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September 18, 2012


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.”

Understatement perhaps?

“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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72 comments

Very sad indeed.

I see it, though, as similar to the way Jewish leaders in Germany in 1938 may have talked.

Or the way a wife who experiences domestic violence from a husband will talk.

I think one thing you didn’t mention, Matt, is that of course, restraining one’s critique or analysis of other religions will in no way “avoid the possibility of further violence in the future” from Islamic jihadists or Islamic thugs.

So not only does the statement give up pretty much everything in order to appease violent bullies, but in fact, it does not ultimately appease those people at all, since the violence will continue long “in the future” as a part of their foundational worldview.

[1] Posted by Sarah on 9-18-2012 at 09:26 PM · [top]

This is from the response made by the National Representation of the Jews in Germany to passage of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935:

The Laws decided upon by the Reichstag in Nuremberg have come as the heaviest of blows for the Jews in Germany. But they must create a basis on which a tolerable relationship becomes possible between the German and the Jewish people. The Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland is willing to contribute to this end with all its powers. A precondition for such a tolerable relationship is the hope that the Jews and Jewish communities of Germany will be enabled to keep a moral and economic means of existence by the halting of defamation and boycott.

Jewish Virtual Library

The rest, as they say, is history.

[2] Posted by episcopalienated on 9-18-2012 at 09:58 PM · [top]

Very good point about the misquotation of Article 19 of UDHR.

[3] Posted by MichaelA on 9-19-2012 at 01:42 AM · [top]

Matt, I share your general concern but a couple of observations come to mind:

1. Anis is in a very difficult position following the Arab “Spring”. For all Mubarrak’s many faults he did impose a fair level of protection for religious minorities, not least the copts. With the regime change there is now much further pressure upon Christians there. I can understand that there is a real desire on his part to calm everything down and appear conciliatory.

2. It could be (and I’m asking, rather than stating) that the title “Prophet Mohammed” is used for politeness or convention rather than concession. Perhaps one of our readers will know how Christians in those locations generally express his name and purported title.

3. “Freedom of Speech” is a particularly western concept and paradigm. I’m continually astounded how those from other cultures, including Christians, do not share our basic assumptions. This divergence exists even in Western Christianity where the clear linking between conservative theology and conservative politics that one sees in the US is not replicated to the same degree in other countries. It might be worth considering that the enormous concession Anis is making in our eyes is actually no great deal for him. We are, at the moment locked in a debate on “freedom of speech” but for Anis and his brothers and sisters there may be very different issues at stake.

4. He’s undoubtedly speaking to a local audience. That doesn’t mean that he ought to be unaware of how his words are interpreted by us but we may not be his first concern.

I guess we’re all feeling some severe disappointment over this. Anis is “one of the good guys” and a statement like this from him is concerning for us. But perhaps it’s also an opportunity for us to learn some more about the differing perspectives of brothers and sisters across the world?

[4] Posted by David Ould on 9-19-2012 at 01:54 AM · [top]

I appreciate the position that these men are in.  Nevertheless, their suggestion that certain opinions should be legally forbidden, that freedom of speech should effectively be outlawed, is a monstrous idea.  Freedom of speech is a Western thing?  I don’t really care.  Freedom of speech is our thing and is part of what makes this country what it is.  If my opinions are to be criminalized simply because you claim to be offended by them, then you have just been handed effective control over anything I might say or think.  And I’m not willing to concede my rights to anybody or anything.

Here’s the deal.  Christians encounter insults to Jesus all the time.  Christianity and Christians are regularly insulted and denigrated by the secular culture all the time.  None of us are happy about it, of course, but we’ve somehow learned how to deal with it without killing people or burning property we don’t own.  Let the Islamic world learn civilization.  The fact of the matter is that I would much prefer to continue to allow Andres Serrano to photograph crucifixes in urine or let idiots like Bill Maher insult and mock Christians than to legally forbid them from doing those things because somebody might take it amiss.  This is a classic slippery slope and if one concedes this point to these misguided men, the Christian religion is doomed.

[5] Posted by Christopher Johnson on 9-19-2012 at 03:23 AM · [top]

I am afraid I must differ with David Ould’s (#4) fourth point.  The bishops may be speaking for the benefit of a local audience, but the letter is addressed to the Secretary General of the United Nations and calls for a declaration that, if the UN had any power to enforce it, would abrogate the rights that citizens of the West enjoy—inalienable rights that we in the US believe we are endowed with by our Creator.

The 13 minute movie trailer in question (which I have seen) is like a second rate imitation of a movie by the Coen Brothers.  But any movie, even a respectable, scholarly one, that challenged Mohammed’s legitimacy as a prophet and criticized his penchant for violence, ill treatment of women, and pedophilia—in short, any book, lecture, or video I might show or even produce for a Sunday School class or other church group on the errors of Islam—would be just as blasphemous to a Muslim and just as much in violation of the declaration against “promoting offensive or malicious opinions with regard to the religions of the world” for which the four bishops are calling.

[6] Posted by ToAllTheWorld on 9-19-2012 at 03:29 AM · [top]

TATW, can I pursue one claim you make?

the rights that citizens of the West enjoy—inalienable rights that we in the US believe we are endowed with by our Creator

Can you flesh this out a little more? I understand that it is taken to be self-evident that there are inalienable rights and so it would be nonsensical to challenge that (nor would I want to). But perhaps you could help me understand how the general assertion of the right to “freedom” is necessarily (I use that word deliberately) carried into freedom of all speech?

In asking this I’m not trying to be contentious - I actually hold to freedom of speech in general. But I want to know if it’s a Biblical argument or a political argument. If the latter I’m interested why we as Christians are so insistent upon it.

[7] Posted by David Ould on 9-19-2012 at 04:24 AM · [top]

David, 

Inherent in the commission and call to spread the gospel is the pre-supposition that in where God’s word is opposed, there is rebellion against him.

And yet that rebellion is not to be put down by force. It is to be met with, what? Words. Words verses words. God’s word v. words that find their origin in hell. Satan will certainly try to silence the gospel by force and we must endure it. But we do not silence Satan by force, we do what is far more dangerous…sow the word.

So the entire venue presupposed by the NT is one which words are free flowing.

[8] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 9-19-2012 at 05:36 AM · [top]

David I would suggest that you start with this from the Declaration of Independance:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

This forms a concise summary statement of our founders theory of Government.  As ultimately fleshed out in the Bill of Rights to the US Consitutiton which listed some of these inalienable rights:

Amendment 1:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Why are we Christians so insistent on it?  Because we realize that we are the most likely targets to be silenced.  We are mandated to preach the Gospel and to bring the world to Jesus.  Acts is full of accounts of attempts to silence Paul including efforts by Rome.  Liberty and freedom of speech is crucial to this.  If you don’t want to spread the Gospel then you are right, no reason for Christians to be insistent on this and you can take down your blog.

[9] Posted by Br. Michael on 9-19-2012 at 05:49 AM · [top]

Hi David:

“1. Anis is in a very difficult position following the Arab “Spring”. For all Mubarrak’s many faults he did impose a fair level of protection for religious minorities, not least the copts. With the regime change there is now much further pressure upon Christians there. I can understand that there is a real desire on his part to calm everything down and appear conciliatory.”

Conciliatory is fine. This letter goes far beyond that. Conciliatory is not proposing a law that criminalizes the very gospel these men are consecrated to uphold, proclaim and defend.

“2. It could be (and I’m asking, rather than stating) that the title “Prophet Mohammed” is used for politeness or convention rather than concession. Perhaps one of our readers will know how Christians in those locations generally express his name and purported title.”

There are literally thousands of ways to avoid giving the Mohammed the title “Prophet”. I suggested one above. You might also say, “The one Muslims revere as ‘the Prophet’.

To get a sense for the problem I see with this, imagine we were in dialogue with Satanists. And they want us to use as the honorific: “The True Lord and Creator of the Universe, Lucifer”.

Christians would have to find some polite way to avoid using that honorific I think. The same is true for the title “Prophet” since it refers to a deceiver as a messenger from God.

