A Southwark “Apology” – Why Much More is Needed from Goddard and the Bishop

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The Bishop of Southwark has issued the following statement

‘The Bishop of Kingston has, at my request, now met with the Vicar of St John, Waterloo to discuss the Inclusive Mosque event which took place at St John, Waterloo on 6 March.  Whilst it is very important to build good interfaith relations, it is clear that an act of worship from a non-Christian faith tradition is not permitted within a consecrated Church of England building.   The Vicar has issued a statement expressing his sorrow at the offence this has caused and any infringement of Church of England guidelines.  He has assured me of his intention to work within these guidelines in the future’.

The statement from the Vicar of St John, Waterloo can be found here.

Note carefully. The sorrow is for the offence, not the action. It is expressed as a “breach of guidelines”. Here is Goddard’s full statement.

The Inclusive Mosque Initiative event hosted by St John’s Church, Waterloo, for International Women’s Day has given rise to great consternation, and I am sorry for the offence caused and any infringement of Church of England’s framework and guidelines.

I am, by faith and tradition, a Christian. I stand by the Church of England’s Declaration of Assent: The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.

It is in that context that I have tried to build a better understanding between faiths.  The Church of England is in an especially responsible position as the established church, with a duty to try to engage with all the people of England.

Now, more than ever, it is essential that we are able to meet in friendship across the boundaries of faith, and the event at St John’s was part of attempts to enable that to happen. I remain committed to finding ways for Christians and Muslims to acknowledge our shared heritage and history, without minimising the uniqueness of both our traditions.  I have assured the Bishop of Southwark of my commitment to work to build good interfaith relations, but to do so within the teaching and guidelines of the Church of England: http://www.southwark.anglican.org/news/pr/pr.php?id=3578

Again, note what is and is not being said. The apology is for upsetting people, not for the actual service itself and for “infringement of Church of England’s framework and guidelines”, not core doctrine. Local conservatives are … how can I put this … not happy. Expect to see a number of very clear statements to this effect over the coming days. The first is already out, courtesy of the Clone (and hosted by Ian Paul).

This non-apology is egregious for the following reasons (highlighted above).

  1. Giles Goddard does not apologise for his actions, merely for the offence caused. He is saying “I’m sorry that you didn’t like what I did, but I am not apologising for doing it”. This is not acceptable. Nowhere in his apology has he stated clearly that hosting the Islamic worship service was an incorrect thing to do.
  2. When Giles Goddard describes hosting an Islamic Worship Service as a matter of “framework and guidelines” he attacks the fundamental constitution of the Church of England. The subject of who should be worshipped in a Church of England consecrated building and what form that worship should take is a matter not of framework and guidelines but of doctrine and canon law. To relegate the worship of a non-Triune God to just being the subject of “framework and guidelines” is to undermine (if not deny) the first five Articles of Faith of the Church of England. To argue that the decision as to whether an explicitly anti-Trinitarian worship service where the most basic of Christian symbols were deliberately and specifically covered up or removed is valid or not is merely a matter of “framework and guidelines” is to tear numerous entries out of the Canons of the Church of England.

This apology is not acceptable.

If the Bishop of Southwark believes that the validity of non-Christian forms of worship in consecrated buildings are decided not as matters of doctrine and canon law but rather as outworkings of policy documents then he himself is undermining the very constitution of the Church of England. If the House of Bishops of the Church of England believe that clergy should not be disciplined for breaching in intent and action basic Anglican Doctrine then they will lose the confidence of thousands of clergy up and down the country. Most serious of all, if Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and patron of the parish of St John’s Waterloo, believes that at a time when our Christian brothers and sisters across the Middle East and Africa are dying as martyrs for publicly claiming Christ as saviour, that our international Anglican and wider ecumenical partners will accept this fundamental denial of the Christian faith, then the very role of Archbishop of Canterbury as the primus inter pares of episcopacy across the Anglican Communion will be jeopardised.

This is now a crisis engulfing not just a single parish in London, not just a single Diocese, but the whole Church of England. Every time that some form of excuse for the events of the 6th of March is published the situation simply exacerbates.

It is now time for the leadership of the Church of England to give a clear message on this issue in both word and action. It is up to that leadership to decide what that message will be, even if it is just silent acquiesence.

I have spoken to those on the ground in Southwark and I tell you that this is a sentiment shared by many.

Now what is all this fuss about? Let me try and summarise quite how this apology is simply not good enough and why conservatives (and, indeed, anyone who claims to be “worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit” as Goddard does above) ought to be utterly dissatisfied not only by Goddard’s actions, but moreover by his “apology” and the bishop’s acceptance of it. Simply put, there is zero acknowledgement here of the seriousness of the matter.

