A chaplain to the Queen who criticised a Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) service where the Koran was read has stepped down, saying he must ‘defend the faith’.
Revd Dr Gavin Ashenden, who was one of 33 special chaplains to the Queen, wrote to The Times saying that the event at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Glasgow, could be considered blasphemous.
After a conversation with officials at Buckingham Palace he has chosen to step down, in order to defend Christianity in the public square without his remarks being associated to the Queen.
He wrote on his website that, “over the last few years people who objected to my defending the Christian faith in public wrote to both Lambeth Palace and Buckingham Palace to try to get the association ended”.
When confronted with attempts to silence him, he said, “my reaction was to ask ‘in what way is a priest defending the faith on behalf of a monarch who was Defender of the Faith, incongruous or improper?'”
He continued: “Because I think it a higher and more compelling duty to speak out on behalf of the faith, than to retain a public honour which precludes me doing so at this time, I resigned my post”.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4 on Sunday, Ashenden reiterated that the Koran reading, denying the Lordship of Christ, should not have happened in a service where the “main intention is to celebrate Christ the word made flesh come into the world”.
“To have a reading from the Koran at that point was a fairly serious error for the Christian worshipping community, but to choose the reading they chose doubled the error”, he said.
Commenting on his role as the Queen’s chaplain, he said: “I think it’s clear to me that accepting the role of chaplain to the Queen does not give one a platform where one can speak controversially in the public space”.
The SEC service where the reading took place was billed as an inter-faith event, intended to build bridges between the Christian and Muslim communities.
But the decision to allow a Koranic passage to be recited, in Arabic, has been widely condemned.
As well as denying the Lordship of Christ, the passage states that Mary was “ashamed” after giving birth, and that Jesus spoke to her from his crib. The Muslim student who read it had been invited to do so by the Cathedral.
Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, slammed the incident and called on Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to publicly distance the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion from it.
“The authorities of the Scottish Episcopal Church should immediately repudiate this ill-advised invitation”, he said.
Last week, the Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, Revd David Chillingworth, said the SEC would review the work of the cathedral, but no apology has been issued.