Archive for May 2018

Muslims in Europe and the response of the Church

May 24, 2018

How should the church in Europe respond to the growing visible presence of Muslims in our continent? I suggest in a fourfold way, with i. a compassionate heart; ii. an informed mind; iii. an involved hand; and iv. a witnessing tongue. Nevertheless, before we seek to touch the hearts of our Muslim friends with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we need to honestly look at our own hearts.

Fear of Eurabia and its consequences
443px-Islam_in_Europe_by_PercentageThe growing visible presence of Muslims in Europe is a cause of concern to many Europeans, including Christians. There are many people across Europe who fear the Islamization of Europe. They believe that Islam is considered a problem or an obstacle to modernization and point out that the tense relationship between Islam and Europe is a clash of civilizations. Others state that Islam is hostile to and incompatible with the values of the western world and argue that key European values, e.g. secularism, freedom of speech and security, are threatened by the presence of Muslims in Europe.

Some write that the presence of a substantial number of Muslims in Europe is a deliberate strategy to make sure that Muslims will form a demographic majority within a few generations, in order to impose their shari’a law on this continent.

Islam’s progress in establishing itself in Europe continues to be a difficult phenomenon to accept. European societies essentially have a negative response to the growing visibility of Islam in their midst. An Islamophobic attitude continues to remain strong in Europe and is expressed in public with increasing frequency. Islamophobic attitudes can also be found among Christians and who seem to be moulded by the societies in which they live.

These negative sentiments have several consequences. Firstly, it leads to a marginalization, discrimination, and exclusion of Muslims in finding housing, jobs or internships; and secondly it contributes to growing xenophobia and resurgent nationalism.

Unfortunately, often Churches and Christians share the negative sentiment that permeates the societies they are part of. This might be one of the reasons why many of them are not interested to look more closely at what actually takes place within the Muslim communities across Europe.

Phases of Relations between Islam and Europe
When we look at the relationship between Islam and Europe in history, we can identify several phases. A long first phase, lasting for at least the first ten centuries of the history of Islam, was one of major conflicts, symbolized by the Crusades. The second phase can be seen historic waves of Islam in Europe that have left an imprint on Europe till the present day, such as: the Islamic civilization in Iberia, the Muslim Tatars in the northern Slav regions; the Ottoman Empire. In the third phase, we see European dominance of Islamic lands, through colonialism and economic globalization. In the fourth phase, beginning in the 1950s and 1960s Islam began to spread in Europe through migration of first-generation immigrants coming from former colonies and labour migrants in response to European demand. In the fifth phase we see an increasing indigenization of Islam in Europe. The result of this is the formation of a European Islam, with its own pronounced identity different from that of Arabic Islam or that of coGenerally speaking Muslims in Europe are urbanized, young, economically less well off and diverse.

The number of Muslims in Europe is expected to continue to grow from about 44 million now (6% of the population) to 58 million by 2030 (8% of the population). Depending on future migration, the number of Muslims in Europe in 2050 might be as high as 75 million (14% of the total population).

It is important to be careful in using demographical statistics. Statistics often do not give any indication of the religious commitment, beliefs and practices of a person. Some believe that only a third of all Muslims in Europe actively practice their Islamic faith.

Gradual Europeanization of Muslim theology and practices
I see several changes taking place within Islam in Europe.

Regarding structure I see an institutionalizing of Islam in Europe with the establishment of National Islamic Councils; the emergence of Muslim political and civic leaders; the formation of organizations, such as associations, schools, mosques; the westernization of mosques and the democratization of religious authority, where ‘cyber imams’ compete with mosque imams.

This institutionalization of Islam in Europe is a complex issue and not completed. Governments in North Africa, Turkey and Middle East are still a highly influential force on Islam in Europe. There are still a large number of mosques that are foreign-run and foreign-staffed. There is still a big need to educate imams in Europe and to develop domestic sources of financing for Islamic institutions.

Regarding practice, I see an individualization of Islamic religious beliefs and practices. It is an Islam where the believer decides autonomously which elements of Islam (s)he considers to be binding or not. The individualization expresses itself in the following ways: the development of an Islamic Youth Culture; decreasing influence of traditional law schools; the development of European Fatwahs; the organization of slaughter during the feast of sacrifice and growing diversity in religious practice and convictions among Muslims.

The outcome of this individualization of Islamic faith and practices does not automatically mean a decline in religious practice, nor a liberalization of Islam, although some of this is happening. It sometimes leads to a critical attitude among second-generation Muslims towards the Islam of their parents and religious authority. Some break away from the Islamic culture of their parents in search of pure Islam.

