CHRISTIANS are being targeted by “anxious” athiests because the rise of radical Islam and terrorist attacks have created a deep-seated suspicion of religion, the Archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday.
Dr Rowan Williams said Christians are being viewed with growing suspicion and treated as “surrogates” for some extremist branches of Islam in the minds of “anxious secularists”.
He also accused the Government of assuming all vicars were “imams in dog collars” while imams were “vicars in turbans”.
His outspoken comments came during his first public service since the announcement of his decision to stand down as Archbishop at the end of this year.
They come amid signals that intends to use his final months in office to speak out forcefully on issues which on which he feels passionate.
One Lambeth Palace source was quoted at the weekend as saying that he was preparing to “wage war” on the Government over what he sees as social injustice and a failure to rein in the excesses of the financial world.
Looking relaxed and upbeat, he said he had no fear of criticism and signalled that he thought the recent controversies had helped trigger a “stirring” within Christianity.
He made his comments during a Sunday service at Springfield Church, an alternative Anglican congregation which meets in a school hall rather than a traditional church building, in Wallington, Surrey.
During an informal discussion with the minister the Revd Will Cookson, he disclosed that even he had not known that he was about to stand down as Archbishop until Thursday afternoon when he received the call to tell him he had been elected Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.
He said that he had drawn up “shadow” plans for a sudden announcement, allowing him to contact the Queen and make the necessary announcement before it leaked out.
Revd Cookson asked him about the recent debate over secularism adding: “Do you think that the real issue for them isn’t necessarily Christianity but actually radical Islam, that it is more of a reaction to radical Islam and we are the surrogate for that.”
Dr Williams said: “I think there is a lot of truth in [that]. It is the last decade that has seen the great rise in anxious secularism, a real suspicion of religion in public.
“And I think it is 9/11 that has brought that to a head. We are also in a culture where a lot of people simply don’t know how religions work.
“I sometimes think the problem with a lot of government initiatives is that they assume either that vicars are imams in dog collars or imams are vicars in turbans.
“[They assume] that there is one way of being religious – either you are a sort of committed fanatic who wants to subvert the whole to your agenda or you are a sort of woolly liberal who can be persuaded who can be persuaded to go along with whatever is happening in society.
“The Church isn’t either of those things, it is the assembly of Christ’s friends with good news to share.”
In a signal that he has no plans to shy away from controversy in his final months in office, he said that one of the things that had sustained him so far was a belief that he is “answerable” to God, not the editors of newspapers.
He said that when he was criticised he drew inspiration from the words of a man he had met who had suffered terribly for taking a stand against apartheid in South Africa.
Dr Williams told the congregation: “He said ‘you get to the point where you know that they can’t tough you ‘ – he knew who he was answerable to.
“In a tiny, tiny way I understand one millimetre’s worth of what that means.”
He was also bullish about the future role of the Church in British society adding that the recent controversies over secularism had led to a “stirring” within Christianity.
“I am hopeful … because I see so many good things at grass roots and the sense that the Church is stirring in all kinds of ways,” he said.
“That the Church remains in extraordinary ways, often in the most deprived and challenging communities, a place that people can trust.”