This guest post by Peter Ould responds to the recent incident at St John’s, Waterloo in Southwark Diocese.
The apology this afternoon by Giles Goddard of St John’s Waterloo is nothing of the sort. If the Diocese of Southwark choose to accept it as a resolution of the complaints received about the church hosting an Islamic worship service, then the Church of England will have departed from the catholic faith and have abandoned its own canon law.
The apology reads as follows:
The Inclusive Mosque Initiative event hosted by St John’s Church, Waterloo, for International Women’s Day has given rise to great consternation, and I am sorry for the offence caused and any infringement of Church of England’s framework and guidelines.
I am, by faith and tradition, a Christian. I stand by the Church of England’s Declaration of Assent: The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.
It is in that context that I have tried to build a better understanding between faiths. The Church of England is in an especially responsible position as the established church, with a duty to try to engage with all the people of England.
Now, more than ever, it is essential that we are able to meet in friendship across the boundaries of faith, and the event at St John’s was part of attempts to enable that to happen. I remain committed to finding ways for Christians and Muslims to acknowledge our shared heritage and history, without minimising the uniqueness of both our traditions. I have assured the Bishop of Southwark of my commitment to work to build good interfaith relations, but to do so within the teaching and guidelines of the Church of England.
This non-apology is egregious for the following reasons (highlighted above).
- Giles Goddard does not apologise for his actions, merely for the offence caused. He is saying “I’m sorry that you didn’t like what I did, but I am not apologising for doing it”. This is not acceptable. Nowhere in his apology has he stated clearly that hosting the Islamic worship service was an incorrect thing to do.
- When Giles Goddard describes hosting an Islamic Worship Service as a matter of “framework and guidelines” he attacks the fundamental constitution of the Church of England. The subject of who should be worshipped in a Church of England consecrated building and what form that worship should take is a matter not of framework and guidelines but of doctrine and canon law. To relegate the worship of a non-Triune God to just being the subject of “framework and guidelines” is to undermine (if not deny) the first five Articles of Faith of the Church of England. To argue that the decision as to whether an explicitly anti-Trinitarian worship service where the most basic of Christian symbols were deliberately and specifically covered up or removed is valid or not is merely a matter of “framework and guidelines” is to tear numerous entries out of the Canons of the Church of England.
This apology is not acceptable.
If the Bishop of Southwark believes that the validity of non-Christian forms of worship in consecrated buildings are decided not as matters of doctrine and canon law but rather as outworkings of policy documents then he himself is undermining the very constitution of the Church of England. If the House of Bishops of the Church of England believe that clergy should not be disciplined for breaching in intent and action basic Anglican Doctrine then they will lose the confidence of thousands of clergy up and down the country. Most serious of all, if Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and patron of the parish of St John’s Waterloo, believes that at a time when our Christian brothers and sisters across the Middle East and Africa are dying as martyrs for publicly claiming Christ as saviour, that our international Anglican and wider ecumenical partners will accept this fundamental denial of the Christian faith, then the very role of Archbishop of Canterbury as the primus inter pares of episcopacy across the Anglican Communion will be jeopardised.
This is now a crisis engulfing not just a single parish in London, not just a single Diocese, but the whole Church of England. Every time that some form of excuse for the events of the 6th of March is published the situation simply exacerbates.
It is now time for the leadership of the Church of England to give a clear message on this issue in both word and action. It is up to that leadership to decide what that message will be, even if it is just silent acquiesence.
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99 thoughts on “Can Muslims worship Allah in an Anglican church?”
Bit over the top, Peter. How is this a ‘fundamental denial of the Christian faith” or “undermining the very constitution of the Church of England”?:
“I am, by faith and tradition, a Christian. I stand by the Church of England’s Declaration of Assent: The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.”
Feel free to criticise the action – I’m not comfortable with it myself – but ease up on the hyperbole.
It’s a fundamental denial because he claims to affirm that statement of faith but he will not apologise for his actions which deny that statement of faith. At no point in his “apology” does he actually apologise for what he did.
I don’t doubt that Muslims deny the Christian faith. I just don’t believe Giles Goddard has done so. And he has now very clearly expressed his belief in the historic Christian faith. It seems to me that there are three issues here:
1) is it lawful / desirable to allow a non-Christian group to pray in a Church
2) did Giles join in with non-Christian worship, based on the belief that ‘we all worship the same god in the end’.
I believe the first is probably a well intentioned and forgivable error, and we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn. The second would be a fundamental problem.
It also seems to me that Giles has quite clearly affirmed that 2) did not happen given what ammounts to a statement of faith Giles has now had to make.
Let’s not forget that both the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury have prayed with Muslims before, and done it very publicly. It is perfectly possibly to do so without compromising one’s own faith.
Praying alongside Muslims in a non liturgical context isn’t an issue. Praying alongside a Muslim is a liturgical context where the service begins by explicitly denying the Gospel is.
Goddard did NOT affirm that he didn’t join in with the non-Christian (let’s actually call it anti-Christian because that’s precisely what it is) worship. Nowhere does he say that. He is clearly seen in the video of the event taking part in the service and referring to “the God that we love, Allah”. Within the context of a Jumuah that “Allah” refers to the one who ” begetteth not nor is He begotten” (Surah 112). Indeed, the service begins by proclaiming that Muhammad is Allah’s messenger, a statement that is an explicit denial of the Apostolic witness of Christ.
So let me make the point very clear – nowhere has Goddard either apologised for his actions that day OR admitted that what he did was wrong. You can accuse me of semantics on this front, but semantics are incredibly important. The Bishop of Southwark has to all intents and purposes ignored this action by Goddard.
I don’t know if I’m missing the point but hospital chapels are consecrated buildings and are used regularly by Jews, Muslims and people of other religions.
As your husband will point out to you, that’s because (some) hospital chapels are specifically set aside for this purpose.
I’m not quite sure what you mean. The chapel I’m thinking of is one consecrated by the CofE with a permanent altar, large cross on the wall, aumbry, stained glass window with Christian imagery, and all the other usual accoutrements of a church. This same chapel (not a separate area or side space) is also used for services/praying by Muslims on a very regular basis and by Jews on occasion.
What I know about theology wouldn’t cover a postage stamp but can you, or another commentator, explain to me – leaving aside any questions of discipline and obedience – how this differs in a substantive way to what has happened at St. John’s Waterloo? Are hospital chapels consecrated in a different way to parish churches? This is a genuine question.
In answer to your question, Sutton v Bowden is the definitive precedent. Essentially, the church has no jurisdiction in deciding the use of a private or institutional chapel, even if done with the owner’s consent and in the proper legal form.
Churches are an entirely different matter.
From the document entitled: ‘DIOCESE OF SOUTHWARK – Guidelines on civic services / events involving people of different faiths’
These guidelines are designed specifically to address the Church of England’s role in the Diocese of Southwark in relation to civic services and events involving people of different faiths. Guidelines on the wider questions of ‘Multi-Faith Worship’ were issued by the House of Bishops in 1993, following the 1992 Board of Mission report on that subject. That
report (obtainable from Church House) included an extended discussion of the theological and practical issues involved.
‘D Services or events held in Church of England churches
26. Any services or events held in a Church of England church are subject to canon law. Services must satisfy the requirements that they ‘in words and order are reverent and seemly and are neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England’ [B5]. Other events held in churches should be ‘such as befit the House of God, are consonant with sound doctrine, and make for the edifying of the people’
[F16]. In case of doubt, direction should be sought from the area or diocesan bishop.
27. Consecrated Church of England buildings are set apart for ever for worship according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England.
Civic services including active participatory roles for representatives of other faiths should be so planned as to ensure that the integrity of the whole service as an act of Christian worship is clearly preserved.
28. If representatives of other faiths are invited to read during the service from
the scriptures of their faiths, it is of the utmost importance that the texts to be used should be agreed beforehand with the parish priest. Good quality English translations should always be made available.
29. No reading or other contribution from any participant should include any
element hostile or contrary to the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it.
30. It is not appropriate for somebody of another faith at a civic service in a Church of England church to lead the congregation in prayer.