“3. “Freedom of Speech” is a particularly western concept and paradigm…”

I’ve already addressed your point 3 above…the NT envisions a battle of words in which freedom to express them is inherent. The only power the NT anticipates that would forcibly remove that freedom is one that originates in hell not heaven.

“4. He’s undoubtedly speaking to a local audience. That doesn’t mean that he ought to be unaware of how his words are interpreted by us but we may not be his first concern.”

He’s undoubtedly hoping a local audience will see it, but he’s speaking to an international audience. The UN Sec General and proposing an international law that would effect everyone as TATW has rightly pointed out. The effect of his words, moreover, even locally, is to defang the gospel in his own context. He’s essentially surrendering the call to preach the cross to Muslims.

“I guess we’re all feeling some severe disappointment over this.”

Yes.

“Anis is “one of the good guys” and a statement like this from him is concerning for us.”

Not merely discouraging…it is, as CJ puts it, monstrous.

“But perhaps it’s also an opportunity for us to learn some more about the differing perspectives of brothers and sisters across the world?”

Not really a “perspective” we ought to entertain as a possibility for Christians however since inherent in it is the gagging of the gospel.

[10] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 9-19-2012 at 06:04 AM · [top]

I am pondering our new moral framework, and not sure I like this:

1) Dork makes YouTube = aggressor/bully/criminal
2) Mobs with RPGs, automatic weapons, murderers, abusers, gang rapists = victims
3) Slaughtered embassy staff = unfortunate but irrelevant.

Doesn’t work for me.

[11] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 9-19-2012 at 06:31 AM · [top]

Oh look.  More fecklessness from my betters.  Now I have the privilege of adding to my list of concerns for me and mine, that is already encyclopediac and comprehensive.

[12] Posted by J Eppinga on 9-19-2012 at 06:43 AM · [top]

The church fathers would fall afoul of what the said bishops are asking for.  A disappointing letter indeed.

[13] Posted by Newbie Anglican on 9-19-2012 at 07:15 AM · [top]

David,

When I posted on this subject earlier, I was aghast that someone like Anis would sign on to such a suggestion.  It is horrifying to think that any Christian leader would agree that being concilatory in a manner that degrades the Gospel is a path to be taken.  Should there have been a call for peace?  understanding?  Sure, but unless that understanding is first and foremost embraced by those that are causing the violence - it is nothing but an invitation to turn the gospel into a second rate cheerleader for Mohammed.


Possibly you have forgotten those Christians in Egypt who were burned inside a church buildings a while back?  Think the radicals taking away their lives would have been appeased by anything but full capitulation to Islam?  If so, I’ve got some great land in Florida complete with a bridge I am just dying to sell you.

[14] Posted by Jackie on 9-19-2012 at 07:30 AM · [top]

In Egypt the phrase “Muslim brothers and sisters” was more frequently “our Muslim friends” as I heard it.  Using just “Muhammad” in this letter without the “Prophet” would be in itself inflammatory in Egypt.  They indicate their Christian status by not placing “pbuh” after the name. 

Like others here, I am distressed by this letter.  My comfort is that the United Nations is now an organization of no effect on practically anyone.  An appeal to the UN to “do something” is about as useful as asking the Archbishop of Canterbury to “do something.”  Article 19 already means very little in Muslim-majority countries, or in places like India with large Muslim minorities.  Muslim leaders consider it to be subsidiary to the sharia.  We should not be even thinking of giving the increasingly Islamist-dominated UN the authority to decide what is “offensive” to whom.

The problem is not in this foolish film, but in the response to it.  Apparently nobody in the Middle East heard of it before a Salafist TV provocateur broadcast it the weekend before the riots, with helpfully added Arabic dubbing or subtitles.  Who added the Arabic?  It was this broadcast which caused the trouble, and this TV host and his Salafist colleagues who cooked up the protests in Cairo (and, perhaps, the assault in Benghazi) who bear the responsibility for the lives lost.

[15] Posted by Katherine on 9-19-2012 at 07:36 AM · [top]

#15 - If you actually believe this film is what caused the problem, I’ve got a second plot of land that also happens to have an amazing bridge right next to David’s plot in Florida that is just screaming your name.

[16] Posted by Jackie on 9-19-2012 at 07:48 AM · [top]

You don’t seem to have read my last paragraph, #16.  Try again.  The film is a pretext used by Salafi organizers to whip up their ignorant.  It was done for their own political purposes within Egypt and the region.

[17] Posted by Katherine on 9-19-2012 at 07:54 AM · [top]

Hi Katherine, I do believe the use of Mohammed can be avoided as well as the use of the term, “the Prophet”

Perhaps something like: “The one our Muslim friends revere as the Prophet”

That commits the speaker to nothing but a descriptive recognition of how others view him.

[18] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 9-19-2012 at 08:01 AM · [top]

I’d like to add something that Matt Kennedy touches on in his comment #8.  But before I do, let me say that I am a great admirer of Archbishop Mouneer and his amazing witness, both against revisionist heretics in The Episcopal Church, and also in his own province, which I recognize is very challenging. I have little doubt that in a persecuting place I would be a craven coward, which obviously Archbishop Mouneer is not.

But on to Matt’s #8. I have to wonder what anybody believes occurred in the long sweep of history to the point where there are now countries that allow something that in the US Christians [and thinking non-Christians] believe is an “inalienable right” endowed to human beings by our Creator. By “right” and “inalienable” and “endowed by a Creator” we mean that we understand that human beings were best fitted in a human-governed society by God to be freely functioning agents.  This involves many characteristics that no State should strip from individuals, because human beings best function and are intrinsically suited for liberty.  Although it is faddish for certain Western Christians these days to decry the liberty of individuals, the truth is that individuals are not suited to be rigorously constrained by the impersonal power of a collective State, made up as it is by equally corrupt, power-hungry individuals.  That is another idea that our founders picked up on by other Western Christians—that the collective should *not* take away intrinsic freedoms which individuals should have, by virtue of their being made in the image of God.

So to pick up what Matt implied, does anybody on earth believe that, were we to outlaw free speech—that is the liberty that individuals intrinsically have, and which the State *must* regard as protected to express their beliefs publicly, no matter how offensive to others—that were Christians were to rise to power in such a State, we would not practically instantly revert to ear croppings and beheadings as well?

Does nobody recall the horrendous purges of England, as it veered back and forth between power held by the Reformers and the Roman Catholics—[and I say this acknowledging that England was also on a wonderful path towards a less powerful collective State and towards acknowledging intrinsic liberties of individuals].  Surely anyone who is a Christian can acknowledge that—no matter who was right or wrong—such a state of affairs was a gross violation of the God-given worth and intrinsic nature of human beings made in the image of God, a violation that is precisely the same sort that was done to the US ambassador to Libya and three other American citizens in a society that also does not value the intrinsic liberties of human beings.

That is the kind culture that occurs when freedom of religion and freedom of expression are not allowed—the kind of culture found in Cranmer’s and Tyndale’s England, and the kind of culture found in Libya.

The instant those freedoms are violated or denied by the collective—the State, made up of very fallen and corrupt, power-hungry people—is the instant that we all become murderous bullies in our hearts.  That’s the way human beings are.

I have to wonder what on earth Christians have been fighting for all these centuries.  I will take all the crucifixes soaked in urine that other offenders can muster [only preferably not funded by the State] in order for society to recognize that human beings are best left with as much freedom as they can have, as long as they themselves do not violate the intrinsic rights of other individuals—including the right to freedom of expression—and those freedoms are acknowledged and left unrestrained by a collective State.

[19] Posted by Sarah on 9-19-2012 at 08:01 AM · [top]

RE: “Why are we Christians so insistent on it?  Because we realize that we are the most likely targets to be silenced.  We are mandated to preach the Gospel and to bring the world to Jesus.”

Br. Michael, another reason why Christians—thoughtful Christians steeped in history—are so insistent on it is that we believe that human beings are made in this way, and best function when these intrinsic freedoms are not violated by the State.

