Over 2,000 years ago Jesus Christ very effectively halted a mob who were ready to stone a woman to death for adultery. It is a key moment in the New Testament when he asks those about to unleash the punishment whether any among them is without sin.
It is key to the moral theology of Christianity because it emphasises compassion, forgiveness, and, of course, a firm purpose of amendment – carrying the coda “go and sin no more”.
But it is also a key moment in the evolution of western civilisation. It is also a reason why Christianity, from the outset and all through the ages, and in every mission station on the globe, has always attracted women, because women were seen as people in the Christian message and not just tribal chattels.
It is, alas, an indication that the Islamic world has not yet made that leap of evolutionary moral thinking that Islamic countries such as Iran are still sentencing women to death by stoning for an alleged adultery offence.
Azar Bagheri is a young Iran ian who was forced into marriage, and subsequently charged with adultery, and sentenced to be stoned to death. The sentence has not yet been carried out because she is too young, but she could still face such a death sentence when she turns 18. She might be spared the death penalty and her sentence reduced to a “mere” 99 lashes instead.
Let us hope that campaigners trying to rescue this young woman are successful, in the name of humanity.
And let’s remember that the first campaigner against this brutal form of punishment – often meted out by those who are themselves less than perfect – was the founder of Christianity.
In the Holland-Spain World Cup match on Sunday it was interesting to observe that both these countries are successful monarchies.
The Queen of Spain sat next to the Crown Prince of the Netherlands at the final in South Africa, and sportsmanlike kisses and hugs were exchanged all around.
My royal expert tells me that, unusually for two European royal houses, the monarchs of Spain and the Netherlands are not related by kinship. The Spanish King and Queen are both descendants of Queen Victoria, as is nearly everyone on a European throne – except the Dutch.
Were British supporters divided between Protestants (for the House of Orange, who produced William of Orange) and Catholics (since Spanish monarchs were once Their Most Catholic Majesties)? I don’t think the bookies thought so. According to calculations, though, Catholic countries win more international football matches than Protestant countries – and so it proved.
One cannot but be sorry for Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had a humiliating defeat with his original compromise plan over women bishops (women could be bishops, but opponents could avoid being subject to a woman bishop).
The Church of England’s sense of compromise is, in tactical terms, both its strength and its weakness. Compromise can promote harmony, and tolerance for differing views. But compromise can also mean the sands are constantly shifting and the goalposts moving. An absolute rule, brooking no compromise, has at least the logic of clarity and consistency.
This factionalism within the C of E certainly won’t hasten the day when women are ordained in the Catholic Church. And think of potential for arguments among a billion people!
“What happened to a Church of England which used to be so tolerant of many diverse sections, to provide a ‘broad church’ for all Anglicans?” I hear Anglicans ask regretfully.
A lot of different things happened, and one of them was the contemporary accursed obsession with “rights”. As soon as any faction, in any faith – or any other group – starts raucously demanding its rights, without ever mentioning the concomitant responsibilities, internecine hostilities inevitably follow.
The writer Christopher Hitchens – his autobiography was reviewed in these pages last week – has been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus, and has had to cancel tours promoting his book. There was also a suggestion that he might participate in a civil “arrest” of Pope Benedict XVI on the September visit to Britain, but although Chris supported this proposal he never was due to carry it out.
It has been reported that some Christians in America have said Hitch is being punished for his atheism. I have heard no such suggestions this side of the pond (although the thought did occur to me that “God is not mocked” may be one riposte to the title of his polemical book God Is Not Great). More forgivingly, I have heard it suggested here that people should pray for him, possibly to Mother Teresa. This certainly would be the right Christian spirit.