31. It is not generally appropriate for a representative of another faith to preach at a civic service in a Church of England church, though a person of another faith might be invited to offer reflections from a community perspective.
In case of questions over the interpretation or application of these guidelines, in relation to any service or event, direction should be sought from the area or diocesan bishop. The bishop’s goodwill should be sought at an early stage for clergy involvement in any service or event involving people of different faiths in a representative capacity.’
Philip Jones provides a helpful and scholarly examination of the legal effects of consecration here:
Thank you. That explains the difference quite clearly.
Private, interfaith chapels are not always safe places, as I discovered some years ago in Gatwick airport. I went for quiet prayer in a long interval between flights. I found myself accosted by a group of Islamic men who entered the ‘chapel’ and shouted at me (not in English). One of them then tried to remove my shoes, and cover my head. I left immediately, found an airport official and lodged an official complaint. The next time I was at that terminal in Gatwick the ‘chapel’ had gone. A different room invited Christians for prayer. I don’t know what the situation is now.
I have no idea what ‘consecration’ means in the way Laurence uses it above. No amount of ‘consecration’ would ever persuade me to repeat that experience.
Elaine that is a fascinating (if distressing) experience. It expresses in terms of physical space some of the problems in claiming that ‘we all worship the same God’. I am still unclear exactly what Giles’ position is on this—though there would be no surprise if this is, in fact, what he believes. It is a well-rehearsed elements of the liberal tradition in the C of E, at least since Hick, even though clearly in contravention of Christian teaching.
The good news is Giles was very clear in his statement about what he believes. He said, “I am, by faith and tradition, a Christian. I stand by the Church of England’s Declaration of Assent: The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds…”
I trust this sets your mind at ease.
Hospital chapels are dedicated as “sacred space”. a place for all religions to use. Churches are dedicated to only one God, as are Mosques, Synagogues etc. Mosques and synagogues would not allow the truine God to be worshipped there (ie including Jesus as God).
An excellent article Peter, thank you for giving it a platform Ian.
The question that follows it up for me now is this: “What happens if +Southwark doesn’t discipline Rev Goddard?”
If this were to happen we still have the HoB and the ABC who could say something, but would they? Or would they be more keen on unity?
And if the hierarchy do fail us then what recourse do we have to respond if this failure were to happen?
I know that we have seen various comments of schism and separation over various issues in the past, but this is a very clear issue right at the heart of what it is to be Anglican. So where should one turn if the Anglican Church ceases to be Anglican?
I don’t understand what you mean by ‘the worship of a non-Triune God’. Do you mean you think there is more than one God? Or that they have the right God, the only one, but haven’t fully understood God’s nature?
Simply put, the Islamic faith denies the fundamental Christian understanding of God, that he is a Triune majesty. They also explicitly deny the incarnation.
Islam worships a non-Christian god.
Judaism also denies the Triune nature of God and the incarnation. Nevertheless the New Testament affirms that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, worshipped by the Jewish people, is also the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is not to argue that Giles Goddard’s action was justified; merely to point out that on this issue things are not necessarily as clear-cut as you make out.
‘Almighty God, we thank you for making us in your image, to share in the ordering of your world. Receive the work of our hands in this place, now to be set apart for your worship, the building up of the living, and the remembrance of the dead, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’ (BCP – The Dedication and Consecration of a Church)
So, St. John’s was set apart for God’s worship through Jesus Christ our Lord. Muslim prayers deny the latter.
The definition of desecrate is ‘to divert from a sacred to a profane use or purpose.’ So, Giles Goddard has encouraged the desecration of St. John’s, Waterloo, all in the name of acknowledging a shared heritage.
In other ways, then, not yet another all-too-comfortable ‘grey area’. In fact, it’s fairly clear-cut.
Precisely, Simon. The Jewish understanding of God is not triune, yet Christiwnity affirms this is the same God. Peter seems to think there can be other ‘non-triune’ gods. I was under the impression that there is only one God. That’s why I was asking for clarification.
Sorry about the spelling. I don’t think my eyes have woken up fully…!
Yes, Christianity affirms that this is the same God—but that the OT understanding is not the full story. For that reason I think Jews would have a problem hosting Christian worship in a synagogue.
Islam holds something in common here, in that it claims to be a fuller revelation. But, unlike in the relation between Christianity and Judaism, Islam states explicitly that Christian claims about Jesus are wrong and misleading.
The relation here is very different.
Well, let’s see how that characteristic *welcome* of Christ was extended to promote inter-faith dialogue with a Samaritan woman during a discussion of their respective monotheistic beliefs:
‘Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:21 – 24)
In a place consecrated to the worship of God through Christ, Giles Goddard’s public ministry should have endorsed Christ’s declaration. Instead, he capitulated to a liturgical form that reverted to complete ignorance of Christ.
I see Islam as a different case from Judaism because Mohammed came along after Jesus and specifically set himself up above Jesus in the hierarchy of prophets. My understanding is that he was happy to include Jesus among the prophets, but was anti Jesus Christ the son of God, and said that Christians had falsified the accounts of him. I have heard Christians argue, both that Allah is the same as God but that Islam is mistaken about how to become his follower, and that Allah is in effect a completely different God.
Well all of those things are true, but it still begs the question as to whether one’s understanding of God is the determining factor concerning whether worship is offered to the one true God or to a ‘false’ god . If so, then who of us could claim perfect understanding?
For the record, I believe Giles Goddard was wrong to offer this particular hospitality (use of a separate hall or room might have been a different matter). It’s just that I don’t find the same/different God distinction as straightforward to make as some here apparently do.
In John 8, Jesus says that the “father” of the disbelieving Jews is actually Satan. This is in line with what he says to Peter – “Get behind me Satan!” in Mark 8. The point in both situations is that those who deny the truth revealed in Christ actually deny God and thereby oppose him. The muslim faith denies the truth about Jesus. Judaism today also denies the truth about Jesus. The problem isn’t that they have partial truth but that they deny what God has revealed in Christ and thereby deny the truth.
When people tell me that we all worship the same God, my simplest challenge is this:
“My God is Jesus” [re: Hebrews 1]. What non-believing Jew or Muslim would say the same?!
Obviously, there is only one real God, and we all share some understanding of the nature of God and so to some extent it can look like we share the same ‘Creator’ but Jesus is very strong on this – that when God is wrongly defined, you could just as easily be describing ‘Satan’ as your ‘god’ – the one who leads people away from truth – away from Jesus who is “The Truth”.
So, we should not give other faiths the impression that we all share the same God. We should, instead, take the opportunity to describe the essential differences that truly reveal ‘God’. If we think the differences are not so important then why did Jesus have to come and show us “The Way”? Why did he have to die on a cross?
Jesus is our best understanding of who God is. Let’s not give non-Christian Jews and Muslims the impression that we share a third of the “Triune God”. That’s a misunderstanding of the Trinity! – And if their third causes them to deny the truth about Jesus then to worship such a god would be to worship Satan.
A slightly tangential point – let’s not forget that Christians worship Allah too. If you go to any of the Eastern Orthodox churches, who have been worshipping in Arabic for many centuries, their liturgy is focussed on Allah – the arabic word for God. We must not go along with the idea that arabic somehow belongs to Islam.
For sure, Roger, but in this context ‘Allah’ means a monist and specifically a non-Trinitarian understanding of who God is, with the implications for the understanding of Jesus.
‘Remain committed to finding ways for Christians and Muslims to acknowledge our shared heritage and history, without minimising the uniqueness of both our traditions.’
The response appears all too zealous for some, so let’s not stop the inter-faith train now as it hurtles towards its logical destination. It would be churlish to impede other directions for this type of dialogue. So, how about also finding even more populist ways for Christians and Hindus ‘to acknowledge a shared heritage’.
What better way to acknowledge the uniqueness of Hindu tradition than an idolatrous Trimurti installation near the entrance/foyer area. After all, as he’s said: ‘”It is very much about St John’s being a place of welcome.’
Nothing quite says ‘welcome’ like a door-mat ‘trodden under the foot of men’! (Matt. 5:13)
Thanks for putting the article up Ian!