Further, we understand and recognize that we ourselves are naturally power-hungry bullies, and we don’t want the power of the State to persecute the non-Christians and pagans either!

We have surrendered the power of the State to enforce conversion to *any* philosophy or religion, and that includes forcing conversion by the power of the Sword or the State to the Christian faith. Such an enforcement is wicked, and violates the God-given dignity and worth of the individual.

[20] Posted by Sarah on 9-19-2012 at 08:08 AM · [top]

Matt+, I agree it would be preferable not to use “Prophet.”  In Egypt, it would require some very convoluted phrasing to avoid it.  What you suggest would be problematic because it would put in writing their doubt that Muhammad was a prophet.  People could arrive with stones outside the Cathedral gates after reading it.  I do very emphatically believe (and I am personally acquainted with Bishop Mouneer and some of his staff, although of course I do not speak for them) that this phrase in the letter does not represent any sort of non-Christian statement on their part.

On a much less momentous scale, but simply for comparison, I think that women are not properly called to be priests or bishops.  When I refer to “Bishop Jefferts Schori” I am using the title her group gives her, and not acknowledging that she is actually a rightly consecrated Christian bishop.

[21] Posted by Katherine on 9-19-2012 at 08:16 AM · [top]

Hi Katherine,

wait, you said:

“What you suggest would be problematic because it would put in writing their doubt that Muhammad was a prophet…”

Why on earth should anyone have any doubt that Christian bishops deny that Mohammed is a prophet. Of course they do. Have they, up until this point, not said so? If so we are in a far worse place than I originally believed.

“People could arrive with stones outside the Cathedral gates after reading it. “

And that should stop one from declaring that Mohammed is a false prophet? How can you truthfully preach the gospel without making such a declaration?

“I do very emphatically believe (and I am personally acquainted with Bishop Mouneer and some of his staff, although of course I do not speak for them) that this phrase in the letter does not represent any sort of non-Christian statement on their part.”

having a great deal of respect for ++Anis, I would agree with you…but if their mindset is similar to what you have described above then I fear they have decided not to preach the gospel.

[22] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 9-19-2012 at 08:43 AM · [top]

No, Matt+, they have not decided not to preach the Gospel.  Far from it.  They are there preaching the Gospel in an environment which was previously difficult and and is now even worse.  We, in the U.S., even with all our difficulties, face nothing like what they face. The question is one which I believe was addressed by the early Church Fathers in another very hostile environment.  They counseled against deliberately courting martyrdom.  I have absolutely no doubt that any one of these bishops, should they be called upon to declare belief that the Qur’an is the word of God, superseding the Bible, would decline to do so, and would suffer martyrdom. 

In short, I think you are making this phrase in their letter a renunciation of the faith while they and their Middle Eastern colleagues regard it as merely a convention of ordinary speech.  They do not mean what you think they mean.

[23] Posted by Katherine on 9-19-2012 at 09:01 AM · [top]

Hi Katherine:

“We, in the U.S., even with all our difficulties, face nothing like what they face.”

No doubt…and yet irrelevant. The standard for Christian behavior is not the present conditions in the US. Why not compare to the state of things in the NT era? And by comparison, the present state of things in Egypt to, say, the state of things in Thessalonica, Corinth, Lystra, Philippi, Ephesus, or Jerusalem in the 1st century one can easily see that Paul and the apostles never backed down an inch from speaking in ways that the locals considered blasphemous, insulting, and worthy of death.  The bishops in Egypt have decided to do the exact opposite.

“The question is one which I believe was addressed by the early Church Fathers in another very hostile environment.  They counseled against deliberately courting martyrdom.”

Right. There were people who stepped into the magistrate’s courtroom and literally asked to be martyred along with those on trial. They were not arrested for proclaiming Christ or for preaching the gospel but because they explicitly asked to be martyred. These were condemned by the church.

but no father ever took that principle to mean, keep the gospel quiet or affirm the false religion of pagans. Everywhere they, following the apostles, preached boldly and never hesitated to call false gods false.

Unfortunately, in the land of Athanasius, these bishops - if you are accurately describing their ministry above - seem to have decided to do just that.

“I have absolutely no doubt that any one of these bishops, should they be called upon to declare belief that the Qur’an is the word of God, superseding the Bible, would decline to do so, and would suffer martyrdom. “

I believe you are right. But that doesn’t quite square with your statement above where they are apparently unwilling to deny that Mohammed was a prophet.

[24] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 9-19-2012 at 09:13 AM · [top]

I don’t want to denigrate the painful challenges that confront Christians in the West; in a culture in which who I am is what I want and wanting is counted as sufficient reason for having and the elderly and inconvenient unborn can be safely killed because, hey, they’re merely sacred.  We inhabit a cruel and silly part of the world and it does things to us.  In many ways we have a harder mission than ++Anis does.

Nevertheless, we’re not staring down the same gunbarrels that ++Anis is.  I don’t think it’s enough to say that you respect the man.  I’m going to trust his judgment.  I have no doubt that +LeMarquand knows exactly how this sounds in American ears and I simply refuse to believe that these guys didn’t have what they considered excellent reasons to go ahead anyway.  The letter doesn’t say they’re going to stop proclaiming the Gospel.  It asks for a Declaration that outlaws “intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation” of others’ religious beliefs.  Unintentional insults would seem fine in this formulation. 

But that’s neither here nor there.  These people aren’t stupid and there’s no reason to think they’re panicking.  And they don’t need us standing on the sidelines carping about how their witness at the moment is insulting our understanding of American freedoms.  They not only have my prayers and respect, but my trust as well.  But maybe that’s just me.

[25] Posted by Daniel Muth on 9-19-2012 at 09:24 AM · [top]

” The letter doesn’t say they’re going to stop proclaiming the Gospel.”

Sure it does. Proclaiming that Jesus is Lord necessarily entails proclaiming the truth that Mohammed is not a prophet, the Koran is false, and the Muslim understanding of God idolatrous.

“It asks for a Declaration that outlaws “intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation” of others’ religious beliefs. Unintentional insults would seem fine in this formulation.”

But the declaration that Jesus is Lord and Mohammed is false is quite intentional. And quite insulting.

Or are you suggesting that those preaching the gospel in Muslim lands ought to affirm the prophetic office of Mohammed and ignore the claims of Islam?

If so, how does that square with anything we see in the NT?

[26] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 9-19-2012 at 09:31 AM · [top]

Matt+, I deeply respect the challenges you yourself have faced and the sacrifices you yourself have made for the faith.  I know some of these people in Egypt, both clergy and ordinary Christians.  They are not weak in the faith, nor are they in any way abandoning preaching the Gospel.  I strongly disagree with your making this letter an occasion for theological criticism which I think is entirely unwarranted.

[27] Posted by Katherine on 9-19-2012 at 09:32 AM · [top]

RE: “It asks for a Declaration that outlaws “intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation” of others’ religious beliefs.”

Right—all the things that Matt has said in his post above, for instance.

RE: “And they don’t need us standing on the sidelines carping about how their witness at the moment is insulting our understanding of American freedoms.”

I don’t grant that freedom of expression—intrinsic to the nature of mankind—is merely one of the “American freedoms,” though it may, at this point, only reside in America. Nor do I consider any of what they said to be “insulting.” I just consider it to be wrong.

[28] Posted by Sarah on 9-19-2012 at 09:36 AM · [top]

Hi Katherine,

“They are not weak in the faith…”

I agree.

“nor are they in any way abandoning preaching the Gospel.”

If they are doing what you describe above, that is precisely what they have done. If not, if they are only advocating for the anti religious speech law they outline above, then they are promoting a law that would prohibit the preaching of the gospel.

“I strongly disagree with your making this letter an occasion for theological criticism which I think is entirely unwarranted.”

Not “unwarranted” at all…they advocate an international law that would prohibit the proclamation of the gospel.

Theological criticism is precisely what this letter needs.