The prayer event was, as the bishop puts it, an “act of worship”. Every Jumu’ah (Friday prayers) opens with the Adhan (call to prayer) of which this is the opening portion,

Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest.

I bear witness that there is no God but Allah.

I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.

Hasten to worship (salah).

Note that,

  1. There is a claim to exclusivity of understanding who God is – He is “Allah”, not some other god, and there is no other.
  2. There is a claim to the uniqueness of the Prophet Muhammed and his role as “Messenger of Allah”.
  3. The prayer is seen as an act of worship.

Now this is where Goddard’s statement falls apart. Given the context of what he was endorsing and taking part in his “apology” just looks ridiculous. So Goddard states,

I stand by the Church of England’s Declaration of Assent: The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

But here is a simple contradiction. Either Goddard stands by the Church’s view of God (as he claims) or he stands by the Islamic view of God. Islam knows only “Allah”, “There is no God but Allah” and the Qu’ran is explicit as to who Allah is and who he is not. This is set out, not least, in the final Surah in the Qu’ran, “the most important and most often repeated Surah of the Holy Qur’an”,

Surah 112

Say: He is Allah, the One and Only! Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not nor is He begotten. And there is none like unto Him.

The language here is deliberate. In speaking of “beggetting” there is an explicit repudiation of the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity and particularly it’s statements, drawn from the Bible, about Jesus, which Goddard claimed he upheld,

It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds

so for example, the Nicene Creed states (n.b. references to begottenness and divinity),

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father;

and the Athanasian Creed, also a catholic creed that Goddard claims to uphold and affirm, states,

But the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have one divinity, equal glory, and coeternal majesty. etc

The Son is not made, nor created, but begotten by the Father alone.

The Articles of Religion, which Goddard claims he affirms, state the same right off the bat,

I. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity.
There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

II. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man.
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father

So when Goddard affirms a Muslim prayer meeting or speaks of “Allah who we love” then he promotes and endorses a view of God that is not only mutually incompatible with the Christian view of God (especially as Anglicans have received it) but which specifically denies that Christian view of God. He welcomes them in, he has them speak words which deny the divinity, Sonship and uniqueness of Christ and then he closes the meeting by affirming it all and speaking of “Allah who we love”.

So what do we make of Goddard’s statement?

It could be that this Honorary Canon of the Cathedral does not have a clue what he is talking about when it comes to the basics of who God is, according to the church in which he is ordained and which he claims to uphold and affirm. But surely that cannot be? How could he be ordained? How could he even speak these words? Surely he’s simply not that ignorant?

It could be that he doesn’t really have an understanding at all about what Islam has to say about these things. Now that seems rather silly given that he’s chosen to affirm and promote a Muslim act of worship. Were it the case then surely his apology should include such a statement.

Either way, this is not simply a matter of “framework” and “guidelines”. He has done far more than work outside a framework and tread over some guidelines. He has welcomed and taken part in an act of worship that denies the nature of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. His “apology” simply does not engage with this issue.

Of even more concern, therefore, is that the bishop’s statement does not properly engage with it either, also refering to “guidelines”. The joint issuing of statement and apology also demonstrates that the bishop has not insisted upon the seriousness of this matter being addressed by Goddard. Why not? Why has the bishop allowed Goddard to “apologise” without dealing with the denial of core Christian doctrine? Does bishop Chessun not understand these matters either?

Or is it, that at the end of the day, neither Goddard nor Chessun, grasp quite how serious all of this really is? In which case, what are their fundamental convictions about the nature of God, the place of Jesus, and how walking away from any of these core undeniable truths speaks to the world of what we all really believe? What is their concern for those who uphold the official position of the Church of England that these matters are, actually, of first and central importance?

Do they not understand why for the orthodox in the Diocese of Southwark, let alone the rest of the Church of England, this “apology” has only made things much, much worse? I am very confident that in the days to come they will begin to get a far deeper appreciation for just how much damage both this “apology” and it’s acceptance have done.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Bruce Lyon

    Absolutely! So well argued and said David.

  2. Richard Brown

    Southwark diocese is a mix of the solidly conservative evangelical and the hopelessly liberal, whose numbers include the Bishop and a number of senior figures in the diocese. Unfortunately, Bishop Chessun appears to have decided to force the liberal agenda by making a number of senior appointments all at the same time, all of them ‘married’ gay clergy. (That’s the Cathedral Dean, the Director of Ordinands, and the Canon Chancellor). On top of that, we get the apparent indifference of two bishops to the events reported here. Expect to see schism here.

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