All religions share history and heritage unless its not a religion of humanity so to say anything similar is a statement of the obvious. The Islamic faith though is in opposition to the Christian faith its beliefs and values are at conflict with the heart of Christianity. Where we have a triune God that miraulously is born among us. Unequly loves us dies because of our fallen nature and rises again from the dead.Whereas the Islamic God is far from that, not triune, not able to become man, a whole lot less compassionate and not able to take onboard the sins of creation forgive them and rise fully from the dead.
If we compromise anyone of these points then our faith becomes incomplete, to give space in our holy spaces to that which is so much less is just plain wrong never mind against canon law, which any number of wish wasn’t there at times
Oh, splendid, Paul. So we only like canon law when it suits us. Instead we appeal to what we as individuals decide is ‘wrong’.
There is a rather big difference between liking and disobeying, I may dislike but would normally choose to obey even to the wearing of robes
There is no canon law that says that anyone must wear any particular robes. And it is curious to compare such trifles with issues central to Christian understandings of God!
For me this actions highlights some things which I find disturbing, and want to ask questions about.
1) The lack of global understanding my many in the UK church. Christianity is a global faith almost 1in 3 of the worlds population are Christian. Christianity in the UK is a small tributary in that river and the C of E a little stream. When so many Christians are denied access to their buildings, and so many church buildings are destroyed, and where even the UN says that ‘Christians are the most persecuted faith community in the world.’. What does this action say to the global church especially the many who are persecuted? Or don’t they matter?
2) As syncretism was a major flaw for the Od Testament people of God, and key factor that led to their exile, should not the C of E take care not to go down that root?
3) In our desire to be relevant and in tune with the world, are we not running the risk of not being relevant or in tune with God. After all we are called to be distinctive and a means of God’s blessing to the world, and not so identical that we cease to offer anything distinctive in terms of lifestyle of spirituality?
4) What makes for good interfaith dialogue, after all most Muslims I know wouldn’t compromise what they belief or allow Christian prayers in a Mosque instead of Islamic ones on a Friday. How can we be confident in what we believe with out being overtly confrontational?
The criticism of allowing Muslim worship in a Christian Church makes a lot of sense if we see ourselves in competition on equal terms with Muslims, I agree so far. If Christianity is a ‘world religion’ alongside Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism etc then what Giles Goddard did is treachery.
But I don’t believe that. I believe that Jesus is Lord, that he is the Word through whom the universe came into being, that ‘God so loved the world that he sent his Son’ … I could go on.
But to be clear, I do not agree with the grey syncretistic mush that passes for some interfaith dialogue. It is precisely because I do believe Jesus Christ is Lord that I believe we should be hospitable. I don’t know where Giles Goddard comes from on this so I cannot plead his cause but I do disagree strongly with the basis of this criticism, for me it lacks real confidence in the person Christ.
But the article goes further when he says ‘Most serious of all, … at a time when our Christian brothers and sisters across the Middle East and Africa are dying as martyrs for publicly claiming Christ as saviour, that [the wider church] will accept this fundamental denial of the Christian faith … ‘
The Christ that we proclaim told us to ‘Bless those who persecute us’ not ostracise them. The time when an aberration of Islam is persecuting Christian is precisely the time to offer radical hospitality – that is showing a difference between the followers of Christ and ISIS (it is deeply offensive to associate ISIS with Muslims in this country).
But on one point I do agree; Giles Goddard should not be apologising for causing offense. The Gospel is offensive and Jesus’ radical hospitality did cause offense for the orthodox religious authorities of his day … interesting!
Richard, while I agree we should pray for those who persecute us, that’s not quite the same as allowing Islamic worship in a Christian building. It may be that I have a more global view of the faith, it may be because I have a strong Jewish heritage or because it’s not just ISIS that persecute Christians, or that I have a good friend who is a Pakistani Christian or that there is not a single majority Islamic country on this planet where Christians are not persecuted. That I feel that what happened has sent a less then supportive signal to persecuted Christians. I lament above all the serious lack of global perspective that the church in Europe holds, or the grasp on history and the impact of Islamic armies on Europe up to the Battle of Tours.
I agree with you that Jesus challenged the religious elite.
Christ’s radical inter-faith hospitality towards the Samaritan woman did not simply connive at the ignorance of their worship.
NI that dialogue, while He foretold of the Father’s desire for worship in spirit and in truth, He did not lack of humility when He distinguished: ‘You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.’ (John 4:22)
Giles Goddard failed to maintain that distinction of worship that acknowledges God in His fulfillment in Christ of the historic prophecies of salvation through the Jews.
A deeply naive response, and a profoundly ungracious one, which I am disappointed, Ian, that you have hosted here. You lead off with a question in your headline to which the answer is a clear ‘No’ – carrying the implication that someone, somewhere, is saying ‘Yes’. That is not the case. Giles was wrong. His bishops have made this clear to him, and he has apologised. That IS the discipline of the diocese in action. And it should be the end of it.
Thanks for commenting, Steve. As I have said elsewhere, I don’t have much personal stake in this. But your comment offers an interesting light.
You comment: ‘You lead off with a question in your headline to which the answer is a clear ‘No’ – carrying the implication that someone, somewhere, is saying ‘Yes’. That is not the case.’ You then say that ‘Giles was wrong’. Wrong in what? In answering ‘Yes’? As is clear from the video, Christian symbols in the building were covered up, and Giles talks of ‘Allah whom we worship.’ So the prima facie evidence is that Giles was indeed saying that it was all right to worship Allah, as understood by Islam, in a consecrated Anglican building.
What Peter is pointing out here is that Giles has not in fact apologised for this. He has apologised for the offence caused, and for breaching guidelines. But that is a little like running someone over in your car and then apologising for breaking the Highway Code.
As Pete Broadbent points out, there are plenty of ways of offering hospitality across divides of faith, and no-one here is questioning that. But it is not what Giles has done. I think it is a good point, and deserves not just posting, but serious discussion.
There is also a curious asymmetry in your comment as well. Giles covers up Christian symbols, says we all worship Allah, then posts the video of the event online, and is surprised that it has caused any offence.
And you call Peter naive…?!
Slightly tongue in cheek question from a non-conformist (strange term; to what exactly are we not conforming?); where precisely in the New Testament do we find the idea of consecrated buildings?
Good question! Nowhere…but someone along the line in history, the C of E in its wisdom decided to delineate certain spaces within which only Christian faith was proclaimed.
For good or ill, this space represents physically the theological space of the Christian gospel. So for Anglicans there are very clear parameters as to what may be proclaimed in this space, which would e.g. for St Paul be the equivalent of what may be proclaimed in the assembly of believers.
Would it not be a combination of practicality (having a space dedicated to it that wasn’t someone’s house) and wanting to recreate an element of temple/synagogue worship?
Practicality means that you don’t have to have the owner of the house to be able to meet and you have much greater flexibility in what you are able to do as the space is designed to enable you to worship as you feel is fit to do so.
The temple was a specific place that God dwelt (at least for a time) that also was a place of congregating to worship Him.
And if we look at it from those perspectives then surely we can say that the Gospels mention a consecrated space, as they talk about the temple. And Jesus himself talks of it as a place of worship, a “house of prayer”.
Admittedly this does ignore the idea of God no longer being seen as limited by walls and that He is everywhere, not just in 1 place, but if both are held in tension I don’t see it going against what the Bible says.
While discussion about quite what the nature of a Christian “space” is and what the bound of that “space” is are interesting they are, surely, a side issue?
Even if this event had taken place on the forecourt of Waterloo station we’d be faced with the same dilemma. A Church of England minister, a minister of the gospel, endorsed and took part in a religious service which explicitly denies the uniqueness and divinity of Christ, the truth of the Trinity.
That he allowed it to happen in consecrated space is poor form, but I don’t think we ought to be trapped into thinking that’s the main issue here.
In respect of consecration, I think it’s entirely sound to distinguish it as the entire dedication of earthly things to God’s service and worship, while eschewing any idea that such a building secures any location for privileged access to God’s grace.
