Canon Andrew White is a quintessential English clergyman who plays a central role in the Middle East peace process
He’s either the antichrist or the “vicar of Baghdad,” depending on your point of view. But one thing is for sure: Canon Andrew White is a husband and father who’s been charged with quelling the biggest family feud in history.
White spearheads the religious track of the Middle East peace process, aiming to bridge the age-old chasm between Abraham’s warring “children” in the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities.
He has negotiated in many areas of conflict, including the 2002 siege at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He is now working with other religious leaders to rebuild Iraq since the capture of Saddam Hussein–“the biggest weapon of mass destruction,” as he calls him.
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Representative to the Alexandria Process, the official name for the religious track of the peace process, White assisted in the recent launch of the Iraqi Centre for Reconciliation, Dialogue and Peace in Baghdad.
It was a most bizarre opening for a peace center–as tanks and troops oversaw the proceedings. “There again, this is Baghdad,” White said, “where making peace is dangerous business.”
Just after his interview with Charisma, his security guards intercepted armed intruders at his Baghdad base. A few days later he was worshiping near the churches that were bombed Aug. 1.
So far his ministry has been through the International Centre for Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral in England. But he is about to set up his own foundation to support his work in the Middle East.
Brought up in the Assemblies of God, White became an Anglican while training as an operating department practitioner at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London.
“I got involved with St. Mark’s Church [in] Kennington, which was the great charismatic hothouse of the Church of England in those days,” he explained.
His pursuit of theology and Jewish and Islamic studies prepared him well for his present role. “In the early days of visiting Iraq I was really frowned upon,” he said. But that changed as war loomed–and governments realized that White had knowledge and experience of the country.
Despite being tall and quintessentially English, White has the ability to blend into the regional culture–thanks to his Anglo-Indian looks. His family has roots in India that go back to the 19th century.
Locals in Iraq and Israel will often refer to him as “Father Andrew.” They include a homeless Iraqi teenager named David who has been fostered by this Anglican priest since the Iraq war.
Back home in England, White has two sons of his own–Josiah, 7, and Jacob, 5. His wife, Caroline, is a lawyer. “It’s not easy being away so much of the time,” he said. “They make sacrifices, too.”
He said it’s most challenging for the boys, who will say things such as, “Why aren’t you like other daddies?” But they still join in. Jacob chats with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the phone. “My other son sees himself more identified with the Jews–he will talk to the rabbis.”
Another religious leader who has shown an interest in White’s work is Benny Hinn. The healing evangelist interviewed him recently on his TV program–and was clearly impressed with the gently spoken Anglican clergyman.
He also prayed for his guest, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. But their meeting resulted in a strong backlash. “I was called the antichrist,” White said. “All sorts of people started saying I was a Mason and other untrue things. I was accused of being part of a one-world movement trying to take over the world.”
How did he feel about that? “I haven’t thought about taking over the world yet,” he joked. “I haven’t had time.” However, the TV appearance also produced “hundreds of positive e-mails.”
A Canadian viewer wrote to say he became a Christian as a result of watching the interview. “He thought the church was totally irrelevant–then suddenly realized it was relevant.”
So much of White’s ministry sounds like an Old Testament prophet’s life–stories of angelic protection, meetings with kings and princes, working on the edge of danger–the list goes on.
Even when he relaxes, the biblical trappings are there. “I had my 40th birthday in Baghdad the other day,” he said. “We killed a sheep and ate it in a tent in Saddam’s garden.”
Clive Price in London