[From Pennsylvania] Last night at dinner, one of the priests around the table had written an essay, originally for publication in a U.S. journal, in which he suggested the following: Since it is claimed that the Angel Gabriel is the one who appeared and spoke to Mohammed telling him that God had no son, and since the Gospels asserts that it was the Angel Gabriel who appeared to the Virgin Mary telling her that she would conceive a Son by the Holy Spirit who would be Son of the Most High, perhaps it was not the same Gabriel who spoke to Mohammed as the Angel who had spoken to Mary.
The manager of the North American Antiochian website saw the article and posted it on the Antiochian.org website. Quickly the author received calls from two different bishops telling him that he needed to be more careful about what he posted on the official Antiochian website. The priest was taken aback. In fact, it took him a couple of days to track down what the two bishops were talking about. He explained that all he had done was suggested that Mohammad’s Gabriel may not have been Mary’s Gabriel. One of the bishops pointed out that such a statement could easily be interpreted as an insult and could result (and has resulted) in the death of a whole village of Antiochian Christians in the Middle East.
The priest immediately had the essay taken off the website. I, however, as I mused on this, had quite an inner conflict. In Canada, we can say almost anything we want. And if some “hate speech” is discouraged, it is done so on the principle of reciprocity: One doesn’t say of others what one would not want said about him/herself. But this is not how Christians live in the entire world. In some parts of the world, even to suggest that a point of the Islamic religion could be mistaken can become the pretext for slaughter and mayhem.
I want to protest how unfair that is. I want rules to apply equally to everyone. I want the Christian principle of “do unto others…” to apply everywhere—even where the overwhelming majority of people are not Christians. But what I find interesting in myself is that I want this Christian principle to apply out of a sense of reasonable fair play, out of an Enlightenment sensibility, not out of a deep Christian conviction. Of course, once I sense the embarrassment of my initial “enlightened” reaction and reasoning, I immediately begin an internal rationalization proving to myself how Christian such a reasonable equality under law is. But really, I am much more concerned—in terms of my initial emotional reaction—with the restriction of my own freedom of speech than I am with the conversion of the Muslim world to Christ.
It is easy to forget that the experiences of Christians throughout the world are quite varied. It is easy to think that the issues that are important to me and to my local community are the important issues of Christians everywhere. It is easy to forget that part of the reason why we have bishops and a patriarch is so that the concerns and needs of the Church throughout the whole world can be taken into account. Our struggles in Langley, BC are not the same struggles of (and in many ways would not be considered struggles at all by) Christians in other parts of the world. This is why we have bishops. This is why we submit to them. This is why my freedom and what seems reasonable to me is not the final arbitrator of action in the Church.