Both St. Stephen (Acts 7) and St. Peter (Acts 17) echo Solomon (1 Kings 8:27) and Isaiah (Is. 66:1,2) by saying that ‘God does not dwell in temples made with hands’. As you know, it belittles God to think of Him, as many heathens do, as one who has any form that’s limited by time and space. His utter transcendence cannot be contained by anything, including the highest heaven.
Yet, the temple was consecrated as the visible national reminder to the Israelites’ of God’s OT promise to hear and forgive their sins. As Solomon prayed: ‘May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.’ (1Kings 8:29 – 30)
The Jews of Jesus’ day did not see their temple as provisional, but as a guarantee of their privileged and exclusive custodianship of access to God. John Hyrcanus’ destruction of the Samaritan temple was motivated by this view.
St. Stephen’s final scriptural insight to the Sanhedrin was from Isaiah 66 (while explicitly quoting verses 1 and 2, it was its tacit condemnation of their priesthood in vs. 3 that roused them to lethal rage).
Thankfully, Christ demonstrated immediate access to eternal forgiveness through Himself that surpassed all religious boundaries, both physical and ancestral. Secured as it was by His perfect life and sacrifice of His earthly life, the body of Christ is God’s temple to which we are united and through which we are offered to God by His Spirit in us.
The CofE hasn’t reverted to the OT belief that consecration bestows any building with a tangible assurance of privileged access to God’s grace. ‘We walk by faith and not by sight’
Yes he broke the rules. Yes he has apologised. Yes the Bishop has investigated, aalthough no details of any censure have been published.Surely if you feel so strongly why not complain under the Clergy Discipline Measure? Instead of shouting it from the rooftops so publically.
The simple answer (for me) is that I am a long way away, and (for all of us) that the CDM appears to be viewed as as clumsy and unworkable as the system it was supposed to replace.
Goddard has NOT apologised – that is my main thesis. He apologises for upsetting people, but that is not the same as apologising for his actions.
If I ran over your dog with my car and then said “I’m sorry that you’re upset about my killing your dog”, have I in any meaningful sense accepted any culpability for my actions? No, indeed I’ve specifically avoided saying “I’m sorry that I ran over your dog – it was wrong”. What if I ran over your dog and then said “*If* I did run over a dog, I’m sorry that it upset someone”, have I admitted I ran over your dog? Clearly not
In the same way, Goddard’s apology actually avoids admitting any offence in action, let alone apologising for it.
I am cautious about bringing in over emotive elements but, bearing in mind that the USA is perceived as being a ‘Christian’ country Guantanamo is part of the context for this discussion: see http://www.politicaltheology.com/…/the-voice-of-the…/. Who should do the apologising?
Richard, you seem to have missed what the apology is for. It is nothing to do with the situation in Guantanamo (nor, for that matter, is Christianity, since the USA is officially a secular nation), and nothing to do with asking Muslims to apologise.
This has everything to do with an Anglican priest breaking the rules that are set by the organisation he apparently feels vocationally called to. As such the apology is, at least in theory, from a Christian to a group of Christians.
To suggest otherwise is to miss the whole point, imo.
Without wishing to start an apology Olympics, there is an obvious comparison for arrogant-or-naive use of social media with interfaith implications: Stephen Sizer’s apology, http://www.cofeguildford.org.uk/whats-on/news/detail/2015/01/30/a-statement-of-apology-from-the-revd-dr-stephen-sizer
Mr Goddard provides a long defence of his idiotic action. Mr Size provides serious evidence of the beginning of repentance.
I think the issue is that you believe that Giles Goddard has taken part in non-Christian worship and equated the Christian triune God with the false god of Islam. However, I think it is more likely that he didn’t do that and that you have misunderstood his actions. Hence he has not apologised for the thing you want him to, because he didn’t do it. He has apologised for hosting the event in a consecrated building, as this seems to be a breach of regulations. However, you appear to be asking for an apology for something he hasn’t done.
It would have been clearer if he had simply said this, however, but I am happy to accept his clear affirmation of faith and the investigations of the bishop to confirm that he does not believe that ‘we all worship the same god’.
It seems from the thread that nobody objects to praying with people of other faiths, as the Pope and Justin Welby have done themselves. Nor do we object to being physically present at a worship service for another faith. I presume we don’t object to standing up in such an event and reading from the Bible and praying. What has caused the confusion is that Giles left it ambiguous as to whom he was praying. I assume this was intentional at the time, as part of his bridge building with the Muslims present, but it seems a ludicrous leap to me to assume that this means he has abandoned his Christian faith. Particularly when he has so clearly affirmed it afterwards.
Of course, I could be wrong.
I certainly think that Giles was naive and I am very clear in my own mind that what he did was wrong in all sorts of ways, to do with theology as well as church rules and polity. The naivity I was flagging in Peter’s piece was more to do with what is realistic in a public apology a matter of days after this all went public. I think it’s naive to expect that someone (Giles in this case) is going to have had a Damascus road conversion over the last few days. I think it is naive too to expect that someone is going to issue a public apology which essentially says, ‘Please take out a CDM’ as would be implied if he had said that he actually had broken church rules. What can be said has been said. The Bishop has taken him to task. He has accepted that and apologised and accepted that this cannot happen again. And this brings me to the ‘ungracious’ bit. I think grace would allow us to let it lie at that, and I am sorry that some don’t seem able to do that.
Actually I think it’s the opposite. Goddard has increased the likelihood of a CDM by avoiding apologising. If he had properly accepted responsibility for his actions and properly apologised then any CDM after this would seem ungracious. The reality though is that Goddard is the ungracious one, because his “apology” is actually a denial of any need for forgiveness for his actions.
The other thing that disturbs me about the statement is that it is also shows all the signs of having been drafted by the diocese for Giles Goddard in order to try and tick the right boxes and then see the issue disappear. This might be wrong but I’d be very surprised if it is. He is an honourary Canon and the Cathedral itself is signed up to his pressure group Inclusive Church. Giles clearly overreached himself but the biggest problem for me is the culture of a diocese in which he so obviously thought he would get away with not only holding such a service but tweeting a video of it as a statement of the way things should be. For the first time in forty years none of the four Bishops in Southwark is evangelical and the impact of this and other recent senior appointments is a direct cause of clergy like Giles feeling they can do things like this because they have a favourable wind behind them.
‘For the first time in forty years none of the four Bishops in Southwark is evangelical’. Stephen, I had not realised that this was the case.
Along with the recent statement from Conservatives, calling for the bishop and diocesan leaders to act within Anglican belief, this is all bad timing.
Sorry, Stephen, i do have to disagree with you on the point about the culture of the diocese. Your point about evangelical bishops is of course true. But with regard to senior appointments – two evangelical archdeacons and me as canon missioner appointed in the last two years or so, and a more evangelical direction of travel for the diocese as a whole than we have seen in a long time with increasing emphasis on mission, MAPping, church growth, fxC… there is a lot that is moving in an evangelical direction in Southwark. And speaking from my own vantage point I am absolutely certain that the Southwark conspiracy theories are nottrue.
There is another dynamic here which has only occurred to me as I have continued to reflect on it. Giles has very much styled this (as others have in his defence) as an engagement in Christian-Muslim interfaith relations, and an act of hospitality.
In fact, he has been hospitable to those who have been marginalised by their own community, quite likely as an expression of what Giles sees as ‘kingdom’ values. But of course in doing this, Giles is offering an explicit critique of the mainstream Muslim position, as ‘non-inclusive’.
So I suspect, if there is any impact, it would be a negative one on wider Christian-Muslim relations. The same would hold if Muslims explicitly supported a Christian group who were critical of mainstream Christian teaching.
Aha! So the discussion ends up exactly as I suspected were the origin of the conservative evangelicals angst about this issue. It’s not really about Giles Goddarc and the hospitality of one church to a Muslim congregation. Its actually part of a continuum of campaigning against what is perceived as the liberal Catholic trajectory of the diocese, the welcoming and inclusiveness of the Cathedral and like minded parishes and their rejection of the dogmatic sectarianism of those churches and priests who signed the recent declaration. It’s conservative evangelicals trying once again to impose their minority dogma on the whole church and castigating those within the church who do not measure up to their sectarian standards.