[29] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 9-19-2012 at 09:43 AM · [top]

“Theological criticism is precisely what this letter needs.”  Or so you say.  Calling into question the essential Christianity of a Christian bishop of long-demonstrated faithfulness strikes me as both wrong and arrogant.  I am so sorry to see this.

On the point of whether an appeal to the UN is an effective or sensible tack to take, I don’t think so.  So here I disagree with the good Bishop.

[30] Posted by Katherine on 9-19-2012 at 10:12 AM · [top]

hi Katherine:

“Or so you say.”

Correct. I do.

“Calling into question the essential Christianity of a Christian bishop of long-demonstrated faithfulness strikes me as both wrong and arrogant.”

And it would be if that were what I was doing. I have nowhere “called into question the essential Christianity” of a Christian bishop.

“I am so sorry to see this.”

I am sorry that you see it too since it demonstrates that you are having difficulty comprehending what has been written.

[31] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 9-19-2012 at 10:15 AM · [top]

“Proclaiming that Jesus is Lord necessarily entails proclaiming the truth that Mohammed is not a prophet, the Koran is false, and the Muslim understanding of God idolatrous.”

True enough and I can’t imagine someone like ++Anis ever denying it.  Nothing in this letter says or implies that he does.  But saying so does not denigrate or insult Islam.  It disagrees with it, which as you well know is a very different thing. 

“But the declaration that Jesus is Lord and Mohammed is false is quite intentional. And quite insulting.”

First sentence - true enough.  Second sentence - baloney.  The letter is clearly referring to the intent of the speaker, not the misperceptions of the hearer.  If I express religious beliefs contrary to yours I haven’t insulted you, your god, or anything else.

“I don’t grant that freedom of expression—intrinsic to the nature of mankind—is merely one of the “American freedoms,” though it may, at this point, only reside in America. Nor do I consider any of what they said to be ‘insulting.’ I just consider it to be wrong.”

Swell.  But again, these guys aren’t indicating opposition to freedom of expression.  They want a U.N. Declaration opposing mindless insults - and the world could certainly do without those.  I can guess, but I’m not entirely sure why.  I suspect that they are well aware of just how much cosmic power is wielded by the U.N. and they are making the suggestion for what they consider very good reasons or they wouldn’t go to all this trouble.  I think it would have been better to get some sort of explanation from them before carping in this space.  But again, maybe that’s just me.

[32] Posted by Daniel Muth on 9-19-2012 at 10:21 AM · [top]

RE: “Calling into question the essential Christianity of a Christian bishop of long-demonstrated faithfulness strikes me as both wrong and arrogant.”

I agree—that would be dreadful.  But as nobody on this thread is doing any such thing I’m not sure why it’s being brought up.

RE: “But again, these guys aren’t indicating opposition to freedom of expression.  They want a U.N. Declaration opposing mindless insults - and the world could certainly do without those.”

Those are two internally contradictory sentences.  You can’t have an intrinsic freedom of expression without also legally allowing “mindless insults”—not to mention, of course, the sheer impossibility of objectively discerning what is “mindless” and what is an “insult.”

[33] Posted by Sarah on 9-19-2012 at 10:25 AM · [top]

Dear Matt+, you said the use of a common conversational phrase amounted to the Bishop’s acceptance of Muhammad as God’s final messenger, or of Muhammad as *a* messenger of God.  If that’s not questioning his essential Christianity, I don’t know what might be.

We aren’t going to agree, and it’s your blog, of course, so I shall now retire.

[34] Posted by Katherine on 9-19-2012 at 10:27 AM · [top]

“To outlaw religious speech that causes division and conflict is to outlaw the preaching of the gospel.”

This past Sunday, I reflected on how the content of the sermon was more directly a problem for the protestors than what I have read of the content of the film. 

Coincidentally (?), I recently came across this [url=“http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/09/a-degenerate-sort-of-cult.html”]
reminder[/url] that spoken words of Christian witness have historically been used as justification for persecution.  What sadly repetitive creatures we are. 

How long until the right to preach such a sermon is questioned?

[35] Posted by tired on 9-19-2012 at 10:30 AM · [top]

Hi Katharine,

“you said the use of a common conversational phrase amounted to the Bishop’s acceptance of Muhammad as God’s final messenger, or of Muhammad as *a* messenger of God.”

No I didn’t. Instead I wrote:

“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.”

Nowhere in that comment is there any accusation that the bishops really accept that Mohammed is a prophet. Try reading what I have actually written.

[36] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 9-19-2012 at 10:34 AM · [top]

“You can’t have an intrinsic freedom of expression without also legally allowing ‘mindless insults’—not to mention, of course, the sheer impossibility of objectively discerning what is “mindless” and what is an ‘insult.’”

You know as well as I do that freedom of expression is limited and I’m not going to insult your intelligence by reciting the obvious examples.  The limitation derives as much from inherent human dignity as does the freedom itself.  Again, the key here has to do with intent of the one expressing himself vice the misunderstandings of his hearers. 

Note also that laws have traditionally had a pedagogical function and not just a punitive one.  The governor of Tennessee signed the law against teaching evolution - the one broken by John Scopes - based on a clear understanding that it would never, ever be enforced.  Previous generations were much wiser about this function of the law than the latter-day barbarians of Western Culture.  Given what the U.N. in fact is - vice what some idealogues would like to make of it - I would not be a bit surprised if the authors of this letter are well aware of just how enforceable the Declaration they propose would in fact be.

[37] Posted by Daniel Muth on 9-19-2012 at 11:17 AM · [top]

Can I simply go find someone who believes the star and moon are a holy symbol and the UN will order them removed from flags form Muslim countries? Not saying I would…

[38] Posted by Festivus on 9-19-2012 at 11:38 AM · [top]

RE: “You know as well as I do that freedom of expression is limited . . .”

And I’ve listed one of the many ways it’s *not* limited: “mindless insults.”

RE: “Again, the key here has to do with intent of the one expressing himself vice the misunderstandings of his hearers.”

I understand that’s what those arguing for an unConstitutional limitation of free speech are hoping for.  But “intent” is not the key at all. People may very well *intend* to insult and that is an aspect of free speech.  Shockingly, even intentional “insults” are allowed.

There is no Constitutional “freedom from insult” for religion.

Speaking generally, and not in response to Daniel Muth’s comments, I’m heartily opposed to hate crime legislation as well, since the *intent* of the crime should have absolutely nothing to do with the murder, theft, arson, or rape that has taken place, and the addition of such laws is precisely what makes the notion of “justice” more and more discriminatory, unequal, arbitrary, and subjective.

This all goes beautifully together.

As much as Matt is distressed over the baldly theological implications of the statement, I’m distressed over the notion that somehow freedom of speech is some sort of ginned-up, new-fangledly “western imperialist construct” imposed upon the poor groveling oppressed Eastern-world masses who yearn to have committees and central planning collectives parsing out whether Capitalist Industrialist PSmith meant to insult the Scientology faith of Farmer Jones or whether Collectivist Herder Brown felt himself insulted by the pronouncements of Apparatchik Professor Johnson when he was called “Goat Herder.”

On an even broader note, and again, not asserting that the comments here on this thread are doing this, I’m generally shocked that Christians of all stripes are willing to merrily overturn a conception of human identity and freedom that Western civilization staggered towards in a sea of blood and tears and anguish over the centuries.

And that Islamic “civilization” did not.

And the reasons for those differences are precisely religious because this “western construct” that so many wish to blithely disregard is rooted in the Christian conception of the nature of human beings.

And we all see where we are now.

[39] Posted by Sarah on 9-19-2012 at 11:57 AM · [top]

“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.”

Matt+, I am sure you did not wish to deny the essential Christianity of the writers of this letter, but it is very easy to read this statement that way.  You seem to imply that the bishops are “professing Mohammed as the Prophet.”  If that is the case, then your final sentence means they cannot also profess Jesus as Lord and thus are not Christians. 

And, by the way, I do not think the bishops’ plan is a good one for many of the reasons already discussed here, but that is not the same thing as accusing them of abandoning the Gospel.

