Two Cathedrals hit the news this month for interfaith engagement. The first was Glasgow where during a service of worship there was a reading from the Qur’an (Sura Miriam) which includes a fairly docetic picture of Jesus (the baby Jesus speaks out in defence of his mother). An English translation of the passage was available in the order of service. However, the reader went past the section outlined to include verses that specifically deny the Sonship and divinity of Jesus. Whoops. Cue a lot of concerned and upset feedback (and rightly so, in my opinion).
The second was at Gloucester Cathedral where, as part of a multifaith exhibition in the cloister and chapter house, an example of the Muslim call to prayer was given. This was posted on Facebook without much context and the subsequent outcry meant that this too hit the national news. I think this was a different issue from the first. Peter Ould puts it well in this Christian Today article:
Gloucester Cathedral was engaging in a multi-faith education day. This included an example of the Islamic call to prayer, but crucially that was not undertaken during a service and there was no sense of obligation to listen to it – it happened while the participants moved around the cathedral engaging with other forms of spirituality as part of an academic engagement with those cultures. Dean Stephen Lake got it absolutely right…
Interfaith engagement can be fraught with difficult issues and the potential for upset. In the face of this it was interesting that both Cathedrals used the issue of hospitality to defend their actions. Dean Stephen Lake of Gloucester commented that
“Being a place of hospitality is important to us, especially in our local multi-cultural context. This art exhibition and its opening meeting is an important expression of the need to come together with people different from ourselves.” [italics added]
As well as interfaith events, hospitality is increasingly a part of the discussion about mission, begging the question to what degree interfaith events fall under the rubric of mission. So, we have the very real question of the place of hospitality in mission. What is hospitality? Is it unquestioning welcome? What is the role of welcome and hospitality by Christians when ideas, ideologies and theologies that are contrary to Christ and his teaching are also involved? Conversely, is a lack of welcome justified on the grounds of these differences? If mission is doing God’s work, how do we show his welcome, his call, the absurd hospitality of the Prodigal’s father?
Today’s blog has no answers but starts to pose the questions. Indeed, the genius of doing theology well is to first of all find the right questions. We need to articulate the right questions in order to explore fruitful answers. Our theme for this year’s MA summer intensive at Redcliffe College is “Hospitality and Mission” and this is something we want to start exploring in depth. Questions and comments below are very welcome. In the next few weeks we can look to beginning to find some answers.