Anglicans in the West tend to think in terms of Canterbury, and occasionally of Jerusalem, in somewhat similar ways as the Roman Catholic Church thinks of Rome. Our history flows through Canterbury, and we have a fondness for Jerusalem. The Anglican Church through the work of the CMJ and others in the 1790’s was the first western Church to reach out to the Jewish people in modern days.
As it turns out, the Anglican archbishop overseeing Jerusalem is in fact the archbishop of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, and currently is also the Bishop of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, the Most Rev’d Mouneer Anis. That’s all a mouthful, as they say. More to the point: Jerusalem is intimately connected to Egypt now, in the days of Abraham, and in the days of Jesus himself, and many Anglicans in the global south own those roots: for them, this province of Jerusalem and the Middle East is a personal connection to the history of God’s people. Think in terms of the many genealogies in Scripture. So, for much of the Anglican Communion today, the events in Egypt are experienced as a family tragedy.
Furthermore, these family connections have also taken shape on an organizational level with the formation of the Anglican Global South and the GAFCON movement. Egypt is on the one hand claimed by the Middle East and on the other hand by Africa. As the Church in the Global South continues to grow in number, maturity and strength, the GAFCON movement will likewise grow in its role within the Communion. The crisis in Egypt will likely give GAFCON another opportunity to further unite in a witness of solidarity. The show of organizational goodwill will make it easier for the same Provinces to work together at for example the upcoming conference in Nairobi.
While the violence in Egypt may actually be strengthening Anglicans, by giving them an opportunity to show their unity, the Church’s response to Islam in Egypt has been one of that Church’s greatest gifts to Anglicanism and Christianity at large. Abp. Mouneer and the Diocese engage the Grand Mufti and scholars at Al-Azhar Mosque and University in conversation and witness. The Church is reaching out in confidence even in the middle of this week’s violence.
The events in Egypt are a reflection of and an outgrowth of the serious debates raging through the Muslim world. Al-Qaeda is fundamentally opposed to what they see as the liberal or lax faith of most Muslims. The Sunni and the Shi’a are both trying to assert what is the correct form of Islam. The Arab Spring was described in terms of a new generation of Muslims wanting a democratic, secular form of government, or at least wanting to oust the autocratic leaders.
The Church in Egypt has seen these debates up close and has been persistent in her witness to the life and hope found in Jesus Christ. This unique role has been acknowledged by the current and previous Archbishops of Canterbury. The Churches in Nigeria, Sudan, and Malaysia have keen insights to add to our understanding of engaging the many forms of Islam. The witness in Cairo however is a thermometer of the whole Church’s engagement and witness with Muslims around the world.
The events in Egypt are important to Anglicans because our family roots go to the middle east, because the Global South movement is coming into maturity, and because the Church has a responsibility to be a witness of hope to Muslims and all peoples across the Globe. Therefore, let’s pray for Bishop Mouneer, the Diocese, and the peace of that land.