Regarding theology, I see the development of a new hermeneutics of interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunnah, particularly in the writings of four renowned Muslim reformers, based in Europe: Bassam Tibi, Tariq Ramadan, Tareq Oubrou, and Abdennour Bidar. These four are all contributing to the idea of a European Islam. Other theologically inspired developments I see are: A desire for gender equality, expressed by Muslim female theologians who explain, define and redefine several key concepts of Islam. Changes in the ways shariah is being interpreted. Changes in how the law of apostacy is being interpreted. Discussion about the legal conditions connected to minority status in Europe.

A growing number of Muslim scholars in Europe believe that European Islam is possible, both theologically and politically. But we have to understand that it is not yet an existing fact, but an ongoing process. In their understanding, such a European Islam integrates modernity values and links them with the divine. It preserves the divine in its modernity.

The response of the Church: bystander, follower or trendsetter?
The presence of Islam in Europe should be high on the agenda of the Church in Europe. What happens to Europe and Islam is not something that the Church can ignore. We cannot afford to be a bystander when Europe and Islam sort out their future together. Nor, should we be following the mindset of Europeans at large. Instead of agents of change and transformation in a society estranged from God, many European Christians mimic its sentiments towards Muslims. I believe we should speak of and with Muslims with attitudes that are influenced by the way God deals with us. Our thinking, attitude, behavior with regard to Islam in Europe should be guided by God’s self-giving love manifested at the cross of Golgotha. I suggest that Churches and Christians across Europe respond to the presence of Muslims in Europe with: a) a compassionate heart; b) an informed mind; c) an involved hand; d) a witnessing tongue.

The Church can shape the future of Islam in Europe when we are willing to untries of origin. This can be considered the sixth phase.

Today, most European countries find themselves somewhere between the fourth and fifth phases and in some countries we see the development of the sixth phase. I see three trends among Muslims in Europe, namely i. immigrants have become citizens; ii. Islam is being revitalized in the Balkans and Russia; iii. Islam in Europe is not a monolithic entity but expresses itself in a variety of ways. reflect the truth, the glory and attitude of God in the way we relate to Muslims in our midst.

Dr Bert de Ruiter
Bert is a Christian-Muslim relations consultant with OM and the EEA, and has been involved in Christian-Muslim relations in Europe for over 30 years. He has a DMin in Christian-Muslim relations and has authored two books: A Single Hand Cannot Applaud (on evangelizing Muslims) and Sharing Lives (on how Christians can overcome their fears of Islam and engage with Muslims). He also edited the book Engaging with Muslims in Europe.

Read the rest of Vista 29 here

A Missiological Account of Human Trafficking Vista 20: Jan 2015

May 4, 2018
Opportunity or exploitation? Construction workers in the UAE

Opportunity or exploitation? Construction workers in the UAE

Written in 1994, the following statement from Kevin Giles appeared in Evangelical Quarterly, ‘No Christian theologian living today would support slavery. The slave has three defining characteristics: his/her person is the property of another human being, his/her will is completely subject to his/her owner’s authority, and his/her labour is obtained by coercion.’

Many evangelicals involved in anti-trafficking activities believe that this is true of the contemporary phenomenon of human trafficking. They shine a bright light on the twin evils of exploitation and coercion that exist at the heart of this miserable trade in human beings and campaign vigorously tor the freedom of the vulnerable victims caught up in it. The Earl of Shaftesbury’s ceaseless campaigning against the eighteenth century trans-Atlantic slave trade is just one important source of inspiration for the cause.

However, as Giles reveals, traditional theological assessments of slavery prior to the eighteenth century were reasonably unanimous in arguing for its existence as a part of the social fabric. Among theologians who have argued that the Bible endorsed slavery are Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Chrysostom, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, and John Murray. Hodge wrote, ‘if the present course of the abolitionists is right, then the course of Christ and the apostles was wrong’, adding that to call slavery sinful, was, ‘a direct impeachment of the Word of God’ (Giles, p12). John Murray was writing as late as 1957 in support of the traditional view.

Only during the nineteenth century did JB Lightfoot help to establish the view that the Bible did not endorse slavery. He did this in the face of overwhelming biblical and theological scholarship but his assessment has come to characterise the stance of evangelicals like Wayne Grudem, John Piper, and John Stott.

