The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane, DD, Episcopal Bishop of Washington and Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, last week preached a televised Christmas sermon that was so breathtakingly brimful of theological confusion and pandering dhimmitude that I am breathless as I type this.
Rapt in wonder at the miraculous works of God, Chane asks a series of rhetorical questions: “And what was God thinking . . . when the Angel Gabriel was sent by God to reveal the Law to Moses? And what was God thinking . . . when the Angel Gabriel was sent by God to reveal the sacred Quran to the prophet Muhammad? And what was God thinking . . . when the Angel Gabriel was sent by God to reveal the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God?”
Chane continues: “Were these just random acts of association and coincidence or was the Angel Gabriel who appears as the named messenger of God in the Jewish Old Testament, the Christian New Testament Gospels, and the Quran of Islam, really the same miraculous messenger of God who proclaimed to a then emerging religious, global community and to us this morning that we are ALL children of the living God? And as such we are called to acknowledge that as Christians, Jews and Muslims we share a common God and the same divine messenger. And that as children of the same God, we are now called to cooperatively work together to make the world a haven for harmony, peace, equality and justice for the greatest and least among us.”
Gee, that all sounds swell. Put me down for harmony, peace, equality, and justice too. But I am left wondering if Bishop Chane has actually read the Qur’an that he acknowledges as a divine revelation. While he calls Jesus the “Son of God” in this sermon, is he aware that the book he calls “the sacred Qur’an” in practically the same breath doesn’t exactly approve of those who call Jesus the Son of God? “The Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah. That is their saying with their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved of old. Allah (Himself) fighteth against them. How perverse are they!” (Sura 9:30). It’s unlikely that anyone who really believes that that verse was revealed by God would take kindly to Chane’s calling Jesus “the Son of God.” Meanwhile, by affirming both, Chane has demonstrated that he himself most likely doesn’t believe in much of anything.
Chane has also entangled himself in an absurdity. In his view, evidently, although his god was busy sending the Angel Gabriel to do a lot of revealing, this deity wasn’t much interested in making sure his revelations were internally consistent or, therefore, particularly revelatory by any standard. In doing so, and by attempting to pander to Jews, Christians, and Muslims in one fell swoop, he has managed to make statements offensive to each group.
This kind of silliness is not a viable road to the genuine harmony, peace, equality, and justice that Chane longs for. Instead, it’s the road to dhimmitude: now that he has publicly affirmed Muhammad as a prophet, Chane could easily be pressed by Muslims to discard what may remain of his Christian faith “” or else accept dhimmi subservience in the name of the peace he covets. For nothing is more certain than the fact that his generosity will not be reciprocated. Many Muslim apologists make skillful use of the fashionable language of tolerance by saying that they affirm Jesus as a prophet, and why can’t Christians do the same for Muhammad. But if Chane thinks this is real tolerance and that he is reciprocating, he is much mistaken, as the cases are not in fact equivalent: the Jesus that Muslims affirm has little in common with the Jesus of Christianity, and for Christians to affirm Muhammad as a prophet would be tantamount to their renouncing Christianity “” since Muhammad’s revelation demands adherence to propositions that are directly opposed to Christianity.
Meanwhile, anyone “” Muslims as well as Jews, Christians, and others “” seeking real peace would do better to seek it with integrity, not with shallow and empty-headed pandering such as that of Bishop Chane. In other words, not by constructing a fantasy world of fictional harmony, but by forthrightly acknowledging differences and looking squarely at what must be done to make genuine peaceful coexistence possible. The explicit renunciation of violent jihad theology would be a good place to start for the New Year. (Thanks to Shirley W. Madany for bringing this sermon to my attention.)