[40] Posted by Ann Castro on 9-19-2012 at 12:12 PM · [top]

hi Anne Castro,

“I am sure you did not wish to deny the essential Christianity of the writers of this letter, but it is very easy to read this statement that way.”

Not really

1. Only if you lift that paragraph from the rest of the article and…

2. Only if you misread the clear meaning of the paragraph itself.

“You seem to imply that the bishops are “professing Mohammed as the Prophet.””

No I don’t. I say clearly that the language they use makes that declaration and that that declaration is in direct conflict with the gospel. I make no implication or statement about their beliefs or Christian character. I do say that their language undermines Christian belief.

“If that is the case, then your final sentence means they cannot also profess Jesus as Lord and thus are not Christians. “

No it doesn’t. It means what it says: if Mohammed is a prophet,l which the language they use suggests, then Jesus cannot be Lord. That is simply a truism…and it is a truism that says nothing about their beliefs and everything about the words they have chosen.

[41] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 9-19-2012 at 12:19 PM · [top]

“There is no Constitutional “freedom from insult” for religion.”

Yeah, but his isn’t about the Constitution.  The discussion here is about a specific letter written by some specific bishops that says specific things.  They claim that their suggested Declaration does not contradict the “freedom of expression that is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”  I think that understood properly, it probably does not.  I see no aspect of human dignity violated by a U.N. declaration that disapproves of people saying things like “Odin’s mother wears combat boots.” 

I would reiterate what I said above about the pedagogical purposes of the Law.  The “new-fangledly ‘western imperialist construct’” here is the insistence that laws must always, always be used as blunt instruments rather than function as tutors on good citizenship.  As I say, I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet that the authors of the letter picked their venue carefully with something like this in mind.  Dragging in the Constitution or beside-the-point matters like goofy hate crimes legislation doesn’t to these eyes enhance any aspect of the discussion. 

Nor does making over-the-top declamations about purported “baldly theological implications of the statement.”  Fr. Kennedy’s claims do not follow with any particular necessity from what is written here.  If he couldn’t be more charitable in his interpretation of what the letter said, he might at least have attempted to get some clarification from the authors before making preposterous claims that they are “promoting speech restrictions that would not only hinder but criminalize the proclamation of the gospel these bishops are sworn to defend.”

[42] Posted by Daniel Muth on 9-19-2012 at 01:17 PM · [top]

“Fr. Kennedy’s claims do not follow with any particular necessity from what is written here.”

Which claims would those be?

“If he couldn’t be more charitable in his interpretation of what the letter said”

There is no lack of charity at all. The letter is quite clear. The bishops would have the UN outlaw intentional or deliberate “defaming” or “insulting” speech against religious beliefs, symbols or texts.

The suggestion to outlaw intentional insults to a given belief system is, on its face, monstrous and tyrannical.

And “necessarily” when one sets out to preach the gospel in a Muslim nation one will set out, intentionally, to “defame” Mohammed who is reputed to be a Prophet by saying that he is a false prophet. And one will defame the Koran which is reputed to be the word of God. And one will defame the Islamic concept of god which is reputed to be true but is, instead, idolatrous.

And each of these intentional acts of defamation are insulting to the Muslim. Although perhaps a case can be made that the preacher did not set out to insult. One cannot, however, make the case that the preacher did not set out to destroy Mohammed’s reputation or the Koran’s or that of Islamic theology.

“he might at least have attempted to get some clarification from the authors before making preposterous claims that they are “promoting speech restrictions that would not only hinder but criminalize the proclamation of the gospel these bishops are sworn to defend.””

heh…not “preposterous” at all for that is precisely what such a law would do.

There is no need to “seek clarification” from the authors since they have published an open letter that is, as such, open to public scrutiny and review. If they meant something entirely different from what their written words clearly mean then they are free to issue another letter or to clarify publicly what they meant to say.

[43] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 9-19-2012 at 01:47 PM · [top]

RE: “Yeah, but his isn’t about the Constitution.”

Right—our exchange regarding “freedom from insult” for religion was about your defense of a letter by using two internally contradictory sentences: “But again, these guys aren’t indicating opposition to freedom of expression.  They want a U.N. Declaration opposing mindless insults - and the world could certainly do without those.” 

Such a UN declaration opposes free speech which Christians and non-Christians all over the world believe to be intrinsic to the nature of mankind and which at least one country has recognized in a written form called the Constitution.

I’m just fine with your using internally contradictory sentences in order to exchange assertions about the ideas in Matt’s post; I’ve no special need for you to be consistent, particularly since I recognize that the primary issue is not your attempted defense of mutually contradictory sentences, but rather that you don’t think Matt should have critically analyzed and disagreed with a letter written and publicly released by an orthodox, faithful Archbishop and bishops.

Obviously I disagree and am happy Matt has done so.

Not only do I hope that he will continue to behave with consistency and integrity by critically analyzing statements from all types and manners of Anglican leaders, but I also think that Archbishop Mouneer is a mature person and is well capable of enduring such analysis of letters and other writings. 

After all out of some 20 or so specific posts about Archbishop Mouneer’s ideas here at StandFirm, I believe that this is the first one that negatively criticizes ideas he has articulated.

Perhaps he will be able to bear such an onslaught!  rolleyes

[44] Posted by Sarah on 9-19-2012 at 03:02 PM · [top]

Sarah - I still think highly of you, but it looks to me like saying the words, “contradictory sentences” over and over and over doesn’t seem to be helping you to understand my point.  For that matter, so long as you insist on thinking that I have said or implied anything in the least indicative of a belief in the existence of so chimerical a rainbow’s end as a “freedom from insult” (and I see no particular reason to conclude that the bishops who wrote the letter believe in such a thing), I’m not sure if any further useful exchange regarding this matter is possible.  My regrets - and my best regards - DWM.

[45] Posted by Daniel Muth on 9-19-2012 at 03:46 PM · [top]

Katherine:

It was this broadcast which caused the trouble, and this TV host and his Salafist colleagues who cooked up the protests in Cairo (and, perhaps, the assault in Benghazi) who bear the responsibility for the lives lost.

Unless they had a direct hand in killing the victims of all this mindless violence, even the Salafists in question do not bear responsibility for the lives lost, no more so than Nakoula Bassereley does for producing the film, or Terry Jones does for promoting it.  I don’t think Jackie needs a reading lesson.

Presumably, the TV host you’re referring to is Khaled Abdullah, but Al Jazeera has posted an interview with him where he clearly says:  “I don’t feel sorry for spreading information.  I showed a short part of the film to inform Muslims so we could apply legal pressure against it.  I don’t support violence, but the United States needs to understand the harm that it’s done to the Prophet.  The West must be more sensitive around some subjects.”

His professed concern about our sensitivity (not to mention his own) may be a lot of bunk, along with any suggestion that exerting “legal pressure” would be an appropriate reaction to The Innocence of Muslims, but such views in themselves are hardly an incitement to riot and murder and those who chose to engage in such practices are still responsible for their own actions.

You argue that “Using just ‘Muhammad’ in this letter without the ‘Prophet’ would be in itself inflammatory in Egypt,” but then go on to identify the practice of referring to him this way as “merely a convention of ordinary speech.”  It would be wrong for Father Kennedy to make a fuss over something that was really no more than a convention of speech, but feeling compelled to pay literary lip service to the notion that Muhammad was a prophet is obviously a bit more than that.  Such a thing ought to be resisted, even if the effort to do so successfully appears “convoluted.” 

What response should be given if the Muslims next decide that Christians must politely acknowledge the idea that Jesus of Nazareth really was a Muslim after all since that is what they believe?  Will it then become necessary to speak of him publicly only as “the Prophet Isa” rather than the Lord Jesus Christ, with a possible concession granted that they need not add “peace be upon him” after his name? 

