Nine years ago I was appointed as a Chaplain to the Queen. Last week I resigned.
I had expected to enjoy the honour of the office for another eight years – until I was 70. I was sorry to give it up.
I resigned in order to be able to speak more freely about the struggle that Christianity is facing in our culture.
I had no idea that there were plans afoot by a Scottish Cathedral to "reach out to Muslims" by scrapping a Bible reading from their worship on the Feast of the Epiphany (when Christ’s Lordship is celebrated as the Light of the World) and replacing it with a part of the Koran that denied Jesus was the Son of God.
But when it did happen, it represented such a serious repudiation of allegiance to Christ and the Gospels, that it could not be left unchallenged.
Leaving aside what kind of Christian would be happy to bring into the Ministry of the Word a passage from the Koran used to repudiate the claims of the Gospels, it represented one more step along a road, which if the Church continues to follow, will speed up the destruction of Christianity in our country.
Seduced by relativism
We live in a period of serious ignorance about faith and religion. For the last 40 years, teachers have been relentlessly teaching that everything is relative. It has been part of an assault on the Christian claims that there are moral absolutes.
Although it started with a Greek philosopher called Protagoras (490BC) who was rubbished by Plato, it resurfaced intellectually in the 19th Century under the influence of Anthropology (look at all these valid, varied ways of doing culture - there can’t be any one truth!) and Sigmund Freud (the whole religious thing is a product of the wish-fulfilling subconscious).
Tragically, some Christians have been seduced by this relativism. Either they've never read Plato’s refutation of Protagoras, (do - it will stand you in good stead!) or they haven’t understood the Scriptures. What relativism does is create a false comfort zone where you never have to make a serious or sacrificial choice. Whatever you fancy most at the time is ok.
Islam is completely intransigent about its claims yet it remains largely unchallenged by secular commentators. Christianity is intransigent about its claims too, however these claims are continually challenged, resisted or watered down. Yet nothing can obscure the fact that as between Islam and Christianity, we have to choose between the claims of Jesus and the claims of Mohammed whose life is predicated on refuting the claims of Jesus.
The end of a Christian presence in the UK?
In the UK at present, there is a three-cornered struggle for the public space taking place. The protagonists are Christianity, secularism and Islam.
It seems to me that secularism continues to chip away at Christianity with its relativism and hedonism, but has discovered that Islam offers a useful leverage against the claims of Christians.
What I suspect will happen is that as Christianity retreats, compromised and confused – giving way to the relativism, Islam will turn on secularism, resist it and overwhelm it. If you haven’t read it, check out Michel Houellebecq's brilliant recent novel Submission. In it, he charts how France falls to Islam in the next decade. Once you seen it, you’ve seen it.
We will be completely overcome as a Christian presence in our country and culture, if we allow the relativists to own the faith
We are at the early stages of this highly charged struggle. But we will be completely overcome as a Christian presence in our country and culture, if we allow the relativists to own the faith, and twist Christianity out of shape.
That was what was taking place in Glasgow cathedral under the guise of building bridges with the Islamic community. We should of course be doing exactly that - buildings bridges of trust, mutuality and understanding. But these bridges are unlikely to achieve very much in the face of Islam’s claims unless they result in Muslims being introduced to Jesus in such a way as to replace Mohammed in their affections. (See Bill Warner on Political Islam)
The flaw in Glasgow was thinking that reading the Koran in the Eucharist was some kind of reciprocal gesture the Islamic community was signed up to. All we have to do is to ask how many mosques have read out the claims of Jesus during their Friday prayers? The answer is none. Not a single one.
This was not bridge building so much as capitulation – and capitulation in a holy place, at a holy time in a fashion that denigrated the risen Christ.
This was not bridge building so much as capitulation
Why did I resign? The success of the monarchy depends on the Queen not being drawn into political or cultural conflict. She needs to remain above it. Anyone who carries a close association with the Royal Household needs to make sure that people don’t get the impression that they are speaking on her behalf. Discretion is how the system works.
I was faced with the choice of either keeping my royal honour, and not creating ripples on the surface of the body politic by speaking out; or resigning the honour so that I could comment freely on issues of the day that I considered required a Christian voice. I’ve been speaking out for a while now, and stretching the comfort zone of the two roles to a place where one had to give way to the other.
If you think it odd that a representative of the Defender of the Faith can’t defend the faith you are right. But then some things are odd. But while the monarchy is Christian in its DNA, the country it presides over isn’t. That is going to produce some incongruities, and this was one of them.
As so often in life, as Jesus warns us, we have to choose which god we serve. During this last week, I found I had come to a moment when I had to make a choice. In the Christian life, there are times when one has to renounce once kind of honour in the hope of gaining a different kind of honour.
Gavin Ashenden has worked as a Vicar, University Chaplain and lecturer, BBC broadcaster, author and newspaper columnist. He writes a regular column for the Jersey Evening Post and lives between Shropshire and Normandy. For more information, visit his website ashenden.org
Click here to request a free copy of Premier Christianity magazine