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Armed Man

Nelson Cathedral Bans Tolerance Concert

Armed Man

On September 11, the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States, my sermon included how attitudes of so many, many people began changing towards Islam, towards Muslims – a fifth of the world’s population. Later, the same day, I heard about the Nelson Anglican Cathedral not allowing a religious-tolerance concert in its building. The piece, The Armed Man, is music following the traditional framework of a Christian Eucharist. It is dedicated to victims of the Kosovo crisis.

The lyrics are here. Early in the piece, it includes the Muslim call to prayer, the Adhan.

So that we are all clear what we are talking about, here is the call to prayer, the Adhan, in the Arabic transliteration (as it appears in the concert) and the English translation. It includes phrases such as:

Allahu Akbar
God is Great

Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah
I bear witness that there is no god except the One God.

Ashadu anna Muhammadan Rasool Allah
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.

Hayya ‘ala-s-Salah
Hurry to the prayer…

I see no issue with Christians being able to affirm the majority of the phrases of the Adhan. “Allah” is the Arabic word for “God” and is regularly used by Christians speaking in Arabic or even in Bahasa Malay or Bahasa Indonesia.

Of the statements, I can only imagine that Christians may not affirm, “I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

It is important to note Muslim hesitancy about having people proclaim the Adhan, particularly in a Christian place of worship. There is certainly more Christian affirmation in this concert that Muslims could struggle with.

So this concert is clearly understood not as each religion affirming absolutely everything within all the other world faiths. I will come back to that as my final point in this post. Surely, while it should be obvious to nearly all, a simple rider in the programme to that effect would be sufficient for those who do not immediately recognise this. I imagine that fluent Arabic speakers in Nelson (who actually understand the text) get this without such a disclaimer.

Nelson Cathedral performed this work in 2007, and there is a church communication response to the Nelson Cathedral decision: “The decision by the Dean should not be seen as reflecting the stance of the Diocese of Nelson, nor the wider Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

The Anglican Church in this land, in fact, has a positive attitude to other world faiths – formally possibly more so than many other churches internationally. As well as material of Christian origin, our NZ Prayer Book contains Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, and Jain texts. These texts are formularies – the doctrine they express is binding on us.

Certainly, I have previously said that we need a much deeper conversation (debate?) about what we mean by “consecrating” a space for Christian worship? Church buildings are used for innumerable “non-worship” activities [not to mention the discussions we can have about what constitutes as appropriate Christian worship]. What are the edges of activities that are acceptable within a church building? What would not be acceptable? The Nelson Cathedral decision on the concert fits within this conversation. The response of the church’s communications (above) indicates this decision does not express where our church currently stands in this conversation. Cathedrals and other church buildings have been used for everything from diocesan balls, graduation ceremonies, dinners, and business meetings.

Many rent out out church buildings. Where are the edges of the activities we will allow for our financial benefit?

Ironically, in this particular debate, it is Nelson Cathedral itself that has what to me is a disconcerting rental policy.

Nelson Cathedral website
Nelson Cathedral website
I am concerned to see, on the Nelson Cathedral website, the sacramental ministry of celebrating a marriage as “Venue Hire”! And this is not even talking about renting out the space without cathedral clergy being involved. No, this is when “one of the cathedral clergy will be appointed to work with you as you plan and prepare for your wedding”.

To conclude this post, let us be clear what religious tolerance does not mean. It does not mean that all faiths are put into a melting pot, and all the wonderful variety of colours come out a boring greyish brown. It does not mean, for example, that we would expect a Mosque to be comfortable that Hindus come in and celebrate a Vedic sacrifice in their sacred space. It does not mean there is no robust disagreement. It is precisely being clear and strong about one’s own position, and accepting the clear, strong beliefs and practices of others.

For me, my tolerance towards other faiths is not in spite of my belief in and commitment to Jesus – my tolerance is because of my belief in Jesus.

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14 thoughts on “Nelson Cathedral Bans Tolerance Concert”

  1. Angels are the messengers of God. Will the local Mosque reciprocate, by giving access to Christians, or is it a one way street.