Richard, I am not in the diocese and there are differences of view expressed here from within.
But if this was an appeal to ‘a minority dogma’, why has it been done in terms that are rooted in historic Anglican understandings? Are Conservatives now the only ones who actually believe Anglican doctrine?
‘Historic Anglican understandings? So we have to be part of a petrified culture and theology? And you don’t deny that this is a continuation of the conservative evangelicals’ self victimisation and their campaign to assert their version of Christianity over and above everyone else’s ?
Self victimisation? Assert their version of Christianity over and above everyone else’s?
The doymatic insistence of liberals on a single clause measure for Women Bishops would suggest a response to this that includes the words ‘pot’, ‘kettle’ and ‘black’.
I’ve read this thread with growing astonishment. At a time of suicide bombers, USA dropping what are understood as Christian bombs on Islamic communities, and the UK being a source of Muslim ‘radicalisation’, I can see why Giles’ offer of hospitality makes a lot of sense. Here are my questions.
1) On breaking the rules by allowing Muslim worship. Clergy break all sorts of rules these days, especially in the words they use in services. Is it only the ones that gain the attention of the Daily Telegraph, or all of them, that should get a stern rebuke from the bishop?
2) On worship as necessarily Trinitarian. Christians can, and often do, offer prayers and have services that don’t specifically remind God that God is a trinity. Will God reject our worship for that reason? Will God pass the phone to Allah and say ‘It’s for you’?
3) On whether God did or did not beget a son. Do you believe God raped Mary? If not, what are we really disagreeing about?
4) On the fact that Muslims don’t believe in the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity was from the start based on the fact that we can’t understand God but can use different ways to think of God. I’ve often worshipped together with people who don’t believe in the Trinity, or aren’t sure of it, or can’t understand what it means. Should I have refused to? Or to put it the other way round: since I find the Trinity a mystery, should I worship together with Christians who don’t find it a mystery?
5) On whether we’re being evangelical enough. How do you think the average British blog reader would feel about Christianity after reading this thread?
Thanks Jonathan. In turn:
0. As I mention below, Giles ‘hospitality’ function as a critique of mainstream Islam as too exclusive. This action will not heal divisions between the faith movements, but if anything exacerbate them.
1. No, it is breaking the rules in a way which denies Jesus is Lord that attract attention, since this is the central confession of Christian faith according to Paul (Romans 10.9–13)
2. I don’t suppose God will pass the phone to Allah. But he might say to us ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to him’ (Luke 9.35)
3. By putting the question in this way, I think you are agreeing with the Muslim criticism of Christian belief in Jesus as begotten Son (Surah 4.171). But this is a misunderstanding of the Christian idea of the sonship of Jesus and the incarnation, just as the Quran misunderstands the Trinity as God, Mary and Jesus.
4. No, the Trinity was based from the beginning on the Jewish notion of God as one in the Shema (Deut 6.4), the incorporation of Jesus into this oneness (1 Cor 8.4f), and the Spirit as the one who makes this God present. So it is not simply an expression of blank incomprehension, but on God’s revelation of himself in Jesus.
5. I doubt ‘the average British blog reader’ would read this; it is not written for them.
On another blog, I offered this reflection on whether there is only one God whom we all worship. Readers here might find it of interest.
I find it odd that you are ‘mildly astonished’ that I appear to believe in more than one god. All I am doing, at one level, is picking up Paul’s exploration of this question (in a not dissimilar context) from 1 Cor 8:
4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so–called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
It is interesting here that, in the context of dispute about whether other gods are ‘real’, Paul returns to the Shema of Deut 6.4, and then folds the identity of Jesus into this (Prof Larry Hurtado describes this as ‘dyadic’). But it is also interesting that Paul leaves open the question of whether the other gods are ‘real’.
This in turn leads to the philosophical question of whether Christian belief is monotheistic in the strict sense (‘There is only one God’) or actually henotheistic (‘There is only one God who is worthy of our worship’).
But at another level, I am just making a common sense observation. If we are all (perhaps inadequately) worshipping the same one God, who should we include in that? You propose Muslims, but what about Sikhs or Hindus? Or Buddhists, who are not sure they are worshipping a god at all? Or animists, who worship the life force in all creation? What about people who worship the forces that direct psychics, or the movements of planets? What about Satanists—is the Satan that they worship really God in disguise? And what about those who worship mammon, or sex in our culture?
When is a god not a god? And when a god is a god, in what sense is it a representation of the one true God? Where do you draw the line, and on what grounds?
Peter is a dear man, but he is for ever wanting people to say what HE wants them to say, and complaining loudly when they don’t. His blog is littered with accounts of how so-in-so didn’t reply to him when asked and didn’t refute some test Peter put them to, very much in this vein.
My guess is that the event would have passed without comment if this had been a rabbi conducting a service for say Purim in St John’s. indeed reading the reactions one can see that the actions of some militant fundamentalists are given as reason for particular offence. This is precisely the fear driven reaction these monstrous murders are aiming to achieve. It makes an interesting comparison to the openhanded welcome Giles offers in this prayer service, led, as Ian notes, quite provocatively by a woman.
Violence against women is not the sole preserve if Islam, but as we see in the murder and attempted murder of girls giing to school, their subjugation to men is part of the fundamentalist agenda.
There is so much I want to applaud in this prayerful meeting, it challenges me at some visceral levels and it makes me uncomfortable. I embrace the spirit that clearly guides such risky love and would like to think that one day I might be so courageous.
The horrific torture and martyrdom of Christians is intended to e inflame us (and it does) but we must remember as Ian points out, it is their co religionists who do not share their “kingdom values” of a caliphate who attract their special attention, who are being murdered in their tens of thousands.
I think Christians can claim they did this first and one sometimes feels that spirit is still alive and well in certain quarters
Your notion that, were it not for evangelical ‘agitation’, a Purim service held in St. John’s would have been conducted with nary a raised eyebrow serves to highlight the liberal apathy that plagues the CofE.
Christ Himself set the example of ‘risky love’ with the woman at the well. His welcome didn’t make Him reticent in declaring the relative ignorance of Samaritan worship. His welcome didn’t treat her as too fragile for truth.
So, making flattering comparisons of Giles Goddard with Christ’s ‘risky love’ in an inter-faith context only makes sense if you can explain why Giles Goddard balked at emulating Christ’s unstinting forthrightness about worshipping God as revealed in the salvation fulfilled through the Messiah promised to the Jews.
Alternatively, you can continue to script out your ersatz 21st century morality play in which merely voicing offence is proof enough to you that the evangelical baddies are as steeped in fundamentalist dogma as Muslim extremists.
Meanwhile, your ‘heroic’ priest re-enters from stage left as the innocuous and wholly misunderstood prophet of peaceful syncretism, capitulating to false faith in a grotesque caricature of Christ-like tolerance.
I only read one complaint and that was from an Anglo Catholic priest …… I fear the rest falls equally far from the mark.
Glad you dispense your dismissiveness towards conservative evangelicals in equal measure. Giles doesn’t have a moral leg to stand on,
My remark was aimed at your comment, It is, as usual, a grotesque caricature of my thinking ………
A bit rich when we consider your earlier failed attempt at a ‘fair and balanced’ evaluation of Peter Ould’s engagement on these issues.
Perhaps, a properly articulated and theologically grounded argument would have made your point here, if there was one, with greater clarity than merely attacking Peter and waxing lyrical about Giles’ ‘risky kind of love that has no endorsement from Christ’s own interfaith engagement.
Well, perhaps a theologically grounded argument would have made your point with greater clarity than merely waxing lyrical about the kind of ‘risky love’ that has no endorsement from Christ’s own interfaith engagement.
I am reminded of many examples in William Dalrymple’s book ‘from the Holy Mountain’ where, for instance, he cites the acceptance that one shrine could be holy to more than one religions – [p.46-7] More pertinent to Ian’s post however, and the discussion that follows, is W.D’s observation of a priest “filling the sanctuary with great clouds of incense … gently and almost apologetically stepping over the prostrate Muslims blocking his way…this was … a degree of tolerance, in both congregations. ..Yet this was, of course the old way: the Eastern Christians and the Muslims have lived side by side for nearly one and a half millennia, and have only been able to do so due to a degree of mutual tolerance and shared customs unimaginable to the solidly Christian west.