Western hearts can only break over the plight of our fellow believers in Egypt, but I’m convinced that Bishop Mouneer Anis and his associates are going about things in exactly the wrong way by promoting the idea that “the intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation of persons (such as prophets)” actually needs to be outlawed by way of an international declaration.  Although I am assuming that they are sincere in that belief and not simply going to bat for what they think will be a toothless ceremonial scofflaw in a misguided effort to demonstrate a deferential attitude towards the Muslim majority that surrounds them. 

In any case, they will not keep the radical jihadists and the Muslim mobs who follow them away from the Cathedral gates that way.  Who can believe that the kind of law they now profess to favor would do anything more than further undermine their present status when its interpretation is placed in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood?  Islamic extremists aren’t prepared to let the Universal Declaration of Human Rights get in their way as it stands now.  What will the United Nations do about it if their application of such a law turns out to be something other than what that august assembly had in mind? 

By the way, some conservative Episcopalians deal with the fact that Katharine Jefferts Schori couldn’t possibly be a bishop by refusing to call her anything other than Mrs. Schori.  But we do it politely, at least most of the time, and the UN can‘t do anything about it.  Not yet, anyway.

[46] Posted by episcopalienated on 9-19-2012 at 05:15 PM · [top]

RE: “Sarah - I still think highly of you . . . “

And I you.

RE: ” . . . it looks to me like saying the words, “contradictory sentences” over and over and over doesn’t seem to be helping you to understand my point.”

I didn’t think we were trying to help one another understand each other’s points.  I thought we both understood the other’s points and simply disagreed.  And I guessed that you knew those two sentences were internally contradictory too, which was why I kept getting feeble responses.  . . . Which was what then made me return to your original and seemingly primary point of not agreeing that Matt should have offered a negative analysis of the ideas expressed in the letter written by the orthodox archbishop.

RE: “I’m not sure if any further useful exchange regarding this matter is possible.”

Agreed.

[47] Posted by Sarah on 9-19-2012 at 05:42 PM · [top]

I’d like to address this from the “freedom of speech” angle.  I respect these bishops very much, but also recognize that often being so intimately caught up in an abusive situation can lead to unwise judgments.  Sometimes, the better perspective comes from those who see things from a distance.  But let’s review the various primary texts at issue here:

1) Bishops’ letter excerpt:

...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.  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.  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.

2) Article 19 of the Universal Declaration:

Article 19.

  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.

On the surface of it, I think that Sarah is right - the bishops’ letter appears to be internally inconsistent.  Are they calling for religious insults to be “outlawed” or are they calling for a “declaration” that calls speakers “to be responsible and self-restraining in expressing or promoting offensive or malicious opinions”.  The first option (outlawing insults) would most certainly appear to be in conflict with Article 19 which calls for no “interference” in holding opinions and the right to “impart information and ideas” through ANY media and REGARDLESS of “frontiers”.  The second option (a declaration calling people to be nice) would not violate Article 19.

From a practical perspective, it seems to me that a ban on insults would not change things for Middle Eastern Christians.  The fanatical Islamists who use these sort of PRETEXTS to whip up the crowd will simply find other pretexts.  Just like gay activists, you will never, never, never be able to appease Islamists until you completely and unconditionally cave into ALL of their demands.  These are the same people that want to put a mentally handicapped to death for trumped up charges of “burning a Koran.”  Believe me, these people will find many pretexts to justify more murderous rampages.  Trying to appease these people just won’t work.  I can understand how folks stuck in the pressure cooker in such an abusive environment might grasp at such straws, but it won’t work.

Now, I don’t really have a problem with a declaration that “encourage[s] 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.”  But there should also be declarations that “encourage” all people to respect individuals’ rights to freedom of religion and to LEAVE a religion and to respond to perceived insults against their religion in a non-violent manner.

[48] Posted by jamesw on 9-19-2012 at 06:04 PM · [top]

It seems to me that the real problem is that we Christians have been unwilling to face the fact that Islam is also a religion different from ours and as I understand it they believe that Islam ls the only one that anyone should believe I think they sre wrong.  God has called us to “make disciples pf All Nations” this would include Muslems and everyone else. But we don’t seem to want to do this!

[49] Posted by Bob+Retired on 9-19-2012 at 06:08 PM · [top]

Sarah -

I should know better than to do this, but I’m going to say it one more time and then I’m done.  You weren’t getting weak responses; you simply weren’t bothering to listen to me.  My statements weren’t contradictory and pretty much everything you and Fr, Kennedy say herein can be safely ignored if the proposed U.N.Declaration isn’t intended to be enforced.  There: I’ve said it three times now.  Do you get it?  You’re welcome to disagree with me, but please at least have the decency to pay attention to what I’ve said. Have a good night.

[50] Posted by Daniel Muth on 9-19-2012 at 06:46 PM · [top]

episcopalienated, since I believe, along with many other observers, that the Salafist TV broadcaster put this trailer out there as a part of a planned campaign to attack the U.S. Embassy in Cairo in order to make political points for themselves and to place Morsi in an uncomfortable position, and since Egyptian protesters died, predictably, when the government finally got around to stopping the riots, I do think the broadcaster bears some responsibility.  They knew what they were doing.  Reports today indicate the attack in Benghazi was an al Qaeda related action.  This does not surprise me.  The Salafi guy in Cairo has no direct responsibility for that, I’ll agree.

I think you are confusing my objection to theological criticism of Bishop Mouneer with some idea that I support the appeal to the UN for international blasphemy laws.  I do not.  I strongly oppose it.

“The Prophet Muhammad” is the common way to refer to him in Muslim areas.  If missionaries went to these areas and said publicly that the Qur’an is not a revelation from God and that Muhammad is not God’s messenger, those missions would end promptly and the missionaries would end also, very painfully.  So if that’s the only way to do missionary work in Muslim lands, then no missionary work can be done at all.  That would be a great loss, since God commands that His love be preached there.  Missionaries I know of who have successfully converted Muslims have done so by preaching God’s love to them rather than preaching what’s wrong with Muhammad.  It’s far more effective.  If you preach against Islam, their minds are closed by their cultural conditioning.  If you open to them the miracle of God’s love for them, sometimes their minds open as well.

Speaking only for myself, if I say “the Prophet Muhammad,” I am not telling you for whom I think he was a prophet.  Think of Paul’s powers and principalities.

[51] Posted by Katherine on 9-19-2012 at 07:28 PM · [top]

David (#7), I think Matt in #8 and #10, Br. Michael in #9, and Sarah in #19 have all done an excellent job of answering the question you posed to me.  The only thing I would add is that when we speak of inalienable rights that are given to us by God we are harkening back to the concept of natural law which comes down from Aquinas through Richard Hooker to John Locke, who had a strong influence on the framers of our Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

I read an excellent book review that talks about Hooker’s system and its influence on Constitutionalism (with reference to Reformed and Anglican perspectives) here: http://oldhop.blogspot.com/2011/12/richard-hookers-more-excellent-way.html

But this issue of the Bishops’ letter is more than just a matter of a Western (or American) view of rights.  Our Christian faith—that God has a Son who died an atoning death for our sins and was resurrected, and that he is the only way to heaven—all these beliefs contradict the Koran and make Mohammed to be a false prophet. 

A UN declaration against “promoting offensive or malicious opinions with regard to the religions of the world”  for which the bishops are calling would abrogate our freedom as Christians to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to engage in apologetics by stating even the most basic facts about Mohammed and Islam from a Christian perspective.  And whether the bishops recognize it or not, such a resolution would only worsen the dhimmitude under which they are already living.

Robert Munday+

[52] Posted by ToAllTheWorld on 9-19-2012 at 08:06 PM · [top]

It seems to me that there are several issues at play here, and we need to be careful not to confuse them.

1) Freedom of speech - i.e. is it wise to call for certain speech to be banned in order to appease murderous fanatics?

2) Wisdom of certain speech for non-evangelistic reasons - i.e. is it wise to call for some sort of wishy-washy international declaration that people should try to be polite and respectful when criticizing other religions.

