The Presbyterian Church USA and the Anglican Communion in Great Britain seem locked in a neck and neck race to see which denomination can best debase the gospel message by bowing in submission before Islam.
You may recall that at the opening worship service of the most recent General Assembly meeting of the PCUSA (June 2016, in Portland, OR), that denomination’s top leaders decided to invite a local Muslim to help lead in worship. Prior to his scripted prayer (which drew from verses in the Qur’an), Mr. Wajdi Said began by chanting in Arabic (for which no translation was given): “I seek refuge with Allah from Satan the accursed.” He followed this with a recitation of the Fatiha, the opening Sura of the Qur’an, which contains a prayer asking Allah to guide those praying to the “straight path” (i.e., Islam), not the path of those who have incurred Allah’s wrath (i.e., the Jews), nor the path of those who have gone astray (i.e, the Christians). After this unscripted beginning, Mr. Said turned to his assigned liturgy. The Presbyterian leadership saw nothing wrong with this travesty, believing apparently that they were contributing to “interfaith dialogue” (although they labeled it “ecumenical dialogue at the time). Of course, there is nothing wrong with true interfaith dialogue, but to make it part and parcel of a service purporting to worship the Trinitarian God of the Bible is at the very least dimwitted and at worst blasphemous. (For detailed analysis of this event, check out “Wide Is the [Straight] Path…”.) Only when subsequent objections became too loud and numerous did then Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons issue a weak and whispered apology to any who “might have been offended” (See Gradye Parsons and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Apology.) Apparently the message of the gospel, which Christians down through the ages have suffered martyrdom for (not least at the hands of Muslims), can be swept aside in order to bow and scrape before the world of Islam.
Earlier this month, the Anglican Church mounted its own double-barreled offensive to outdo the PCUSA. The first occurred during a worship service at St. Mary’s Cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway for the Scottish Episcopal Church.
On Jan. 6th, the Feast of Epiphany, the church held a worship service in celebration of that holy day. “Epiphany” comes from a Greek word meaning “manifestation,” and its aim is to celebrate the manifestation of “…the majesty and divinity of the newborn Savior,” Jesus Christ. So it would make perfect sense, wouldn’t it, in the midst of Christian worship celebrating the majesty and divinity of the newborn Savior of the world, that the Cathedral officials would invite a Muslim to chant a passage from the Qur’an which intentionally denies this conviction?
The text in question is from Sura Mariam (19), verses 16-36, the majority of which presents a fanciful narrative (inspired in large measure by the apocryphal Syriac Infancy Gospel dated to the 5th-6th C. AD) of the young virgin Mary’s experience from annunciation to the birth of Jesus and his infant proclamation to the crowd that he indeed is the servant of Allah and a true prophet, thereby exonerating his mother of even the hint of sin. However, it is the punchline of this text that flies in the face of the core Christian teaching that Jesus is the divine Son of God. Here is the English translation of Sura 19:35-36 (Hilali-Khan trans., parenthetical comments are those of the translators):
It befits not (the Majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son [this refers to the slander of Christians against Allah, by saying that ‘Iesa (Jesus) is the son of Allah]. Glorified (and Exalted be He above all that they associate with Him). When He decrees a thing, He only says to it, “Be!” and it is. [‘Iesa (Jesus) said]: “And verily Allah is my Lord and your Lord. So worship Him (Alone). That is the Straight Path. (Allah’s Religion of Islamic Monotheism which He did ordain for all of His Prophets).”
The Cathedral provided an English translation of the Qur’anic recitation up through verse 33, either unwittingly or intentionally omitting these offensive teachings from view for all except those who know Arabic. Nonetheless, they were proclaimed in a cathedral in the midst of worship directed ostensibly to the Triune God. The message they enshrine is that Jesus is not the Son of God, that he is not divine (only Allah is worthy of majesty), and that Jesus himself claimed he was on the same level as all other human beings when it came to relationship with God. This is the “straight path,” according to the Qur’an. Obviously, that means the gospel is a crooked path, and will lead one to hell.
As you can see in the video above, the Muslim woman is reciting behind a podium known as the Eagle Lectern. Fairly common in Anglican church furniture, the Eagle Lectern is meant to hold the Bible as it is read to the people. The eagle itself symbolizes the uplifting and spreading of the Word of God to all the world. How wonderful that now it serves equally to broadcast the anti-gospel word of Islam to any listeners….