He goes on to say – and how keenly we should reflect on this, “How easy it is to think of the West as the home of freedom of thought and liberty of worship and to forget how, as recently as the seventeenth century, Huguenot exiles escaping religious persecution in Europe would write admiringly of the policy of religious tolerance practised across the Ottoman Empire. The same broad tolerance that had given homes to hundreds of thousands of penniless Jews … protected the Eastern Christians in their ancient homelands, despite the Crusades and the continual hostility of the Christian West.” [p187-189]
We – in our time – should surely practice the same levels of tolerance and acceptance – remembering how many of our beliefs are held in proper reverence by Moslems, from the OT Prophets onwards. Their worship is centred on a God who is compassionate and all-merciful, a fact we can do well not to deny.
In a world full of contrived divisiveness, we may choose to demonstrate our faithfulness and also our tolerance – as has been noted, Jesus did not turn away from the Samaritan woman, he engaged with her, as indeed he did with the Syro-Phoenician woman.
It is perhaps alarming when so much discussion is focussed on the Churches canons, and omits the very Christlike intention, the bigger picture.
That should, of course, have read ‘the Church’s canons’.
I have rarely been so depressed by a blog thread such as this one, not so much for its content, though there is much that I would take issue with,but its tone. Jonathan Clatworthy has said much what I would say. The tone is often intemperate, hyperbolic and apocalyptic, even vindictive. Archdeacon Hance sounds more like an election agent pleased at the advance of his party than a senior clergyman. Giles Goddard replaces Linda Woodhead as a scapegoat/hate figure. Where is Christian charity? I beseech you to think about how you say what you say. Ian says that this blog is not for the average blog reader whoever that may be. Is it only for a closed world of like-minded evangelicals? Is it not possible to respect and accept that people have different theologies? I read this blog to get a sense of what people have to say from a different perspective from my own and I note that he,like me is a university teacher. Usually I find it rewarding but I have found the tone of this thread and the ways views have been expressed deeply dispiriting. I am not saying that Giles Goddard’s actions are not to be discussed but it is the terms of the discussion which I have found difficult.
Slightly harsh I think. My point is not about being ‘pleased at the advance of my party’ but rather to say that the accusation from an earlier post that Southwark desnt appoint evangelicals isn’t true. In other respects, Daniel, I agree with you. BTW I’m not an archdeacon!
Sitting in the sunshine outside the coffee shop in Newport listening to St Woolos Primary School kids sing outside BHS just two doors away.
Over two thirds Moslem, they are singing with that enthusiasm and clarity that only children have about a man from Gallillee and God’s garden. The large contingent of parens supporting them, again most clearly Moslem, smile and ethusiastically applaud.
Just thought it might give some broader context to this debate ……..
“then the very role of Archbishop of Canterbury as the primus inter pares of episcopacy across the Anglican Communion will be jeopardised.”
If you look beyond the UK, it already has been. Outside the UK, spiritually healthy Anglicanism looks to GAFCON, not Canterbury.
I love Martin’s image. It isn’t children who have the problem.
I won’t try to respond to all Ian’s points but I’d like to say two things.
First, the point about Jesus being God’s son. After I submitted the post I realised I hadn’t explained what I meant. Being a father means you had sex with the child’s mother. This is one of the reasons why Muslims object. However Christians don’t mean this. We’ve developed a polite middle class language of obfuscating matters of sexuality. We don’t mean God had sex with Mary. That leaves open the question of what we do mean. Jesus was in a unique relationship to God. What sort of relationship? If we really have to define where Christianity and Islam differ on this point, we’d better put aside a lifetime or two to concentrate on it.
Second, the Trinity. Ian, I really do disapprove of the way you pick up biblical texts from here and there to make huge claims about what Christianity is. If you have a background in computer programming or electrical engineering or something similar you may well be used to treating books like this. Page 23 explains how to do this bit, page 579 explains how to do that bit. But the Bible is ancient literature, and should be respected as such whatever else it may be as well. There is no text anywhere in the Bible that says God is Trinity. The nearest is the end of 2 Corinthians, but that only lists the 3. This doesn’t mean God is not a trinity of course. But then you surprise us with speculation about non-monotheistic Christianity, which would relativise the concepts of both trinity and divine sonship.
Jonathan, you might like to look at Ian’s CV before ‘advising’ him how to handle Scripture and Ancient Texts……
Fair comment Graham, on re-reading I can see that what I wrote sounded like a personal criticism. My intention was to focus on the substantive questions. Sorry, didn’t mean to cause offence. Like Giles Goddard.
From a comment by Giles Goddard over on thinking anglicans, it appears that he does not think that any of the canons have been broken and so there isn’t anything to apologise for …
” I think it’s true that Canon Law does not directly address this situation. Usually what’s envisaged is a C of E led service with other faiths’ involvement. In this case we were offering hospitality to another faith tradition, who were unable to use one of their own spaces because the prayers were to be for women and men worshipping together and led by a woman – the highly respected Dr Amina Wadud, for International Women’s Day.
But it appears that Canons F15 and F16 may be deemed to apply, and the undertaking that I have given refers implicitly to those Canons. There are many who think that Islam and Christianity are theologically consonant – Miroslav Volf’s book on this, ‘Allah – A Christian Response’ is excellent – but others take a very different view, and this didn’t seem to be the right occasion to argue that out.”
Interestingly, F16 requires that the content of an event is ” consonant with sound doctrine” and Rev Giles seems to believe that Islam and Christianity are theologically consonant.
I regret the way this discussion has got tangled up with the question of church ‘parties’. One does not have to be an evangelical of any stripe to find what Giles Goddard has done deeply worrying. I could get my head round it if it were an exceptional one off act of hospitality, say when the Muslims’ usual space had burned down or something. The worry is the attempt to justify it on more general principle, that the two creeds aren’t really all that different.
My worry deepens on reading Jonathan Clatworthy’s engagement with Ian on the Incarnation and the Trinity – actually, the differences between Christianity and Islam on this are not really very difficult to grasp even when crude misunderstanding is set aside – and the case for seeing the doctrine of the Trinity as biblical does not depend on a few verses here and there. It would be difficult to read and pray and worship deeply with the NT for long and not end up in the Trinitarian position – which is what the church did. There’s nothing remotely distinctively conservative evangelical about making those two points.
Just a few minor points from a former anglican, bretheren, presbyterian, baptist, salvationist, who is now a spirit filled charismatic reformed evangelical within the Newfrontiers (Catalyst) family of churches.
1. We believers are the church, and it is we physically who are set apart and are consecrated or made Holy, because he is Holy and hopefully living in and through us.
2. Who consecrated the ground on the mountain where God spoke to Moses at the burning bush? It was here that he was told to remove his shoes because it was Holy Ground.
3. Surely it is where God is, that is Holy Ground – now that God has made His place with man in their hearts, this is or should be our true consecration.
4. Buildings are just that, somewhere to gather, to be community, to be warm, dry and safe, what point consecration, given point 1 & 3.
5. Who am I with the log in my own eye to make judgement on Giles?
6. Our Lord considered the religious leaders to be vipers and thieves. We today consider the Jews with their hundreds of rabbinic laws, ceremonies and requirements necessary to keep just ten simple commandments as overbearing, burdomsome and legalistic, and yet look at our discussion, isn’t this what today we have become and done also?
Those Ten Commandments were summed up perfectly and simply by Jesus when he said that we are to, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
There is something to be said about coming to God with a simple faith.
Whatever the merits or otherwise of Giles Goddard’s actions, the whole debate sheds light on one of the huge problems we have in conducting and modelling Christian disagreement today (I’m opting for ‘Christian disagreement’ as I think we can do better than ‘good disagreement’).
Party A says or does something novel.
Party B takes offence. Or feels the need to be seen to take a position.
Party B takes to the blogosphere to explain the legal, theological, philosophical, biblical, cultural or historical minutae of why Party A’s words or actions are intolerable.
