“GetReligion…just doesn’t get religion.” –Anon.
Despite my journalist’s oath never to admit being surprised by anything under the sun, I confess I’ve been gobsmacked by Terry Mattingly’s latest post at GetReligion. In it, the Chief of Godbeat Police doffs his disguise as a neutral critic of religion reporting and asserts that there’s no place for Islam in American civil religion.
The occasion was the Washington Post article on Friday’s Muslim worship service at the National Cathedral, that grand Episcopal pile that hosts all manner of civic events in the nation’s capital. In the midst of the service, to which access was tightly guarded, a middle-aged woman walked into the aisle and declaimed, “Jesus Christ died on that cross. He is the reason we are to worship only Him. Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. We have built …allowed you your mosques in this country. Why don’t you worship in your mosques and leave our churches alone? We are a country founded on Christian principles.” She was quickly hustled out the door, and the proceedings resumed.
I was not surprised at the presence of a “heckler” who shouted out in the presence of what, for many Christians, even Anglicans, was a truly scandalous or even sacrilegious event. After all, the symbolism that made this event so important – Islamic prayers in a symbolic sanctuary of American civil religion – also made this event truly tragic.
Why it is tragic to allow Islamic prayers in the bosom of American civil religion Mattingly doesn’t say. But that civil religion, in the late Robert Bellah’s classic formulation, is all about inclusion. It’s why, for example, the prayer service held at the National Cathedral after the inauguration of a president now features clergy from a wide range of faiths — Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and yes, Muslim, as well as an assortment of Christian.
To be sure, there are some religious communities that object to such interfaith worship — the Mormons, for example, and the Missouri Synod Lutherans. For his part, Mattingly criticized the WaPo article for failing to dig up some Muslims who were critical of their co-religionists for worshiping in the cathedral. (Christian criticism, from Franklin Graham, was quoted.)
I’ve not been able to locate any Muslim criticism, however, nor am I surprised. Objections to worshiping in other religions’ space are not uniform among the Abrahamic faiths. Jews not uncommonly object to conducting worship in a church, but I’ve never heard of Christians objecting to worshiping in a synagogue. How come?
A religion that has historically claimed to supersede another religion will not object to using that religion’s space — because that is part of its supersessionist DNA. But by the same token, it’s a lot touchier for members of the allegedly superseded religion to allow the supersessionists to worship in their sanctuaries.
So it is hardly surprising that some Christians would object to Muslims worshiping in a church. But if it’s a church that pretends to civil religious inclusion, then it is not inappropriate for the National Cathedral to do what it did last Friday.