A Very Bad Letter
Below is an open letter signed by four Anglican bishops of the Middle East including the rightly renowned primate, Presiding Bishop Mouneer Anis, and former Trinity School for Ministry professor and newly consecrated bishop, Grant LeMarquand. The letter is addressed to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, in response to the recent spate of violence in Egypt, Libya and across the Arabian Peninsula. It is perhaps the most disturbing communication from orthodox Anglican leaders I’ve ever read.
Dear Secretary Ban Ki-Moon,
“In view of the current inflamed situation in several countries in response to the production of a film in the USA which evidently intends to offend our Muslim brothers and sisters by insulting the Prophet Mohammed, and in view of the fact that in recent years similar offensive incidents have occurred in some European countries which evoked massive and violent responses worldwide, we hereby suggest that an international declaration be negotiated that outlaws the intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation of persons (such as prophets), symbols, texts and constructs of belief deemed holy by people of faith.”
It’s hard to know where to begin. The entire paragraph is theologically and morally repugnant but here are three glaring flaws
First, the bishops describe Muslims as “brothers and sisters”. If this were a clear reference to shared national, ethnic, or regional identity it would be one thing. I can, in that sense, refer to my “brother and sister” Americans or Irishmen or Moose Lodge members. But the context of this letter is explicitly religious. In a spiritual sense, Muslims are not brothers and sisters with Christian bishops. Christians share brotherhood and sisterhood with one another because we have one God and Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But, “no one who denies the Son has the Father.” (1 John 2:23)
Muslims deny the Sonship of Christ and follow a false religion that promotes the worship of a false god who, unless the true God grants repentance and faith, will lead them into everlasting darkness. Muslims and Christians do not share the same Father. We are not, therefore, spiritual siblings.
Perhaps the bishops meant to point to our “shared Abrahamic roots”? But that would be to accept the claim manufactured in the Koran that we have shared Abrahamic roots with Muslims. We do not. To say or imply otherwise is to legitimize Koranic revelation at the expense of biblical revelation.
Which leads to the second problem. The bishops refer to Mohammed as “the Prophet”. Mohammed was many things but prophet is not one of them. To suggest otherwise legitimizes Islamic truth claims which stand in direct opposition to those made by Jesus Christ in the New Testament. You can profess Jesus as the Lord God, Maker of Heaven and Earth or Mohammed as “the Prophet”. You cannot profess both.
I understand the use of honorific titles and understand “the Prophet” as such but the use of this honorific by Christian bishops gives far too much away. To get a sense for the problem, imagine Christians are in dialogue with Satanists. Suppose the Satanists use: “The True Lord and Creator of the Universe” as their honorific title for Lucifer. Christians would, I think, have to find some respectful way to avoid using that honorific because using it involves promoting a lie. It’s designed to do just that. The same is true for the title “the Prophet”. Using it requires referring to someone who by biblical standards is clearly a false prophet as a messenger from God.
If you feel you must refer to Mohammed using the preferred title, at the very least say something like “their” Prophet rather than “the” Prophet so as to avoid giving the impression that Christians accept the claim.
Finally, the bishops urge international legislation outlawing the defamation of “persons (such as prophets), symbols, texts, and constructs of belief deemed holy by people of faith.” It’s hard to imagine a more gutless, self-defeating response to Muslim violence than this one. I say “self defeating” because if such a tyrannical law were ever put into effect it would ban the exposition of numerous New Testament passages. How could one preach, for example, 1st Corinthians 10:20 which identifies all non-Christian worship as demonic in origin, without “defaming” persons, texts, symbols and constructs of belief others deem “holy”? Have these bishops never read the book of Acts? Have they forgotten how many riots Paul and his companions provoked and beatings and stonings they endured precisely because they dared to “defame” the false gods of the Greeks and false beliefs of the Jews?
“This suggested declaration should not, in any way, be seen as contradictory to the freedom of expression that is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.’
Why shouldn’t it?
Article 19 states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
The bishops want to make expressions that insult or defame religious belief illegal. That necessarily requires: limiting “freedom of expression” and the freedom to “seek, receive, and impart information and ideas…”
Shutting down free expression is precisely what this law would do.
“However, it should encourage all people (including controllers of media) to be responsible and self-restraining in expressing or promoting offensive or malicious opinions with regard to the religions of the world, especially in today’s climate whereby those opinions and expressions may be rapidly and widely spread through many media.”
Putting such a law into effect would definitely require “self-restraint” because, thankfully, the UN has no power (yet) to enforce its dictates. But, absent some kind of negative sanction, I see no reason to believe it would “encourage” self-restraint on the part of individuals. Nor should it. Why should any individual citizen of any sovereign nation give any heed to unenforceable international mandates limiting rights their own governments protect?
“We are suggesting such a declaration in order to avoid the possibility of further violence in the future - violence that may easily lead to wars between nations and conflicts between people from different cultural or philosophical backgrounds or followers of different faiths.”
The bishops may have in mind one badly done film but for Christians the “possibility of further violence” can never and must never be avoided. The gospel necessarily brings “conficts between people from different cultural or philosophical backgrounds or followers of different faiths.” That is, to a tee, what Jesus said he came to do and exactly what he promised we could expect. It’s not a bad thing to be avoided but a good thing to be embraced.
“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53)
To outlaw religious speech that causes division and conflict is to outlaw the preaching of the gospel.
“It may be suggested that some of the violent responses experienced in the last few years are out of proportion to the original, offensive and insulting acts.”
“However, it is a fact that people in different parts of the world react differently, especially when it comes to matters of faith. Hence, there is a need to take this suggested declaration under serious consideration.”
Some people fly into a murderous rage when they perceive a religious insult. “Hence” rather than bothering to address the murderous rage problem we think everyone else should just be very very very quiet.
“Finally, as people living here in the Middle East, we see that the way ahead for peaceful coexistence and religious harmony is through mutual respect and love. Such, Sir, is the motivation behind suggesting this declaration.
The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis Bishop of Episcopal / Anglican Diocese of Egypt Bishop of the Episcopal/Anglican with North Africa and the Horn of Africa. President Bishop of the Episcopal/Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East
The Rt. Rev. Michael Owen LewisArea Bishop for the Horn of Africa The Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Egypt The Episcopal / Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa with North Africa and the Horn of Africa
The Rt. Rev. Michael Owen Lewis, Bishop of the Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Bill Musk, Area Bishop for North Africa. The Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Grant LeMarquand Area Bishop for the Horn of Africa The Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa
This letter, signed by men who are rightly honored and esteemed, is a travesty in that it seeks to make peace with violent thugs by promoting speech restrictions that would not only hinder but criminalize the proclamation of the gospel these bishops are sworn to defend.
Here’s the letter in full, hat tip to George Conger:
Letter to Secretary Ban Ki-Moon (15 September 2012)
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