The language used is often forensically legalistic and serves to deepen division, rather than seek grace or understanding. Lines are drawn, trenches dug and by lunchtime we all know where we are.
Another brick in the wall of division and mistrust has been cemented in place. Grace seems harder to find than ever.
Is there a better way? Is there a way of talking to one another which might allow grace and love to flow, rather than law and death?
Parties A and B are interchangeable. I write this as a liberal sinner who has made his own contribution to this unholy way of disagreeing.
Is there a way of speaking to each other which might be characterised as Christian disagreement? I hope so…
Two thoughts, from very different sources.
“Even if you’re right, when you hear the other guy’s shoulder blades hit the wall, you’ve lost the argument ” (verbatim, John Chapman from my notes at a Proclamation Trust conference 1992)
“When someone profoundly disagrees with what I am saying, even if I can only find 10% to agree with in what he’s saying, I’ll respond ‘Sir, you make an excellent point…'” (Richard Rohr, “The Art of Letting Go”)
What might Christian disagreement look like?
So, let’s look at the power of the relatively pejorative.
In Guy’s plea (which I truly believe is heartfelt), I like Party A better, don’t you?
In this case, Party A is Giles Goddard, but in other years, it’s been a conservative proposing that General Synod adopts a motion that endorses, say, the church’s tradition on marriage.
Hurray for anyone belonging to Party A, as all they’ve done is to propose something novel.
In response, Party B are the baddies, who have been chomping at the bit for a chance to cast Party A in the worst possible light. Apparently, the legal, theological, philosophical, biblical, cultural or historical dissection has one purpose, which is to present Party A’s words and actions as intolerable.
Guy’s ‘proof’ is the outcome is telling. It intimates that, if divisions have been deepened, it is because Party B’s forensically legalistic approach that isn’t seeking grace and understanding.
Look at the results of dissecting Party A’s words and actions: another brick in the wall of mistrust and division, law and death, and an unholy way of disagreeing.
Well, we know the alternative that brings grace and life, don’t we? The next time someone proposes a supposedly innocuous novelty, don’t dissect it, or at least, not in forensic detail (like this comment does).
So, in the midst of disagreement, the advice is to ensure that we never treat as intolerable the words or actions of the opposing argument. However it may contradict your loyalty to the gospel, the way to grace and life is to affirm what little of it (even 10%) with which you agree.
Well, here’s an earlier example of Christian disagreement. Listen to St. Paul (Party B), regarding the attempt of Judaizers (Party A) to impose circumcision on Gentile believers: ‘I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.’ (Galatians 2:3 – 5)
The novelty was that Gentile believers needed to circumcised in order to find salvation and St. Paul referred it to apostolic collegiality to settle the matter. Neverlheless, once decided, he devoted most of several epistles to ‘explain the legal, theological, philosophical, biblical, cultural or historical minutae of why the Judaizers words or actions were intolerable.’
It was the same with the Gnostic heresy. Sorry to disappoint the ‘peace at any price’ crowd, but that’s what Christian disagreement looks like.
How often one finds the ‘I apologise that people were offended’ thing these days. It is so deceptive. If one wanted to be clear, one could say ‘I am sorry that people were offended, but not sorry for what I did’. All this careful choosing of words – the very opposite of transparency.
Allah-language in church: Commonwealth Observance Day in Westminster Abbey (attended by Queen) since at least the 1970s. King Hussein of Jordan’s memorial service in St Paul’s 1999.
Who will be surprised that cultural acquiescence on one matter is followed by cultural acquiescence on another at St John’s Waterloo? That is exactly as expected and predicted.
I have much sympathy with Guy Elsmore’s plea for more gracious disagreement and I do not want to lay all the blame on Canon Giles Goddard. But the dynamics were more complex than a simple scheme can describe.
Party A did something not merely novel but offensive and then posted a video on youtube about it.
Party B protests against what it perceives to be a clear and serious breach of Canon law.
Party A claims that they had no idea that their actions were breaking Canon law and offers an apology which is typically modern in its lack of clarity. (It neither says: “I think what I did was right but I am sorry for the offence caused” nor “I now realise that what I did was wrong and am sorry for it.”)
Party B offers analyses as to why hosting Islamic prayer services in a church is wrong and where the apology falls short.
What really got me was the sheer number of simple fallacies assumed in various accusations hurled in the direction of those who objected to the event at St John’s Waterloo.
Posters claimed to be quite unable to see a difference between inviting Muslims to a Christian service (JUstin Welby cited as one example) and hosting an Islamic service or indeed the difference between inviting people and hosting events: http://hadleyrectory.blogspot.com/2015/03/welcoming-people-hosting-events.html
The importance of getting to know each other’s faith traditions was stressed but at the same time there was a complete refusal to distinguish between different faiths. There are probably Anglicans who are used to the idea of saying prayers without meaning a word of them but do they not know that others do actually want to mean what they say? Is it really so difficult to notice the difference between, say, the Jewish Mourner’s Kaddish whose wording would be entirely unobjectionable to all but maybe a very few Christians and the daily Islamic prayer which few Christians would feel comfortable to say and mean?
It would be simplistic to think of Judaism as a pre-Christian religion – we grew up together – but there is a difference between being non-Trinitarian and anti-Trinitarian which is at least worth reflecting on, see further http://hadleyrectory.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/churches-hosting-non-christian.html
The old “Jesus did not say anything against ___ so it must be all right” line was trotted out, now applied to Islam and apparently in all seriousness. So nuclear war would be all right because Jesus only said to put away swords? (Some suggested that Jesus did not really care for “doctrine” – things like knowing the true God and worshipping him rightly. It is hard to believe that they read John’s Gospel recently.)
Many seriously argued that because “Allah” is the Arabic word for “God” (Hebrew “Elohim”*) anyone using either term in divine service must necessarily worship the same God. Surely it cannot be so hard to see the difference between terms and referents?
*Posters actually more often equate Arabic “Allah” with Hebrew “El” or the rarer form “Eloah” but it may be better to link Arabic “illyah” (god, deity) with “El” and “Allah” (God) with “Elohim” although “Elohim” (like “El”) sometimes refers to YHWH and at other times does not.
I can understand that someone who is not theologically educated might say “Muslims (seek to) worship the only true God” and “Christians (seek to) worship the only true God,” therefore their object of worship is the same. But it is shocking that many trained clergy seem unable to see that things are a little more complex than that and that people might come to a different conclusion. I have pursued some of the relevant considerations at http://hadleyrectory.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/do-muslims-worship-same-god-as.html
I am not at all surprised to see that some clergy equate Islamic Allah with the Biblical God but I am taken aback by seeing that they seem to be unable to imagine what reasons someone else might have for refusing to equate the two, other than spite and hatred.
Nor am I surprised to learn that some Anglicans believe that God can be approached in an Islamic way just as well as through Christ but I am astonished that some seem to be quite unable to conceive of the possibility that objection to the events at St John’s Waterloo springs out of love for Christ rather than homophobia.
Where I have written “offensive”, “provocative” may be more appropriate. What I mean is that Party A must have known fully well that the event was not merely novel but “provocative” which is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes you have to be provocative to be prophetic. It is not usually possible to do “just what every right-minded Christian would do, wouldn’t they?” and to be prophetic. But if you think it’s right to be provocative, for the sake of love, don’t be surprised if in fact your action provokes a response.
Interestingly, it was the people objecting to the event at St John’s who were referred to (by the Provost of Glasgow Cathedral) as “those who want to stir up trouble between faiths” not those who by hosting the event were in effect telling the majority of Muslims “you really ought to become more like us and have women pray alongside men and allow them to preach”.
I am not saying that it would have been better to invite a mainstream Muslim group with an imam railing against homosexuality. Noit at all, although claims to be offering radical hospitality might have more weight if the guests invited were not so much alike the host. Again, I am not minimising the differences between Giles Goddard’s Christian faith and the Muslim faith of Dr Amina Wadud but Giles Goddard presumably found little to object to in that prayer service and this means that the hospitality was not as radical as claimed by some. If there really are not parameters for Christian hospitality, limits to events a church is prepared to host, this would be better -prophetically- demonstrated by hosting an event with which the host really disagrees.
