Iraq is worse than ever. So says Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, where he pastors the only Anglican church in Iraq. Since March, 2,100 people have died in sectarian violence. With 260,000 Christians left in the country, where 1.5 million Christians used to live, White works for reconciliation between religious and political factions in one of the world's most volatile areas.
As Beeson Divinity School's Timothy George puts it in First Things, "If Jesus came back to the Middle East today, I think he would look a lot like the Reverend Canon Dr. Andrew White."
That's one reason why White is the newest recipient of the William Wilberforce Award, presented by the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. The organization recognized White with the honor Saturday, May 3, in Virginia for his work and influence in the Middle East. It's also one reason he is called a "prophet" by other supporters in the United States.
White heads the High Council of Religious leaders in Iraq, where he brings together Sunni and Shia Islamic leaders. He is also the president of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East. White recently hosted an historic meeting between Israelis, Palestinians, and Iraqis in Cyprus, where he described the attendees as "coming as enemies and leaving as friends." White's most recent book is Older Younger Brother: The Tragic Treatment by Christians of the Jews. Kate Tracy, CT editorial resident, and Timothy C. Morgan, CT senior editor for global journalism, interviewed White several days before he received the award.
Growing up in the UK, did you want to model your life after William Wilberforce?
When I was a student, I lived in Clapham, where Wilberforce lived, and became aware of him. Then, I was ordained and my first post was in Clapham. Every day, I used to pass the house where William Wilberforce lived, and I prayed, "Lord, one day, may I be able to be just a little bit like Wilberforce?" But I never dreamt that I would get an award named after Wilberforce.
If Wilberforce was living today, would he be fighting in the British parliament or would he be on the frontline like you?
Fighting in the British Parliament is frontline. I'm very keen on politicians who take their faith seriously and bring about actual change. When I was in Clapham, I was also elected to the council. I was the only man in the country who was both an elected politician for the Conservative Party and clergy.
Are Iraq and Baghdad better or worse off since the 2003 invasion?
The situation is probably the worst it has ever been. There's a severe, serious escalation in the violence. There's extreme corruption in the government. We don't think anything will really change. Every day in Baghdad, we're having people killed in terrorist bombings.
The church is now surrounded by bomb barricades and you have to go through four checkpoints to get to it. It's almost like being in our own little green zone. It's frequented by so many people because it has a school there. It has a free clinic and patients are treated without charge for medicines and treatment. All tests are free and 95 percent of our patients are Muslims.
Is there no functional Christian community left in Iraq?
There used to be 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. Now there are 260,000. Do you know where the most Iraqi Christians are today in the world? Chicago. There are more Iraqi Christians in Chicago than any other place in the world.