In contrast with these evangelical scholars, however, the Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology article on slavery notes that, ‘While early Christian teaching contained humanitarian emphases (Matt 24:45-51; Luke 15:22; 17:7) and has often resulted in social change, there is no social mandate to abolish slavery.’ The article highlights the humanitarian regulation and constraints upon the institution of slavery in the biblical world and concludes by noting that ‘The revolutionary nature of the early church is contained in the concept of being “in Christ.” The result of being “in Christ” is, on the one hand, spiritual egalitarianism (Gal 3:23-25), and on the other, responsible behavior within existing structures.’ [Emphasis mine]

It’s important to understand that theological ambiguity and social complexity have characterised the historical debates concerning slavery and that any proposal offered in this brief article on human trafficking will inevitably fall short at a number of points.

The typical evangelical concern for those caught up in human trafficking has focused on human beings trafficked for sexual purposes. Evangelicals have generally been less active (though not totally absent) in mobilising to oppose labour exploitation. This is surprising, particularly if the International Labour Organization’s 2012 report is correct that a total of 21 million people have been trafficked for reasons of forced labour compared with 4.5 million people who have been trafficked into the sex trade–en/index.htm.

Of course these are informed estimates but they do suggest that evangelical concern has not been wholly equitable in addressing these two areas of social concern. Giles (p.14) observes that many pro-slavery evangelicals in the southern USA were critical of gross cruelty to slaves and particularly the sexual exploitation of women, even if not of the institution itself. Of course, female slaves were primarily trafficked from Africa to the American Colonies for their value as labourers but their slave status left them highly vulnerable to sexual abuse and rape by their owners.

An adequate theological assessment of human trafficking will need to address labour exploitation more satisfactorily whilst simultaneously navigating the complexity of trafficking as it relates to the sex industry. In the case of the latter, legislation will typically criminalise or regulate the sex industry and Christians have recognised in it an evil and hellish mix of coercion, enslavement, and prostitution.

The ethical or moral imperative to oppose modern forms of slave labour has so far failed to gain wide traction within the evangelical community. Most of us are content to continue shopping for clothing bargains without asking inconvenient questions about their origins and whether their manufacture involves labour exploitation. We tend to assume that if such goods are manufactured by factories in other countries, their legitimacy rests in the fact that their governments must surely be regulating their own industries. Such a view is naïve and fails to understand that nation-states struggled or failed to regulate the slave industries upon which their wealth was established and that some of them still fail to adequately regulate the human trafficking that continues to boost their tax revenues, whether directly or indirectly.

At its most basic, human trafficking establishes and perpetuates power structures in which powerful individuals and organisations determine every detail of a vulnerable individual’s life. Contributing to a discussion about trafficking in 2013, Professor Catherine Mackinnon of Harvard University stated simply that forced ‘prostitution is based on inequality—economic, sex, race, age.’

Yvonne Zimmerman, a Methodist theologian in Ohio, volunteers at a shelter for those escaping the sex industry and disagrees with Mackinnon. She argues that it is not always accurate to portray sex industry workers as coerced or exploited. She also asks whether the freedom offered by evangelical agencies to those who have been trafficked is dictated solely by a vision of evangelical morality and rectitude or whether it is informed by the individual’s own wishes and intentions.

This will be a difficult issue for evangelicals to address. Zimmerman points to instances where a trafficked woman has escaped from sexual slavery, expresses her freedom to write off men as sexually abusive, and turns to a lesbian relationship for human intimacy and relationship. This is not the ‘freedom’ that evangelicals might believe is best discovered in either a heterosexual marriage or the status of single celibacy but they may still be asked to offer support to a woman who has made such a choice. This fact need not deter evangelicals active in this area, however, from campaigning to free individuals nor to continue to offer a vision of the Kingdom of God that is liberating, life-affirming, and in which such qualities of life are a consequence of a life lived ethically and responsibly.

Opposition to slavery and human trafficking is arguably best advanced by developing a more robust and applied theological vision of the Kingdom of God. Such a vision will have the potential to move beyond the mere acceptance of the social reality of the day, even if that reality includes slavery, trafficking, exploitation, or alternative notions of ‘freedom’ as part of the social fabric. Giles again, ‘There are within Scripture great principles laid down clearly, for those with eyes to see, which point beyond the advice given to particular people at particular times on these matters. All human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and are therefore worthy of equal respect; all human beings share in the divine mandate to exercise authority in God’s world (Gen 1:28); all human beings are loved by God (Jn 3:16); all Christians are to love their neighbour as themselves (Matt 22:39) – a thought which does not give much room for slavery’ nor, we may add, the injustices, corruption, exploitation, and coercion involved in human trafficking.

Rev Dr Darrell Jackson is Senior Lecturer in Missiology at Morling College and welcomes comments on this article at
Giles, K. ‘The Biblical Argument for Slavery: Can the Bible Mislead? A Case Study in Hermeneutics’ Evangelical Quarterly, 66, 1, 1994, p3.

Read the rest of Vista 20 here