Both can be argued, (1) that we should offer non-judgemental hospitality to each and everyone, hosting their events even if they contain objectionable actions, and (2) that Muslims at worship are not really all that different from us at worship, but not easily at the same time.
Guy Elsmore has offered some thoughts on Chrisrian disagreement and it should be pointed out suggests that his Party A and Party B are interchangeable. That is to say, he is talking about the PROCESS of disagreeing and the need to find some common ground, if only 10%. Thomas Renz offers some thoughts on disagreement and some very valuable comments on the whole St John’s Waterloo affair which have encouraged me to think carefully about my pre-conceptions. David Shepherd’s post causes me a lot of problems. The sub-text of his post is quite simply that Christian disagreement is not possible. One side is right and the other side is wrong and that is all there is to it. He ends with a sneer at what he calls the ‘peace at any price crowd’ and his final comment indicates that there is no possibility of Christian disagreement or any other kind. I am right and you are wrong. He takes a particular example which unequivocal. However, there is a lot of truth in the old saying ‘hard cases make bad laws’. I would need a much more sustained discussion with more thought through examples to convince me that Christian disagreement is not possible. David’s post creates an impasse from which there is no way out. The situation is cut and dried. On the other hand, Thomas’ post offers some ways out of the impasse and ways to rethink the whole question. i know which way I prefer. I am able to enter into dialogue with Thomas but hat is nbot possible with someone who takes Davidl’s position. It is a travesty to characterise liberals, of whom I am one, as belonging to the ‘peace at any price crowd’
I pressed send to soon. I meant to end by adding that it is equally a travesty to characterise liberals as no more than relativists.
At a tangent, I am curious why Ian should have have asked Peter Ould, who has his own blog, to do a guest post and not to have written himself. I would have been interested to read his own take on the matter.
I disagree 100% with the evangelical response to this, but respect evangelicals for having the courage of their convictions. The craven liberals, by contrast, betray theirs by imposing intolerance on all for a quiet life.
Here are a few choice responses from the Thinking Anglicans blog on which, unlike me, you are allowed to comment.
‘Allah, preserve us from the insanity. In Jesus’ Name.’
‘If there is indeed one God, and if Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Baha’i, Sikhism, and any other monotheistic faiths all proclaim to believe in that God, then ultimately we are all praying to the same God.’
‘Besides, should we really be reasoning from the premise that only those who can subscribe to every jot and tittle of the Nicene Creed may worship God in church?’
‘Doubtless it’s not actually a circumstance envisioned by those who wrote the Canons, but the fact remains that it doesn’t appear to be illegal at present to have Muslim prayers in a church.’
‘The whole business has been got up by a small clique of conservative evangelicals who are looking for any reason to bash the Inclusive and liberal Catholics in the diocese and cathedral and have fixed on this issue to vent their ire and cause as much trouble as possible.’
‘Perhaps what most upsets people is the pushing of boundaries, not only between faiths but gender and sexuality too.’
The evangelical response is no more homogeneous than these. So, it would be useful to understand how your disagreement with evangelicals differs from the opinions that I’ve just quoted.
David, have the owners of Thinking Anglicans told you that you’re banned? If so, have they explained why?
As for the responses, I don’t doubt that evangelicals who oppose this are sincere in their convictions. Peter Ould makes his own reasoning clear above. My own position is that the Church of England should allow this, since it’s previously allowed other multi-faith use of its buildings without fuss (Buddhist services were mentioned over at TA), and I don’t like creedal authoritarianism.
I dislike the non-apology as much Peter Ould, and wish Southwark Diocese, as a supposed bastion of liberalism, had the courage and integrity to stand up and defend this. This slippery behavior does them no credit.
I wasn’t explicitly banned, but by April 2013, when some comment thread debates were in full swing, the publication of my responses was suddenly and severely curtailed.
Now, there were earlier issues with some comments going to spam. In those cases, I would ask the moderator if this was the case.
The last straw for me was the 30th April, 2013 posting entitled ‘West Indies bishops issue statement on same-sex unions’. The moderators permitted a chorus of derisory comments highlighting the ‘irony’ of blacks who couldn’t see the parallels (obvious to them) between homosexual behaviour and race.
One commenter singled out the West Indies with this obtuse observation: ‘Patriarchy and promiscuity reign among married men on some of the islands’.
I posted my responses, but throughout that comment thread, as the sole contradictory voice, the moderators only permitted one message from me. It was a final exasperated plea: ‘ED: perhaps my sole voice for the Caribbean will be heard. The stats on patriarchy and promiscuity are clear. Perhaps the post is somewhere in spam’.
This time there was no reply from the moderator.
And, of course, the moderator published none of those stats that I summarised in rejecting stereotypes.
I’m happier on blogs like this one. Ian Paul never throws a debating ‘fight’ by moderating contradictory views into silence. For that matter, neither did Peter Ould.
A bit late, so I’ll respond to your inter-faith comments in a later post.
‘My own position is that the Church of England should allow this, since it’s previously allowed other multi-faith use of its buildings without fuss (Buddhist services were mentioned over at TA)’
First, I’d be surprised if Richard Charters permission for Buddhist rituals in St. Paul’s involved his own prayers mentioning the eightfold path, nirvana and conflating resurrection with reincarnation.
Nevertheless, the May 2008 guidance that I’ve seen distinguishes the following:
A Christian service with guest participants from other faiths;
A serial multi-faith service (either Christian services with active participation by other faith leaders; or Services when each faith group contributes in turn);
An interfaith service with an agreed common order (e.g. Commonwealth observance at Westminster Abbey)
Of course, Giles Goddard states that it was none of these. He explained on Thinking Anglicans:
‘In this case we were offering hospitality to another faith tradition, who were unable to use one of their own spaces because the prayers were to be for women and men worshipping together and led by a woman – the highly respected Dr Amina Wadud, for International Women’s Day.’
Fair enough, but this was not merely providing space for Muslims to conduct their own prayers, was it? Goddard participated as the senior representative of St. John’s, Waterloo, reciting Ps. 139 and praying: “Allah, God, is always with us and always around us, and is within us. And this is from the Hebrew scripture, so it is our shared, we all share, these great traditions. So let us celebrate our shared traditions by giving thanks to the God that we love, Allah, Amen.”
It was a serial multi-faith service described in the guidelines as ‘Services when each faith group contributes in turn’.
For this, the guidelines explain: ‘These are effectively multi-faith gatherings where faith groups observe respectfully while other believers worship and then take their own turn. *This allows sacred texts, prayers and actions to be employed more freely across the faith groups represented, and allows those who wish to recognize areas of common experience and expression without offending those who do not believe they exist.*
It continues: ‘Muslims and Christians, e.g. might join to celebrate the birth of Christ, each making it clear how they receive and honour him. Jews, Muslims and Christians might celebrate harvest together. The net might be spread further to celebrate New Year, a civic occasion, a national tragedy or time of common anxiety.’
Now, without specific attribution to himself or other individuals, Giles commented on TA: ‘There are many who think that Islam and Christianity are theologically consonant – Miroslav Volf’s book on this, ‘Allah – A Christian Response’ is excellent – but others take a very different view, and this didn’t seem to be the right occasion to argue that out.’
Of course, if he believes this, it would explain how he could call God, Allah. However, it’s clear that he was only concerned with recognizing what he considered to be common experience and expression with no regard for offending those who do not believe they exist.*
If they are theologically consonant, why couldn’t he end that prayer: ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord who reveals all that can be known of transcendent Allah’ and enjoy mutual respect?
No, instead, he participates with prayers that invoke Allah, while concealing Christian symbols and balking at any mention of Christ. The whole service grovels before Islamic sensibilities.
Giles flimsily claims that he was merely making space for another faith tradition and later affirms the Declaration of Assent, only to recommends a book that portrays Islam and Christianity as theologically consonant.
Christ never did that with the Samaritan faith tradition (John 4). Syncretism by any other name would be just as treacherous!
What real christian would let satan (allah) be worshipped in a christian church?