Less than a week after one of the Queen’s Chaplains spoke out against an Islamic Prayer denying the divinity of Jesus Christ being read out in a Scottish Cathedral, the senior churchman has tendered his resignation from that office.
Former Chaplain to Her Majesty the Reverend Gavin Ashenden announced his resignation on his personal blog on Saturday night, anticipating that a BBC Radio 4 segment on him and the controversy surrounding the Quranic readings in a Scottish Cathedral to be broadcast on Sunday morning would reveal his resignation despite his requests to the contrary. Remarking that the decision to step down was “the most honourable course of action” and had come after years of “attempts to silence or defenestrate me”, Rev. Ashenden said he had spoken out in the past on controversial matters as a “matter of integrity and responsibility”.
Earlier this week Rev. Ashenden called the decision to allow sung prayers from the Quran in a Scottish Cathedral service that demands Allah is worshipped and denies the divinity of Jesus Christ, “blasphemy”, and said the Cathedral should apologise to persecuted Christians worldwide.
In a letter published in The Times, the Rev. said: “Quite apart from the wide distress (some would say blasphemy) caused by denigrating Jesus in Christian worship, apologies may be due to the Christians suffering dreadful persecution at the hands of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere.
“To have the core of a faith for which they have suffered deeply treated so casually by senior Western clergy such as the Provost of Glasgow is unlikely to have a positive outcome”. In an article for the Jersey Evening Post titled ‘The Choice is Between Jesus and Mohammed’ penned shortly afterwards, the priest called the decision to choose that particular Quran reading to be read on the Feast of the Epiphany a “glowing cherry of offence to the iced cake of incompetence”.
Now his opposition to the Muslim prayer in a British Cathedral has brought the churchman’s tenure as a chaplain to the Queen to a premature end.
Rev. Ashenden said he’d had a conversation “instigated by officials at Buckingham Palace”, and it had been made clear that he could not continue to speak out on faith issues of the day, as his position as one of 32 Queen’s chaplains could compromise the political neutrality of the Monarch.
While he had defended himself from such charges in the past by asking “in what way is a priest defending the faith on behalf of a monarch who was Defender of the Faith, incongruous or improper?”, the clear choice between silence while enjoying a “public honour” and speaking the truth had to be made. He told BBC Radio 4:
“I think it’s clear to me that accepting the role as a chaplain to the Queen does not give one a platform where one can speak controversially in the public space. So, in those circumstances one has to choose between whether one wants to accept an important honour or whether ones chooses to continue a debate in the public space.
“I am fairly clear in my own mind that my duty to my conscience, to my orders, to my understanding of Christianity and my vocation, is that I’m supposed to be speaking out in the public space on behalf of the Christ I serve”.
The Reverend Ashenden has been a target of controversy for his outspoken views on faith in the modern world for some years. The Independent reported in 2015 on his remarks on Islam, which he said “invites people to violence”, and that passages in the Quran “tell you to kill your enemies”.
When warned his comments could be found offensive by practicing Muslims, the Rev. replied: “If they are offended by my quoting the Koran they are not offended by me, they are offended by the Koran”.