During the opening plenary session of the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly, church leaders set aside time to remember the victims of the Charleston shooting last year and the recent Orlando shooting. An Islamic leader offered a prayer during the service in which he referred to Mohammed as a prophet alongside Jesus and decried “bigots” and “Islamophobes.” The prayer stirred up controversy and eventually precipitated an apology from PC(USA) officials.
The time of remembrance on Saturday, June 18, included numerous Presbyterians. But it also featured a prayer from Wajdi Said, co-founder and president of the Muslim Educational Trust in Portland.
First, Said prayed in Arabic. During the prayer, the PC(USA) projected the following text:
In the Name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful: let us praise the Lord of the Universe who has created us and made us into tribes and nations that we may know each other, not that we may despise each other. Incline towards peace, and trust in God, for the Lord is one that hears and knows all things. And the servants of the God Most Gracious are those who walk on Earth in humility and when we address them, we say, “Peace.” Amen!
He then switched to praying in English:
Oh Allah, bless us and bless our families, and bless our world. Lead us on the straight path, the path of all the prophets: Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac; Moses and Jesus; and Muhammad. Peace be upon them all.
A subsequent article about the time of remembrance on the PC(USA)’s website quoted Said as saying: “Lead us to the straight path of all the prophets…” However, the quote was cut off before Said listed which prophets he was referring to.
Said continued praying in English, varying the scripted text projected by the PC(USA) as quoted above. At the end of his prayer, he made a major alteration. Instead of saying “when we address them [the servants of God],” he substituted “the bigots and the hateful and the Islamaphobes” for “we.”
The video of the entire plenary session is available on Vimeo. Said’s prayer begins just past the 14 minute mark.
IRD Board Member Mateen Elass reported that Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons received “a protest letter written by a Korean Presbyterian and signed by 25 Assembly commissioners” regarding the prayer. Four days after the prayer (Wednesday, June 22), Parsons offered the following apology during the afternoon plenary session, according to Elass:
During the interfaith prayer service on Saturday in response to the killings in Charleston and Orlando, a prayer was offered that went beyond what had been scripted. It was an offense of the head, not of the heart; it came from one seeking to be authentically gracious, as part of the healing service. Some commissioners found it offensive. When in relationship with people of other faiths, sometimes we can inadvertently be offensive when meaning to be sensitive and ecumenical. It was never the intention of the one offering the prayer to offend any of us. Nevertheless, we offer an apology to all those who were offended.