Bishop praises Iran
Christopher Morgan, The Sunday Times
8 April 2007
A leading Church of England bishop has claimed the Iranian president showed a better understanding of “moral and spiritual” values at the end of the naval hostage crisis than Britain’s political leaders.
Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, contrasted the words of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad favourably with Britain’s “free-floating” attitudes.
The bishop said that, watching the release of the British sailors and marines last week, “I saw on the one hand what Iran was doing, and what the president [of Iran] said had much to do with the moral and spiritual tradition of their country.
“The president talked about the religious background to the release, with reference to the Prophet’s birthday and the passing over of Christ. What struck me was that if there were any values on the British side they were free-floating and not anchored in a spiritual and moral tradition.
“Unless we reroot ourselves in a spiritual and moral tradition, we won’t know what we stand for and will not be able to confront other people, countries and ideological movements who are very clear where they stand.”
It emerged this weekend that Ahmadinejad’s reference to the “passing over” of Christ may have been in response to a note from Pope Benedict XVI. A Vatican source said the pontiff had written to the Iranian president the day before the release pleading for a goodwill Easter gesture.
Nazir-Ali’s words about Iran were echoed by Thomas Burns, the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Forces, who praised the Iranians’ release of the prisoners. Burns said that, as the Iranians believed their territorial waters had been violated, they had chosen to “put their faith into action to resolve the situation”.
“Faith in a forgiving God has been exemplified in action by their good deeds,” he said. “The Iranians offered to release the sailors and marines not just as the result of diplomacy but also as an act of mercy in accordance with their religion.”
The government will also face rebukes today over its Middle East policies from a number of senior Church of England bishops in Easter sermons.
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