Reverend Gavin Ashenden: The Queen’s Chaplain and a Glasshouse

Copyright Independent – Gavin Ashenden

In response to the Archbishop of Cantebury’s warning about being too quick to call people with strong religious views “extremists”, Reverend Gavin Ashenden expressed concerns about the Qur’an, which were outlined by the ever-objective Daily Fail. According to him,

“Islam has, I think, over 100 verses inviting people to violence in the Koran which Christianity doesn’t have. If you’re going to invite people to be dedicated … followers of their scriptures, Christians will go around forgiving people and Islamists will do something else.”

He then declared that Christianity is about “delivering people from evil”. Upon being asked whether the Qur’an was evil, and after citing verses which “tell you to kill your enemies” and “strike off the heads” he said, “I notice that they invite people to violence. I’ll let other people decide whether that’s good or evil,” thus intimating the Qur’an is “evil” without explicitly stating it.

I respect the priest for airing his view, although I do question the opportunistic nature of his delightful contribution to the theological discourse. In an era in which Islam and Muslims are open season for all manner of physical and non-physical attacks, such statements add to the demonisation of Islam and Muslims in Britain.  However, it is welcomed.  I’d rather have a priest who is honest in his view of Islam, much like the rawness which emanated from Pastor James McConnell than a deceitful neocon who disguises his assaults on Islam behind the façade of “Islamism”.

There are a number of ways of responding to the Reverend’s intentionally provocative statements.  I could expose the decontextualized, misleading nature of the statements by going into the authoritative exegeses on the “violent” verses and discover that they are limited to cases of war, where retaliating someone who is about to kill you on a battlefield might not be a bad idea; and that the traditional jurisprudence of Jihad – which is more ethical as exemplified by Salah al-deen Al-Ayubi (Saladin), than the brutal violence of Christian crusaders history recalls – is not based on Christian readings of the Qur’an.  I could also explicate the rules of engagement, derived from the Qur’an and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) which would demonstrate an ethical and moral compass so sorely lacking in the “Christian” West today. I could, but I would also probably have the security services upping their surveillance on me and this blog. Instead it is worth exploring a different angle on the reverend’s statements.

“Jesus-rifles” – Glasshouses…

…And throwing stones is not really a good idea. Christians, the good priest says, would “go around forgiving people”, while those darn Islamists will “do something else”. Cryptic, weren’t it not for the promulgation of his thoughts that there are hundred or so verses “inviting people to violence”.  Are the world’s Christians going around “forgiving people”, insinuating their non-violence?

Tony Blair, a self-professed practising Christian lobbied hard, even lied to get Western troops in Iraq. According to his closest political aid, John Burton, Blair was “living out his faith”, and pursuing a “Christian agenda”. Indeed the “Christian fervour” was central to the drive to invade Iraq.

Across the pond, Bush was characterising the wars as “crusades” and receiving advice from God, while Donald Rumsfeld was sending Bush memos with Bible verses alongside images of American soldiers. In 2003, William Boykin, Bush’s deputy undersecretary of defence for intelligence and an evangelical Christian (radicaliser?), told a meeting in Oregon that the war on terror is a battle against Satan fought by “the army of God.”

On the ground in Iraq, evangelising soldiers had been deployed with Bibles and merciful “Jesus rifles”. Used by the US and UK troops, the “firearms of Jesus” had sights with the verses from the Bible inscribed in them. One reference cited the following verse:

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

Other New Testament references speak of Jesus speaking to the world informing that he is “the light of the world”.

The Christian “mercy” militarily spread in Iraq has resulted in 150,000 civilians experiencing this light to date. Western forces were long massacring and burning before ISIS came into existence.  I wonder what part of the Bible was being “invoked” when US forces massacred civilians, including women and children in Fallujah, and used controversial weapons like white phosphorous against civilians.  Or when a US soldier, Steven Dale, brutally raped a 14 year old girl and then set her alight, shooting the remaining relatives. Perhaps it was Boykin’s characterisation of Iraqis as Satan which led to Dale to believe Iraqis were not human.

The “mercy” of Christianity I believe was the last thing on the mind of those who suffered at the hands of those “shining the light”.  Perhaps the soldiers were drawing from verses in the Bible which speak of killing women and children.

It’s not as if this is limited to the time period of the Iraq invasion.  The Christian Lord’s Resistance Army, which has been fighting for a government based on the Ten Commandments, has been killing, torturing, maiming, raping, and abducting large numbers of civilians, and enslaving numerous children for decades. Muslims in the Central African Republic are being displaced and slaughtered courtesy of machete-wielding Christians who are cutting off “genitals and hands”, according to Human Rights Watch.  Even if it is argued it is retaliatory, the behaviour is certainly not of the “turning the other cheek” variety, which Reverend Ashenden has alluded to. Maybe they were inspired by the way in which Prophet David in the Bible ordered people to cut off hands and feet.

Returning to the US, we are witnessing Christians calling for a “final solution” to be implemented with regards to Muslims. Prominent US Christians are desire the “seed of Ishmael” to be “crushed” through genocide.  Indeed their base premise, that Islam is violent, echoes Reverend Ashenden’s views.

Given the violence perpetrated by Christians discussed above, if what the Reverend says is right, and there is no violence “in Christianity”, imagine if there were violent passages; it doesn’t take much to get the Crusader in the Christian to awaken!

Concluding Remarks

Whilst Reverend Ashenden, in his ignorance, insinuates Islam is evil without explicitly saying so, I do not believe Christianity is evil. The Prophets of the Abrahamic faith (peace be upon them) are respected and given high status in Islam.  I do not consider the good reverend’s words offensive either.  Indeed the doors of dialogue should be flung open and a respectful, discursive environment fostered.  However, given the discourse around Muslims, a minority which has been bearing the brunt of the government’s scapegoating policies and structural discrimination, as well as an anti-Muslim media obsessed with associating crime with Islam, the statements seem somewhat questionably timed. This perception becomes acute when one realises that neocons argue pretty much the same in order to justify their dehumanisation of Muslims and demonisation of Islam.

It could be argued that the arguments made above in the context of Christianity conflate practice with what the faith calls for, and have decontextualized the verses. Also there are always bad apples who twist texts to justify their perverted, genocidal world views.

And I perhaps would agree. Similar open-mindedness and subtlety, though, should also be afforded to other faiths too, before moral superiority is asserted in the pages of the Daily Fail.

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2 thoughts on “Reverend Gavin Ashenden: The Queen’s Chaplain and a Glasshouse

  1. Brilliant thank coh -ironically though most anglicans i know would be somewhat conflicted and more than embarrassed by these statements and for somone in a position who should know better clearly the princple of social justice and faith have passed the reverened by. Whilst i welcome dialouge these narrow views of taking out of context verses from the quran to put forward a view that is ill informed makes me almost feel sorry for the man. Dialouge is most welcome but its time we challenge this too in a discourse that is defined in debate and dialouge based on mutal respect which sadly this reverend forgot to extend.

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