The head of the Scottish Episcopal Church has said he is “deeply distressed at the widespread offence” caused by the reading of a passage from the Quran denying the divinity of Christ during an Epiphany service, but no apology has been issued.
In a statement posted to his blog site, David Chillingworth, the Primus of the Church appeared to strongly rebuke Kelvin Holdsworth, the Provost of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Glasgow, where the reading took place, arguing that interfaith work, “like all works of reconciliation, must be founded on truth.” He continued: “We approach others with open hearts but we stand in the truth of the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
However, no apology for the reading has been forthcoming; Chillingworth reasoning that the “The decisions which have led to the situation in St Mary’s Cathedral are a matter for the Provost and the Cathedral community.”
He added that the church will “bring together all those who are involved in the development of interfaith relations” to explore how the work can be carried out “in ways which will command respect.”
Holdsworth himself is unrepentent, writing in a blog post that “local Muslim friends” were invited “as we were reflecting on the arrival of the mysterious Magi at Bethlehem”. The significance is unclear, as the Magi, predating Islam by some six centuries, were Zoroastrian.
He continued: “Having a recitation from the Qur’an in a Christian cathedral in worship is not a new thing.
“So it has indeed come as something of a surprise to find accounts of last week’s service appearing online and stirring up the most most incredible pot of hatred I’ve ever encountered.
“This same Qur’anic reading has been given before in services and no outcry has happened. Is it because this is in a cathedral run by a gay man? Is it because the recitation was given by a young woman?
“Clearly those things are factors as they feature in some of the abuse.”
Confirming that some of the messages received by the church had been reported to Police Scotland, Holdsworth added: “They assure me that intolerance and prejudice will not be tolerated in Scotland. To put it simply, I thank God for them and their work.”
The matter came to light after St Mary’s posted a video of verses of the Quran being sung in Arabic during a service to Facebook, along with a message calling it a “wonderful event.” Both the Facebook post and a YouTube version of the reading have since been removed by the Cathedral, after it provoked widespread anger and criticism from Christians, who pointed out that the verses chosen denied the divinity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
The reading can still be viewed elsewhere on Facebook via Madinah Javed, who sang the passages during the service.
There was further anger as it emerged that a translation of the verses printed in the Order of Service and handed out to congregants omitted the last two, in which the denial came, leading to confusion.
Commenting on matter on the Archbishop Cranmer blogsite, the Rev’d Dr Gavin Ashenden, Chaplain to the Queen, said: “It’s hard to know what was in the mind of the Provost of Glasgow Cathedral when he arranged for this assault on Jesus and the apostles.
“The accusation of lying or deception [contained within the verses] was not just directed towards Jesus and the Apostles; but is also […] to those, too, who have been martyred at the hands of Islam, because they refused to renounce this deception when confronted with it.”
Refuting Holdworth’s claims that the reading was part of an interfaith dialogue between Islam and Christianity, Ashenden continued:
“There was no dialogue in the Epiphany Eucharist; only a refutation of what Christians hold most dear and upon which salvation depends.
“In over 30 years of interfaith conversations, I have never yet come across a Muslim community which allowed those passages in the Gospels acclaiming the divinity of Christ to be read in Friday prayers.”