3) Wisdom of certain speech for evangelistic reasons - i.e. sometimes in order to into a non-Christian environment in order to evangelize, you need to be careful in what you say and don’t say, and you may need to use language that you would not otherwise use in order to get through the gates.  At what point do you cross the line?

It seems to me that it is absolute idiocy to advocate the legal suppression of free speech (i.e. an enforceable legal ban or pseudo-enforceable legal ban - i.e. U.N. declaration using words such as “ban”, “outlaw”, “forbidden”, etc.) in order to appease murderous mobs and rabble rousers.  It won’t work and it would seriously compromise our ability to speak the truth - once you let the censors into the tent, they will - WILL - seek to expand their mandate.  It might start with “rude, offensive slurs against Islam” but it will eventually result in things like pro-life speech being banned because it is “anti-woman”, etc.  That’s just the way liberals are.

I can see situations in which declarations are made encouraging people to speak respectfully when criticizing or discussing other religions.  Speech is not being banned, but positive behavior is being encouraged.  But such declarations should always respect truth, should always respect the rights to respectfully differ with and criticize other religions, should call for only peaceful responses to “offensive” speech, and should call for respect for individuals to follow different religions and leave different religions.

I think that when we are dealing with people we know to be solid, orthodox Christians in every other respect, and who are evangelizing in a very delicate and dangerous situation, we should grant a degree of latitude to them in terms of the language they use when they discuss issues of faith.  We should grant them the “benefit of the doubt” because they are the ones evangelizing there, and not us.  That said, respectful concern voiced appropriately should not be dismissed, as sometimes outside perspectives can be clearer and can act as correctives.

[53] Posted by jamesw on 9-19-2012 at 08:39 PM · [top]

Why not write a letter asking the U.N. to pass a resolution calling on people to stop engaging in violence just because someone with a digital camera is able to make a second rate film that they find offensive?  Not that the U.N. carries any weight with violent people, but then the blame would at least be pointing in the right direction. 

I am concerned for our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East.  They are in a terrible position.  I wish that Western Christians would think about the effects that our actions will have on our fellow Christians around the world.  In 2003 the actions of the General Convention brought about calls for the killing of Christians in the Middle East.  Of course not a peep from any news outlets about the need for General Convention to stop offending Muslims in the Middle East over that one.

[54] Posted by observer145 on 9-20-2012 at 11:10 AM · [top]

Observer145 - One of the more bizarre things I have noticed is how the hard left is often leading the charge to kowtow to the Islamists, yet they seem utterly oblivious to the fact that Islamists would likely put them all to death for their liberal social views.

In fact I know an individual who styles herself a Muslim, who is always sending out social media posts supporting radical Islamists (i.e. supporting the government of Iran, etc.), but who simultaneously is living with a boyfriend and is very supportive of gay marriage and related liberal social trends.  She thinks that the Western media is making up the Syrian massacres, that 9-11 was a conservative conspiracy and told people that they shouldn’t talk about the ambassador’s murder in Libya because it was too divisive a subject.

I don’t like to do ad hominen attacks, but the reality is that many, many liberals are very, very stupid people - they style themselves as faux intelligent, but they are stupid beyond belief.

[55] Posted by jamesw on 9-20-2012 at 12:32 PM · [top]

Fr Matt, I am intrigued by the way this conversation is going - I seem to recall you contending against me some years ago that the colonists in 1776 had no right to rebel against their God-appointed masters, the British crown.  And somewhat paradoxically (since I am a Monarchist in Australia) I found myself arguing that they did have a right to rebel against the Crown and establish their own government!

[56] Posted by MichaelA on 9-20-2012 at 05:54 PM · [top]

Katherine at #51, excellent points.

[57] Posted by MichaelA on 9-20-2012 at 05:55 PM · [top]

Hi MichaelA, had the Crown imposed a gag rule on Christian preachers, I would not argue for armed rebellion…I would definitely argue for bold preaching.

[58] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 9-20-2012 at 06:39 PM · [top]

I find David Ould’s comments to be more to the point and I would suggest until we are able to stand in Bishop Anis’ shoes that we conduct criticism carefully since others not quite so in tune with Christianity and who will judge him may be reading.  He is probably walking a very tight and narrow line.

[59] Posted by catwrangler on 9-20-2012 at 06:58 PM · [top]

I found the Anglicans at St George’s Cathedral,east Jerusalem, to be a hotbed of sedition.  They praised the “martyrs” meaning suicide bombers. I walked out during mass, something I had never done before.

[60] Posted by psydneyh on 9-20-2012 at 07:04 PM · [top]

Fascinating discussion.  I appreciate the careful responses of Daniel Muth and David Ould. I think it is difficult to read a hard freedom of speech from the Bible. I see my fellow Americans appealing to the Declaration of Independence, and the First Amendment rather too much.  Perhaps this is one of these situations where we can learn from Christians in other countries.  Again (as with SSB), perhaps it is we Americans who are wrong, not everyone else.

But I think we can *all* agree that reacting to insults by killing people is wrong.

[61] Posted by John Boyland on 9-20-2012 at 07:07 PM · [top]

Thanks for all your comments. I’m not going to pretend I’m in complete agreement but I do sense some of the distinction between our positions is in language but also that some, as others have noted, comes from us having other prisms through which we view these matters.

Perhaps a few more comments.

1. I’m in complete agreement with Matt that the New Testament (indeed the entire Bible) is grounded in a solid doctrine of speech from the very first verse. God Himself speaks from the outset and reveals Himself in this way. From that moment on the whole of humanity responds to God’s spoken word. Even when God acts, He also speaks to explain what He has done and then His chosen messengers speak to others about that act and speech. So let’s never lose sight of that. That means that as Christians we prize freedom of expression greatly and long for it to continue. Paul, as just one example, urges us to pray for Kings so that we might live peaceable lives (1Tim2) - this is, in the context, not least so that we may continue our gospel proclamation unhindered. I share Matt’s concern that Anis’ letter may severely compromise this in places where that freedom is already under much pressure. However, Anis is himself in such a place already and is known by many of us to be a clear proponent of the gospel and we ought to bear that in mind.

2. I’m also in complete agreement that some of what has been suggested in the letter would severely impact gospel proclamation despite that, surely, not being the intention of Anis and others. One of the key phrases refers to “...intentional and deliberate defaming…”. The problem, of course, is that this is hard to define. Were I to write in any depth about this video and its message I’d have to point out that much of what is shown there is recorded in the Hadith - these are things that Islam’s own records tell about Mohammed. There would be no intentional to “defame” but one suspects in many contexts I might fall foul of that criteria.

3. Which brings me to the issue on which I think I’m going to need further persuasion. How do we transition from viewing free speech as a very very good thing to be desired to a “right” we ought to insist upon? That’s where the chain begins to feel weak for me. As I and others have noted, I fear that this is the place in the sequence where political ideology and cultural assumptions begin to influence. That is not in and of itself a bad thing, of course, but we ought to be wary.

now let me be careful here - I’m not saying it’s unBiblical to argue for these things, quite the contrary. I think Matt and others mount a good case in part and in my 1. above I seek to actually bolster their argument on this matter.
Nevertheless I have an interest in questioning whether those things we insist upon are truly Biblical or actually end up being culturally-focussed applications of a Biblical truth (for want of a better phrase). Is that concern making sense to those who are in disagreement with me on this issue?

And yes, I know you’re all having a hard time with the über-Puritan theological conservative turning out to be a practically godless socialist wink

[62] Posted by David Ould on 9-20-2012 at 07:31 PM · [top]

Katherine:

Speaking only for myself, if I say “the Prophet Muhammad,” I am not telling you for whom I think he was a prophet.

But perhaps you should.  If you are trying to expand the meaning of the word “prophet” to include those influenced by the “rulers of the darkness of this world” in keeping with St. Paul’s observations, is that an example of being “wise as serpents,” or simply a pious exercise in intellectual dishonesty?  What is the reaction of Muslims likely to be if they find out that’s what you have in mind by your willingness to refer to the founder of their religion as “the Prophet Muhammad”?

