I need to put the record straight. It’s all too easy for clergy to suffer from pomposity.
I’m often describe as the Queen’s chaplain, whereas in fact there are droves of us; 36 in total. The Royal ecclesiastical household is a busy place. But the mistake, usually a press mistake is good for headlines. “THE Queen’s chaplain has said”..sounds hugely important in a headline, and it is very misleading.
And it happened again this week. THE Queen’s chaplain condemns reading of the Koran in cathedral. It was ‘a’ chaplain. I am in fact very much in favour of people reading the Koran. There are some beautiful and moving passages about loving God and being generous; and blood curdling ones about punishing and killing people who misbehave. But there is a time and a place.
I wrote a letter to the Times after they reported an incident in a Glasgow cathedral, and had turned the whole story into a lament about extremist hate crimes.
So what happened? The Provost of Glasgow’s Episcopal Church’s St Mary’s Cathedral, decided he would like to reach out to the Muslim community in friendship. So far, 10 out of 10. The trouble was he decided to do it by replacing a reading from the Bible with a reading of the Koran. And he decided to do it at the Eucharist on the Feast of the Epiphany. That’s a major festival after Christmas when Christians celebrate the visit of the foreign scientists, the Persian wise men or astronomers, who came to worship the Christ child.
Then, just to add the glowing cherry of offence to the iced cake of incompetence, he chose a famous passage in the Koran that repudiates the divinity of Christ. It’s the passage Muslims use when they want to convince Christians that the Gospels are full of lies about Jesus-that they were deceived about him being the Word made flesh, or that he actually rose from the dead. It’s Surah 19. A great polemic rebuttal of Jesus and faith in him as God himself, come to die on the cross so that we could be forgiven our flaws and failures. And it was read with relish by a Muslim law student, who then lost no time in placing the video on You Tube.
The provost tried to explain that he saw this as a bridge building exercise in mutual understanding. Now that would have been interesting if he was able to show any examples of Muslims reading out passages from the Christian Gospels in their Mosques. There are some wonderful passages in the New Testament about Jesus being the image of the invisible father – see him and you have seen the mind behind the universe; or passages about him being the one who will judge every human heart at the end of time; or about him being the resurrection and life of all who put their trust in him.
You are head of me already of course. There aren’t any examples of Muslims reading out the passages during their prayers in Mosques.
There are two problems with the Glasgow gaffe. The first is that it must be demoralising beyond words for the Christians who have stuck with their love of Christ and paid the ultimate price in losing their lives, their homes and their churches. There are heart breaking videos of Syrian orthodox Christians re-entering their villages after Isis were repulsed, picking up the smashed altars and ruined ikons and scattered masonry with their hands to rebuild what the Muslim warriors had gratuitously destroyed. The message that there are senior clergy in the West who have bought in so deeply to the nonsense that all religions are equal and teach more or less the same thing, must be as heart breaking as it is offensive.
But it is also the wilful obscuring that sometimes in life you actually have to make a choice. In this case the choice is between Jesus and Mohammed. Mohammed is famous for his violence, in particular for his beheading of 500 Qurayza Jews. Jesus is famous for healing the sick, raising the dead and forgiving their enemies. Muslims are told that if they want to be good Muslims they must imitate Mohammed. (Welcome to Middle Eastern politics). Christians are told that if they want to be good Christians and they must imitate Jesus, as far as then can.
The influence and the teaching of these two different men produces different behaviours, different cultures and different worlds. It’s more than a gaffe to obscure the difference.