3/18/2015

A House of Prayer for All People, yes or no?

Isaiah 56:7  "My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples." Isaiah said it, Jesus quoted it, and there it is.  The question is, just what does that mean in practice? What did Isaiah mean by that, better yet, what did God mean by that?

This past week has seen a good bit of internet noise about the Vicar of St. John, Waterloo, who allowed an "Inclusive Mosque Event" at his parish. It was a case of taking Isaiah seriously. 

The event was I suspect controversial from all sides. "Inclusive" raises hackles, I am sure, among some Muslims as it does among some Christians. That the event had to be held elsewhere than in a Mosque is interesting. 

Well, the Vicar welcomed them, and caught a lot of flack.  It would seem that the Church of England does not believe that being a house of prayer for all peoples includes holding public worship that involves religious practice other than that of the C of E.  He has apologized and life, as they say, goes on. Sort of.

Several outraged purists have vented on the matter. Perhaps the most demanding of those is the essay by Peter Ould, found HERE.  He asks, " Can Muslims worship Allah in an Anglican church?"

Not surprisingly his answer is, "No."  Concerning the actions of Canon Giles Goddard, he writes,


"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."


Of course the apology was not made to Peter Ould. But nice of him to slam Canon Goddard with such force anyway.  What's going on here?

Well in the next paragraph Ould swings wider first at the Bishop of Southward, with whom the righteous right have had some difficulties, and then at the Archbishop of Canterbury. He closes by writing, 
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.
- See more at: http://anglicanink.com/article/can-muslims-worship-allah-anglican-church#sthash.kTkzbzGk.dpuf
Can Muslims worship Allah in an Anglican church?
Can Muslims worship Allah in an Anglican church?
 


"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."

Ah! This is all a chance to slam the wicked Church of England, in favor of a world wide Anglican community ordered by the Global South, or GAFCON folk, or whatever.

Well, good luck with that.

Meanwhile, what did God, Isaiah and Jesus have in mind by saying "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples?" Offering hospitality to what appears to be fairly progressive Muslim group wanting to have men and women worship together seems to have gone too far.

But do these words apply to churches as houses of God?  If so, are there any guidelines, of a practical sort, for what is and is not meant by being a "house of prayer for all people?" Because the CofE is a state church all sorts of matters, including this one, get made more complex. But still... what does it mean for a place to be a house of prayer for all peoples?

I've got some ideas about what it might mean:

(i) Individuals are welcome to enter the house and pray to God privately. How they pray may be limited in one way or another, using the rule of distraction (don't do things that distract community users from their own devotional life.) But in general, private prayer in a public place of worship is welcomed.

(ii) I would hope that houses of prayer would be open to others for public worship in other traditions when catastrophe happens.  If a masque or a synagogue or temple were to burn down and that faith community had no place to meet for public prayer, it would seem right and good to offer them space for worship. If the only practical space was the "house" - the "sacred space," so be it. This comes under the heading, "my house is your house." 

No doubt there are problems to be overcome. If Muslims or Jews or others find the visible signs of this place being a Christian house (crosses, altars) offensive what ought be done? 

I am opposed generally to removing signs of Christian faith. At the same time there could be creative interchange in living with others in our midst. For the altar to become a bimah on which the Scrolls might be opened and read might be an eye-opening way of relating Torah and Sacrament. What would a discussion of the presence of a crucifix lead to, between Christians and Jews, as they prayed and talked together about the Jewish experience of Christians as persecutors?  Could there be place of mutual care born of the necessities of the moment?  A marker directing the worshiping community of Islam toward Mecca would seems reasonable. Bells to call Buddhist meditation to begin or close would be fine.  I am less sure about incense, offerings of foods, removing pews, ridding the place of books of worship.  It would seem that some devotional practices are more intrusive than others. The practice of hospitality works both ways: guest and host alike need to work at what is intrusive, what constitutes good manners, and what the occasion requires. But mostly this sort of thing would require honest engagement.

Still, I would hope that other faith communities would be welcomed into the church as a "house of prayer,"  not only for individuals but for "peoples."

(iii) What about hosting a special event which would not otherwise by condoned by the guest's own religious community?  Suppose there was to be a prayer service for the life of the nation, for those in service to the nation, and that that service was to be ecumenical and interfaith both? Is a Muslim prayer acceptable in such a service if it were held in a CofE church?  How about a Jewish prayer, a Hindu prayer? Again, there would be considerable work to be done to make sure people could worship with grace and in good conscience, but at the same time to make sure that the host congregation's own witness is not compromised. Can it be done?  Of course. It is done all the time. 

Perhaps the question is not "Can Muslims worship Allah in an Anglican Church," but "Should Muslims be allowed to worship Allah in an Anglican Church?"  I have no notion if a Muslim believer CAN worship Allah in an Anglican Church. Perhaps covering crosses and such makes it easier to use the space, but that also makes the space less than what it is - a house of prayer.  My hope is that God, however developed the idea of God,  can be worshiped everywhere. 

