in the introduction to part 2, I surveyed briefly international political responses to Fitna in order to draw a comparison between the ambivalent political response and the Christian world’s response. Accordingly, in my next post I will examine a bit of the “unofficial” Protestant response with the goal of filling out the Christian response picture more completely before drawing the concluding comparison.