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World Cup - Moment of Truth?

The first week of the football World Cup has been dominated not so much by the group games but the headlines arising from myriad cultural divisions across the globe.

Would England Captain, Harry Kane, wearing a “One Love” armband, honour the ‘LGBTQ+ community’ or disrespect Qatari culture?

Is the priority to ‘when in Rome…’ or the upholding of inherent Human Rights?

Are Virgin Airlines, the England team carrier, right to have one policy on gender-neutral clothing for some routes and another if flying to places like Qatar?

Should, as FIFA President Gianni Infantino said, “…Europeans and the Western world… be apologising for the next 3,000 years before giving moral lessons…” to the rest of the globe?

How realistic is it for a Briton or American to have reservations about the World Cup hosts when Qatar played such a key role in the first Gulf War- a conflict many at home, and much more so abroad, regard as illegal?

In a Christian context, why is there so much concern for some ‘human rights’ but not that Qatar is 18th in Open Doors’ rankings of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution? Or for that matter that Saudi Arabia who had an extraordinary win against Argentina on Tuesday are 11th? When the England team thrashed the Iran XI the same day was there any mention that the government of Iran are in the ‘top ten’ of this scandalous list? Of course not. But more tellingly, is anyone surprised? And is the Iranian regime appalled or proud at their “status”?

The Church of England’s bishops have not been silent. In the Church Times, the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North said,

“Normally with the World Cup, I get passionately excited — I become like a ten-year-old boy again. But, this year, I cannot get any way excited at all. This is, I think, a thoroughly unjust sporting occasion which is sullying football.”

The Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Libby Lane also commented at some length.

Albeit late in the day, some 12 years after Qatar was awarded the tournament, such arguments are raging in ‘the Western world’, although it is notable how much of the rest of the world seems far less concerned.

In all this is seen the problem of truth being contextualised. All the debate, in all its multiple dimensions, has come down to one fundamental issue: are some truths universal or can all truths be made contextual? That issue becomes all the more acute if those claiming the former do not come to the discussion with clean hands but can immediately be accused of the self-contradiction of hypocrisy.

Characteristically, Bishop North, recognised the depth of the issue. On The Today Programme commenting on what was an entirely relativist speech by the FIFA President, he saw the danger of cross-cultural critics such as himself being silenced by,

“… a line of thinking that is used frequently in contemporary discourse . . . that if your own life, or the life of the institution you represent, is in any way flawed, then you should not criticise the actions of others.”

All this is why it is such a mistake to accept, for whatever reasons, the contextualisation of truth on important matters - it prevents true justice.

And yet, as is well known, that is exactly what the Archbishop of Canterbury has done when it comes to matters of human identity[1]. His position is that what is good and rational and life-giving in one cultural context can simultaneously be bad, unthinkable and extremely dangerous in another.

This is also why it would be such a mistake for those currently engaged in the Church of England’s own debates on human sexuality to advance arguments reliant on the (absolutely real) dangers to Christians in some majority-Muslim contexts in order to resist change here. To do so sells the pass on contextualisation. Indeed, the same applies to any appeal to any “lived experience” as conclusive, where only revealed truth can be.

Contrary to what the Western world and Justin Welby thinks, truth is not plural, and it is not contextual. Only in that will justice, in its ‘blindness’, be present for all.

[1] “For the large majority of the Anglican Communion the traditional understanding of marriage is something that is understood, accepted and without question, not only by Bishops but their entire Church, and the societies in which they live. For them, to question this teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries would make the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack. For many churches to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence.

“For a minority, we can say almost the same. They have not arrived lightly at their ideas that traditional teaching needs to change. They are not careless about scripture. They do not reject Christ. But they have come to a different view on sexuality after long prayer, deep study and reflection on understandings of human nature. For them, to question this different teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries is making the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack. For these churches not to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence. Justin Welby at Lambeth Conference


Image from Sony Pictures Television Intl

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