Soumaya Khalifah's sermon fell in the usual place in the Holy Week rite in which Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta clergy renewed their vows – after a Gospel passage and before the consecration of bread and wine as Holy Communion. In this Mass, the Liturgy of the Word also included a Quran reading, including: "God, there is no god but He, the Living, the Self-Subsisting. Neither slumber overtakes Him nor sleep. Unto Him belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is on the earth. Who is there who may intercede with Him save by His leave?"
Khalifah asked leaders from the region's 96 Episcopal parishes an obvious question: Was this an historic moment, with a Muslim woman preaching in a liturgy for an entire Christian diocese?
After her sermon, Atlanta Bishop Robert C. Wright invited Khalifah to join clergy and others at the altar for the Eucharistic prayers consecrating the bread and wine. As the worshippers stepped forward to receive Holy Communion, the bishop said Khalifah took part. "She held out her hand to receive the Host and it is not my practice to refuse people," said Wright, reached by telephone. He noted that "open Communion" is common across his diocese, especially with visitors. Khalifah returned to her seat without receiving the consecrated wine, the bishop said.
"They gave me the bread," said Khalifah, in a separate interview. "I am a Muslim. I am not a Christian. … This service was about what we have in common, the work we can do together."Quite a story. A Muslim woman not only preaching but receiving the host in an Episcopal Service of Holy Communion. Whether it should or should not have happened, it did. The mere fact that it happened should have raised questions, not only within the Episcopal communion but for those who are in fellowship with the Episcopal Church. How is it possible to offer the Christian pulpit which is there to expound the Word of God and Christ crucified to anyone, Muslim or other, to preach another god and another truth that conflicts with Jesus Christ? How is it possible to use such a moment to then offer what -- at least some within the greater Episcopal communion -- is not mere bread but the Body of Christ to someone whose faith contradicts this presence? It is not a mere matter of unbelief but of a faith that refuses to believe the essential, creedal, Christian claim of who Christ is and what He has done. It is a strange kind of ecumenism in which conflicts stand but communion is offered, when competing gospels from competing holy books can be proclaimed in the same place.
At some point, practice will overpower the claim of faith. I fear that this time either has come or is soon to come for those who claim to be creedal, catholic Christians in faith and worship but whose practice casts doubt upon such confession. I write with deep regret that such as point has come for the Episcopal Church. It was once a noble communion that produced legendary preachers, teachers, hymnwriters, liturgists, and authors who gave eloquent voice to English words. I do not see how many more moments like this can come and go without the essential Christian character of such a church being lost, willingly surrendered upon the altar of expediency toward the most shallow and vacuous kind of ecumenism.
And where the Episcopal Church has gone, the ELCA is soon to follow. Mark my words. This is why we as Missouri Synod Lutherans continue to have such a conversation about supervision of doctrine and practice and why this is not a theoretical conversation.