  2. Reminds me of this controversy here in the US when Duke University allowed the resident Moslem students who met for prayer in the university’s on campus chapel, with a University employed Imam, to issue the call to prayer from the chapel’s bell tower. The University quickly reversed the permission because financial supporters began with drawing commitments for donations.

    PS – I was not yet an editor of the Lead back in JAN 2015, but I now wonder in rereading the thread if this isn’t why I was invited to become one!

  3. Hi Bosco
    In Malaysia in recent years there has been a steady campaign on the part of the (Islamic-oriented) government to discourage if not ban Christians from using ‘Allah’ for ‘God.’
    Not so long ago a Bible translation was banned because it followed the otherwise unremarkable habit in the rest of the Islamic world of using ‘Allah’ for ‘God.’ [ http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/23/malaysia-highest-court-allah-bible-ban ]

    As for religious tolerance in Malaysia that is a complex topic, beyond the scope of this comment!

  4. Nope. There is no place in Christian churches for any Islamic prayer of any sort. The distant and capricious God of Islam has nothing in common with the intimate God of Christianity. Jesus expects us to acknowledge his position, and rightly so, as the only saving option. That Islam has some similarity with Christianity is just plagerism in an attempt to make Islam appear relevant to the locals, who already had the Gospel or at least the old testament, in AD700. People with that knowledge generally weren’t fooled then and neither should we be.

    My retired Anglican vicar friend wouldn’t let Ave Maria be sung at a funeral in his church on the basis it undermined the sovereignty of Christ. He took his call to faith seriously I suppose.

    1. You appear to be missing the point, Brown. The concert is not an affirmation of similarities. An objective reading of the Bible might see the God of that collection more capricious than the God of the Koran. To suggest that Christians who pray (or sing) Ave Maria are not taking their call to faith seriously seems to demonstrate an intolerance not merely towards other faiths, but to brother and sister Christians. Do explain how the Ave Maria undermines the sovereignty of Christ. And what of the prayers originating with Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism that I mention as being part of our binding formularies – binding on the Nelson cathedral as much as the rest of NZ Anglicans? Blessings.

    2. If singing the Ave Maria undermines the sovereignty of Christ Jesus, then both the Archangel Gabriel and Saint Elizabeth, mother of Saint John the Baptist, are guilty of undermining it — since the words of that hymn come from their words in the opening chapter of the Gospel according to Luke.

  5. Both Peter & Raymond appear to be responding through the tit-for-tat school of Christianity. We as Christians treat others as we would wish to be treated. In my thinking that should always be gracious hospitality. Was that not that what Jesus has taught us?

    Not any other perversion of the teaching;
    • Do to others as they do to you
    • Do to others hard enough so that they cannot do it back
    • Do to others before they can do it to you
    • etc

  6. Since This is a concert, I personally don’t find the inclusion of the Adhan troubling, but I might if it were an interfaith worship service. At an interfaith service would reciting the Adhan be any more appropriate than reciting the Nicene Creed?

    1. I’ve been to so-called interfaith services where some Christians go out of their way or perhaps without thought, to pray in forms that would not be comfortable for everyone to give their assent.

  7. There’s always that danger, David. That’s planning the service should involve people from all of the faiths whose adherents will be participating.

  8. I struggle with the concept of interfaith services. If Christianity is the only path I can accept dialogue with other religions as their various positions are explained but cringe at the thought of giving weight, in a Christian location and service, to an alternative that offers nothing except smug satisfaction of a routine well followed or a tantra well chanted. If you want a smorgasboard of feel good stuff to select from do your own homework – no religion should offer a tasty selection at at their venue if they take their own position seriously. This is different from a discussion with a priest in a one on one style.

    I wonder if the Gospel is now watered down to a point that the conviction of sin and the perception of needing a saviour is becoming optional.

    @ Gregory 1.39. The objection to Ave Maria is, I gather, that it elevates Mary to a position that the Anglicans would debate is theologically unsound and impinges upon the first commandment. No problems in a RC service of course.

    1. How sad for the Archangel Gabriel and Saint Elizabeth, then — being theologically unsound and impinging on the first commandment with their careless words. Too bad they didn’t know better, like “the Anglicans” of which you speak.

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