Here’s what the congregation should have heard from the lectern that Sunday morning:
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Corinthians 1:1-9).
Instead, they heard this:
In the name of God most merciful most compassionate. Is he, then, who knows that what has been revealed to those from thy Lord is the truth, like one who is blind? But only those gifted with understanding will reflect. Those who fulfill God’s pact and break not the covenant. And those who join what God has commanded to be joined, and fear their Lord, and dread the evil reckoning. And those who persevere in seeking the favor of their Lord and observe prayer and spend out of that with which We have provided them secretly and openly, and repel evil with good. It is these who shall have the best reward of the final Abode. Amen. (Qur’an sura 13:20-23)
Check out the bulletin insert.
At the conclusion of the reading, the lector says: “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.” And the congregation responds: “Thanks be to God.” I note that this is the same conclusion and congregational response used for the Old Testament reading from Isaiah in this service.
So Forrester has not only substituted a reading from the Qur’an for the New Testament Epistle reading; he’s also liturgically framed that reading in such a way as to put the Qur’an passage on an equal footing with the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. For all practical purposes, this effectively includes the Qur’an within the canon of Holy Scripture for Christians.
To call this an egregious violation of one’s ordination vows is an understatement. Note, for example, the wording of the “Oath of Conformity” which every priest in the Episcopal Church has publicly made and signed (twice: first for ordination as a transitional deacon, then for ordination to the priesthood):
The Bishop says to the ordinand
Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them? And will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?
I am willing and ready to do so; and I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.
The Ordinand then signs the above Declaration in the sight of all present.
The Book of Common Prayer, pp. 526-527
Including a reading from the Qur’an (or any other non-Christian sacred text) in the context of a Sunday Eucharist is a serious departure from the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church. There are no provisions in the Prayer Book’s rubrics for this action. The expectation is that the “One or two Lessons, as appointed” will come from the Bible (BCP, p. 357). I note that the rubrics for the Daily Office say this: “On occasion, at the discretion of the Minister, a reading from non-biblical Christian literature may follow the biblical Readings” (BCP, p. 142). But even here, the rubric is clear that the non-biblical reading must be a Christian reading. There is no similar provision made for non-biblical Christian literature (much less non-biblical, non-Christian literature) in the rite for Holy Eucharist.
In violating the “Oath of Conformity,” Forrester’s action also expands the meaning of it. Whereas the wording of the oath is clear that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God that contain all things necessary to salvation, including a formal reading from the Qur’an in the context of Holy Eucharist also suggests that the Qur’an is the Word of God that contains all things necessary to salvation on an equal footing with the Old and New Testaments. This would be consistent with my reading of Forrester as a proponent of the common essence approach to religion.
In a previous posting on the case of the now-defrocked Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding (who claimed to be both a Christian and a Muslim), I noted that while there are similarities and points of overlap between Christianity and Islam, “each of these faith traditions make rival and incompatible truth claims about God and Jesus.” For the sake of clarity about what is at stake in Forrester’s act of including a reading from the Qur’an in the context of the Holy Eucharist, I think it’s worth remembering what makes Islam deeply and utterly incompatible with the Christian faith. Here’s what I wrote in an earlier posting about this:
… while it is true that the Qur'an portrays Jesus in a very positive light as one of the special prophets, even going so far as to affirm the virgin birth, his teachings and miracles, and his return to act as judge at the end of time, it is also true that the Qur'an categorically rejects the divinity of Jesus. Instead, Jesus is "only an apostle [or messenger] of God" (4, 171).
Furthermore, here is what the Qur'an says about Jesus' death:
"So [the 'people of the Book'] were punished for ... saying, 'We killed the Christ, Jesus, son of Mary, who was an apostle of God;' but they neither killed nor crucified him, though it so appeared to them. Those who disagree in the matter are only lost in doubt. They have no knowledge about it other than conjecture, for surely they did not kill him" (4, 155 & 157).
Orthodox Islam not only rejects the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but also his death by crucifixion.
If the Qur'an is the norm, then the Christology of the Gospel of John (and the New Testament in general), the Ecumenical Councils, the early Church Fathers, and the Eucharistic Prayers in The Book of Common Prayer constitute "the one unforgivable sin in Islam," that of associating (shirk) something with the one true God [Frederick Mathewson Denny, An Introduction to Islam (Macmillan, 1985), p. 93].
In addition, if the Qur'an is correct, then the symbol of the cross we so prominently display in our churches and wear around our necks is an empty signifier. For the belief that Jesus was crucified (a rather prominent theme in the New Testament) is false. At best, Jesus only appeared to die on a cross. It follows that when Christians recite the Nicene Creed's words that Jesus "was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried," they are propagating a lie about one of God's special messengers.
I also note how offensive Forrester’s action would be to an orthodox Muslim. To take the holy scripture of Islam and read it in the context of a service that celebrates the death by crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus (both being claims which contradict the teachings of the holy scripture of Islam), with wine (the use of alcohol is strictly forbidden in Islam), and with language that has cannibalistic overtones (eating Jesus’ body, drinking his blood) – this constitutes a desecration of the holy scripture of Islam. There are places in this world where Forrester would have to watch his back, and perhaps fear for his life, as a consequence.
Forrester’s failure to conform to the ordination vows he's already taken on two occasions (first as deacon, then as priest) - and perhaps also with opportunities for renewing those vows - suggests that he either doesn't understand what it means to voluntarily give up the “right” to ecclesial disobedience and/or innovation, or that he does understand but doesn’t care. Either way, it should be troubling to imagine someone who can so publicly dismiss solemn promises serving in a bishop’s role as a guardian of “the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church” (BCP, p. 517).
In addition to choosing to walk “the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism,” Forrester has chosen to walk the path of innovation rather than the one he has twice promised to walk in his ordination vows: the path of conformity. And in doing so, he has not only parted company with the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church. He has also shown disrespect for Islam.