You are quite right that the evangelization of Muslims in predominantly Muslim countries cannot be a suicide mission.  Neither is it possible for the USMC to carry the message of the gospel to them on the points of their bayonets.  (Especially since some of our best Marines are Jewish. wink )  The proper way to go about doing that will continue to look like an intractable problem unless and until the basic freedoms we take for granted in the West catch on more in their part of the world.

In presenting it to a Muslim, the message of the gospel still begins with John 3:16, not a heated diatribe about what’s wrong with what he already believes.  But the prospective Muslim convert is not being asked to give up a good religion for a better one.  He is being challenged to make the transition from darkness into light by abandoning a false and degraded religion in favor of the one that is true.  If we are not prepared to put that point across in an appropriate way, then perhaps we should leave them alone.  Trying to temporize by pulling some of our apologetic punches will only earn us a reputation for being people who seek to promote their religion through subterfuge.  I do not think that is consistent with God’s command that “His love be preached there.”

In the meantime, North America and Western Europe are currently awash with Muslims, both immigrants and native born, and we are in a position to demonstrate how serious we are about their evangelization much closer to home, and without the risks being faced by those brave souls who have been called to give that a try on their ancestral turf.  We can do that if our oh-so-conservative denominations wish to function as something more than stained glass preservation societies designed to keep out the riff raff while the properly pious enjoy a pleasant religious experience.  That might be more important than worrying about what we can’t do at present, several thousand miles away. 

As for your concerns about Khaled Abdullah and his confederates.  It may be the case that what they have in mind, or have already done, is more than he’s willing to admit so far.  Time and careful investigation will tell.  I’m no expert on the subject of who’s up to what over in Egypt.  My own reaction to The Innocence of Muslims was to laugh out loud and mock it mercilessly.  But if a Muslim wants to stand on his head and express outrage over it, I think he has every right to do that instead, whether here in the United States or in the Middle East.  When it’s expressed on a Cairo TV program, I am not going to blame rioting and assassination on an opinion I don’t agree with anymore than I blame it on the man who made the dreadful movie in the first place, not unless it’s demonstrated that he had a hand in doing quite a bit more than simply stating his case.

[63] Posted by episcopalienated on 9-20-2012 at 08:17 PM · [top]

David Ould:

And yes, I know you’re all having a hard time with the über-Puritan theological conservative turning out to be a practically godless socialist

Oh, some of us aren’t the least bit surprised.

When our Worldwide Anglo-Catholic Conspiracy Crusade (with Signs & Wonders Following) reaches Australia’s shores, you’ll be targeted.

But don’t worry, you won’t be the only one! cool mad

[64] Posted by episcopalienated on 9-20-2012 at 08:39 PM · [top]

RE: “And yes, I know you’re all having a hard time with the über-Puritan theological conservative turning out to be a practically godless socialist . . .”

I’m not—I’ve always known that we were nourishing a viper in our respective bosoms all along.

What can one expect of a Redcoat!!!!

[65] Posted by Sarah on 9-20-2012 at 08:55 PM · [top]

Thanks for your comments, episcopalienated.  Bishop Mouneer and his associates are not squishy Christians attempting to accommodate the Gospel to the surrounding culture.  We’re back, here, to the argument about whatever Bible society it was that was recommending a for-Muslims translation which downplays Jesus as the Son of God.  Bishop Mouneer is not among them.  He consistently talks about our Triune God.  As you say, what can be said in Western countries in evangelism among Muslims is different from what can be said in Muslim lands—not because the missionaries are squishes, but because, as you say, there’s not much point in a deliberate suicide mission. It is after they’ve made the transition into the light that converted Muslims begin to see that what they left was darkness.  Their Christian guides know the darkness is there.  They know how to lead them out of it.

[66] Posted by Katherine on 9-21-2012 at 10:27 AM · [top]

It appears they are choosing a political solution to address a spiritual problem; thereby, in this letter, acting more as politicians appealing to human governments than standing as the men of God they profess to be. I am sure they are attempting to protect themselves and the people they shepherd by disavowing freedom of speech but in doing so aren’t they also disavowing Someone else?

[67] Posted by Hosanna on 9-21-2012 at 12:52 PM · [top]

John:

think it is difficult to read a hard freedom of speech from the Bible. I see my fellow Americans appealing to the Declaration of Independence, and the First Amendment rather too much.  Perhaps this is one of these situations where we can learn from Christians in other countries.  Again (as with SSB), perhaps it is we Americans who are wrong, not everyone else.

First off, I don’t think that the Bible directly speaks to issues like “freedom of speech” and such.  I think it would be unwise to root defense of freedom of speech in the Bible.  In the end, the task of Christians is to proclaim the Gospel.  Now granted, from that, one can affirm that the best environment to spread the Gospel is one in which there is freedom of speech.

But I also want to address your more political point.  I am (now) an American and immigrated from another country in which speech is much less free.  I think that the American commitment to freedom of speech is one of the most important lights that it can shine on the world.  NEVER, NEVER, NEVER should we give up freedom of speech to placate anyone.  It would be like Esau giving up his birthright for a bowl of stew.

Other people have never enjoyed freedom of speech and they might not realize what a treasure it is.  Many Americans do not realize what a treasure freedom of speech is, or they would never, NEVER, NEVER contemplate undermining it.

When I was in university in Canada, the local student newspaper claimed that it supported “freedom of speech.”  At the time the abortion issue was live in Canada.  I penned a few very reasoned, calm (i.e. not crazy, dogmatic, harsh, etc.) letters to the editor, but I was told that they would not be printed.  I asked why not.  I was told that they did not publish pro-life letters.  I asked why not, since they vocally supported free speech.  Well, I was told that pro-life speech was inherently hateful towards women, and they wouldn’t publish hate speech.

And that is why any suggesting to limit freedom of speech needs to be resisted.  You might think it will only be to stop over the top offensive comments, but it won’t stop there.  Once liberals get their hands on the levers of censorship, they will wield and ever expand them to silence any views they don’t like.  Witness the recent Chick-Fill-A experience.

And that’s not even to begin to address the practical value of limiting speech to placate Islamist extremists.  Do you REALLY think all these protests are just over a stupid film?  I sure don’t.

[68] Posted by jamesw on 9-21-2012 at 03:28 PM · [top]

Katherine:

Bishop Mouneer and his associates are not squishy Christians attempting to accommodate the Gospel to the surrounding culture.

I’m sure that’s true.

I sometimes read other blogs besides Stand Firm and I see that you have assured us elsewhere that you are not a Muslim.

That’s good to know, although I wasn’t having doubts about you either. cool smile

[69] Posted by episcopalienated on 9-21-2012 at 09:30 PM · [top]

grin  Somebody over there wanted Muslims to answer the charges directly.  That doesn’t happen.

What I hope is that those of us who are unhappy about one or more aspects of this letter will nevertheless intensify our prayers for Anglicans and other Christians in the Middle East and north Africa.

[70] Posted by Katherine on 9-22-2012 at 12:11 PM · [top]

“And yes, I know you’re all having a hard time with the über-Puritan theological conservative turning out to be a practically godless socialist”

Its sub-conscious mind-warping of your British brain at Moore College, David.  Historically, Sydney Anglicans have tended to be left-of-centre on many social issues, e.g. wage justice.  I think its because we and the Roman Catholics in Sydney try to out-do each other at being nice.

I can’t see any comments on the websites of Sydney Anglicans or Anglican Church League about the muslim riots on the weekend before last.  Probably keeping quiet and letting the police sort it out.  I am just surprised that it took the Muslims so long to learn from our example down here in Cronulla…. wink

[71] Posted by MichaelA on 9-24-2012 at 04:32 AM · [top]

I think the letter is disappointing at best. It’s also naive. The stupid “film” was merely the handy excuse for the violence which “coincidentally” started on 9/11, and which was obviously not unplanned. This was not just a mob reacting in outrage to a perceived insult. This was professional terrorism.

[72] Posted by Nellie on 9-26-2012 at 10:48 PM · [top]

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