The provost of St. Mary’s, Kelvin Holdsworth, who is responsible for this disgrace, defended his decision in the face of a subsequent storm of protest. His rationale was three-fold: 1) everything else in the service upheld the traditional beliefs of the Christian faith; 2) we’ve had Muslim recitations in the past with no fallout; 3) our goal is hospitality, not syncretism.
Apparently it’s okay to eat a meal with a pinch of deadly poison on your plate, as long as everything else is safe and edible. It must be okay because we’ve done it before and haven’t noticed very many ill effects. And after all, we want to have good relations with those who peddle poison, not scare them away, so we will smile and swallow what they eagerly give us.
To show you how far out of touch Mr. Holdsworth is from a biblical worldview, his analysis of why there has been such a hostile reaction to this event from Christians boils down to homophobia or misogyny. In his own blog posting, he confesses that prior to the uproar he had thought that he might have generated controversy over his choice of tune to go with the hymn Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning, “…which may have taken some people by surprise.” In light of the over 10,000 mostly negative responses the Cathedral received, Mr. Holdsworth concluded they were generated certainly by ignorant Islamophobia, but exacerbated by hatred for homosexuals and women (which, interestingly, are hallmarks of Islamic practice, though the provost didn’t mention that…). So, he mused,
This same Qur’anic reading has been given before in services and no outcry has happened. Is it because this is in a cathedral run by a gay man? Is it because the recitation was given by a young woman?
Well, of course! Who in their right mind would be offended that a foreign religion’s slur upon the God of Christianity and the Savior of the world would be tolerated, not to say, celebrated in a sanctuary dedicated to the gospel? What could generate such passion? Oh, yes. Homophobia! Misogyny! That explains it.
Holdsworth doubled down on his defense. The problem church leadership in the Anglican Communion faces is not bowing down before the demands of Islamic supremacists, but rather being cowed by Islamophobic activists. We must open the doors to the anti-Christian views of Islam, and shut our ears to the complaints of those who want the Church to stand tall for the gospel over against Islam.
In this midst of all this mess, the primus (head bishop) of the Scottish Episcopal Church, David Chillingworth, took a tiny step in the right direction with his official statement:
The decisions which have led to the situation in St. Mary’s Cathedral are a matter for the provost and the cathedral community but the Scottish Episcopal Church is deeply distressed at the widespread offense which has been caused. We also deeply regret the widespread abuse which has been received by the cathedral community.
Notice, however, in this carefully crafted statement there is no acknowledgement of the wrongfulness of what had been done, but only deep distress that widespread offense had been caused. And, of course, focus of culpability is equally directed toward those who abusively called out the cathedral staff for their unfaithful acts.
As of yet, there has been no mea culpa from Holdsworth and his staff, only defensiveness and counter-attack.
Not to be outdone, the nabobs of Gloucester Cathedral in England launched a multi-cultural Faith Exhibition before a thousand attendees on January 14th. It kicked off with an Islamic call to prayer led by one Imam Hassan of a local mosque.
But Gloucester Cathedral’s leadership is much more visionary and inclusive than the rubes of Glasgow. According to the Cathedral website, the launch entertainment also included:
- Buddhist chanting
- Rasta drumming
- Hindu dancing
- Rasta story telling
- Salvation Army brass band
- Jewish Klezmer band
- Gospel choir
- Pagan rock band
- A Fire eating vicar
- Face painting
- Much more
For six weeks, 37 portraits on display will highlight unique elements of “…Zoroastrians, Druids, Witches, Pagans and Baha’i as well as all the other more well-known religions.” It may be that Christianity will be included in all this, too. Who knows?
I’d say that for now the Anglican Communion has jumped out into the lead over the Presbyterian Church USA in the race over which denomination can most quickly cross the finish line into oblivion. Sadly, many other liberal denominations are laboring to catch up and pass the front-runners.
Is there any good news in all this? Certainly! God has promised that He will always keep a remnant of His people secure from compromise. Jesus declared that the gates of hell would never be able to withstand the march of his Church. The Kingdom of God will prevail in the end. On this we stake our hopes. (Incidentally, both offending videos embedded in this blog have been removed for their respective cathedrals’ official websites.)
And for the denomination which wins the race to Islamic subjugation and oblivion, what will be its prize? I don’t claim to know. But perhaps the Islamic prayers for the dead will be chanted over it, and over each denomination that follows in its footsteps. That’s the least the Muslim world can do.