The question might better be, "Should Muslims be allowed to worship Allah in an Anglican Church."  Perhaps a beginning answer might be, "Yes if for reasons of hospitality a Muslim community is given or seeks refuge in the Church for a variety of reasons." "No, if the nature of the service, the intent of the praying community, or the purpose of worship is to deny the validity of the faith of the Christian community in place.

Does the worship of God as Allah deny the reality or validity of the Triune God, worshipped by Christians?  Who knows? Muslim believers (as I understand it) don't worship a Triune God.  Christians work hard at making the three One, and if One, then the One is like but not the same as the One the Muslim believer worships. 

But here's the rub: The mystery of the fullness of the person of God is just that, a mystery. That means dear friends, that if the God that Isaiah spoke for, who made extensive claims to being the One, says "My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples," we need to find ways to be hospitable to people who don't share in the mystery of the Trinity, or have other mysteries of their own. Or, we can simply say the invitation that God made through Isaiah was wrong.


Meanwhile I suggest whacking people on the head with canons and doctrine who offer hospitality into the house, as if it were a house of prayer for all people is, to put it bluntly, scary.



7 comments:

  1. Father Mark, you might recall a number of years ago that many of these same folks were up in arms when, I believe it was, the Diocese of Central NY legally got the building back from Matt Kenedy and the parish he lead out of TEC and then horror of horrors, the diocese sold it to Muslims and it was turned into a mosque!

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  2. Scary, yes. But it's also consistent with CofE policy in other situations: exclusion of gays (or, grudging inclusion), removal of the homeless from the steps of St Paul's. Face it, Mark: Some of us just aren't good enough for the CofE. If we don't have the sense to understand that, and behave accordingly, we will be reminded of it in short order -- one way or another.

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  3. Devon Miller-Duggan

    A. Last time I checked Allah was the same God as Jehovah and Adonai and so forth and so on...

    B. I do not pretend (or mostly even want) to understand the mind of Christ (who bears all of our darkness--I have plenty of trouble with my own, thank you), but it is fairly clear that one thing he was NOT was a fundamentalist.

    So, C. If Allah is, simply (as though that word applies to anything theological...) God, and Jesus is God, then Allah is Jesus, so in Christian understanding, praying to God is praying to God, period. Or am I wrong?

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  4. No sense bring Archbishop Justin into this fuss/muss...he, of course, will be on the side of observing instead of leading...open LGBTI people are NOT allowed to worship in the Anglican Churches of Uganda, Nigeria and other exclusive hang-outs for the extra HOLY in the Anglican Communion...¨off with you¨ as ++Welby and ++John of York ruminate about who is ok or NOT to enter into all levels of Churchlife! There is nowhere to hide from feckless/pointless religiouslike pompus primping/prancing at Church...Ould is a extra tiresome lot who operates in the land of cornered/dangerous teethnashers at church. Why has the Church of England fallen so short of any kind of basic decency=hospitality at Church? Ask the pontificating fundies who thieve and deceive. Alas, no comment from Lambeth.

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  5. Bill Coats19/3/15 1:04 PM

    Hey Mark,
    Coats here. I met Giles during a week stay with him 5 years ago. A really decent chap. His rationale was not the usual ecumenical blather you are posting. He said that the special status of the C of E , namely the church encompassing all the English would necessarily mean some accomodation to English Muslims. Seems logical to me. After all it was the C of E that blasted Cameron and company's economic Thatcherism. they saw themselves speaking for the better agnels of the British. Now this is a bit far afield for us, but there it is. As for the US and our churches by all means invite others - but do not alter any of the furnishings. Ecumenism here must be based not on a fuzzy "we all believe the same thing" so "lets liturgically find the lowest common indicators" but on real respect for real differences (of which with the Muslims there are many). Muslims and Jews must learn - as we as Chrisians must - that their "houses" are differnt and must be respected as such.
    Bill

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  6. "Does the worship of God as Allah deny the reality or validity of the Triune God, worshipped by Christians?"

    Not intrinsically. There are a *few* anti-Christian/anti-Gospel passages in the Quran: I suppose we (Christians) could ask for the Quran passages in advance (in English/local language) they are planning to read/preach on.

    I confess, I'm ambivalent re removing/covering crucifixes (or other images: my parish has a banner depicting our name saint). Certainly, some churches have liturgical furnishings for which removing/altering would be difficult, if not impossible. But if we CAN remove them easily, it would also go to demonstrate that they are, in fact, NOT idols (as Muslims may fear). Perhaps should be sorted on a case-by-case basis?

    Generally, I think hospitality is a very blessed (and Christ-like) thing!

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  7. Growing up we were taught the part about "a house of prayer for all peoples" was tied to the Great Commission--Go everywhere, tell everyone and make them Christ's disciples. That would make it a Christian house of prayer and a house for all peoples, but these days trying to convert people is too exclusive. Now we talk about a general God, any religion is now equal, and avoid any talk of differences, only the things that are similar are allowed. That makes conversion unnecessary.

    I do think it a poor choice having an Islamic service in a church, making the two equal, when there are so many attacks against Christians; would inviting an Imam in save Canon White's parishioners? Should Christians just go to the local mosque or Hindu temple to pray, and in doing so have a much better chance of survival? It's all the same god, right?

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