Jeff Walton is Communications Manager for the Institute on Religion & Democracy and directs the Anglican program. He graduated in 2001 from Seattle Pacific University and is a member of Restoration Anglican Church in Arlington, VA.
For those that missed it, IRD writer Ryan Mauro recently authored a piece in which he criticized the decision of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California to host the upcoming December 15 convention of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). Mauro cites connections between MPAC and Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood as a basis for his concerns, and chalks up All Saints’ hospitality to naïveté. The Muslim public policy organization lists this as the first time a major Muslim group of its kind has been hosted by a Christian church for a convention.
While hosting MPAC may be a first, political engagement is not new territory for All Saints’, a prominent liberal parish that regularly engages in political causes and offers an “advocacy membership” for non-Christians and others who decide not to join the church as members, but wish to affiliate themselves with the parish’s political activities.
Following publication of the article, All Saints’ and MPAC quickly called a news conference for December 6 to refute coming “under attack from right-wing extremists,” with the “attack” apparently consisting solely of publication of Mauro’s article and a series of emails received by church staff. Similarly, Mauro appeared December 5th opposite MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati on Southern California Public Radio’s Airtalk program to discuss the controversy. That segment can be accessed here and consists of Mauro citing connections between MPAC and Islamist groups, while Al-Marayati decries the national security analyst as “hateful” and displaying “Islamophobia” for doing so, and broadly waves away Mauro’s reporting as “lies” without directly engaging it.
On December 2, All Saints’ Rector Ed Bacon briefly addressed the controversy in a sermon in which he offers a curious redefinition of the Holy Spirit and advised parishioners to be aware of inherited narratives that are “toxic, suffocating, unsustainable for the health of the individual or for the larger human family.” Bacon places criticism of MPAC squarely among these narratives, explaining that “God’s revolution” is “the end of the toxic narrative that too many of our religions have promulgated and that is, that in order to become a part of my religion, you have to hate someone else in another religion or you have to hate somebody else in another category.”
“Every time we become more conscious or aware or awake, we discover that we have a soul which is our deepest self, and the discovery of our soul gives us access to a larger knowing beyond ourselves, and if we obey the voice of our soul, if we obey our consciousness, our awareness will become a very wise teacher of soul wisdom and will teach us deep within ourselves,” Bacon sermonized. “Some people call it the “inner witness” and this witness is what Christians have called the ‘Holy Spirit.’”
The All Saints’ pastor asserts that this “Consciousness. Awareness. Soul. The Holy Spirit,” is saying “Jesus is not the exclusive Son of God. Jesus is the inclusive Son of God revealing what is always true everywhere and all the time that God’s compassion includes everyone, and that Christianity is the exclusive religion. Christianity is the inclusive religion that embraces everyone with compassion.”
“This light, this awareness, this alertness sometimes needs to be used as an armor to protect our souls,” Bacon continues. Citing the upcoming All Saints’-hosted MPAC convention as “an historic moment,” Bacon invites the congregation to participate.
“Make sure you come ready for the Holy Spirit to stretch your soul so that you have more compassion and inter-connectivity with other human beings across boundaries than you’ve ever had before. And also know that that’s going to be armor of light because we’ve begun to receive some of the most vile, vituperative, ugly, mean-spirited email correspondence I’ve ever read in all of my life, talking about All Saints participating in terrorism by being hospitable to Muslims. But that’s our calling.”
Bacon promises that those who practice “soul-expanding waking up” will be “ready to receive the mystery of God made flesh because we will have understood God inside our flesh. God made flesh not only in a baby, but in our very lives in our journey of casting off the narratives of darkness and putting on the armor and narratives and new stories of God’s light and love and new world.”Google+