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Marginalisation in Europe

August 6, 2018

marginsDownload Vista 30 here

Mission in Europe cannot be properly understood – or responsibly carried out – without reference to the margins of European societies and those who find themselves there. Just as Jesus’ mission was “at, with and from the margins… the church’s mission cannot be otherwise.” 1

For Jesus this meant spending time with women, children, gentiles, lepers, the poor and others who were excluded by his contemporaries. We are duty-bound to ask questions about equivalent groups in Europe today: who is marginalised, from what, and how? And what should be our response to such marginalisation? But we also need to ask searching questions about our own locatedness (centre or margin?) – and what those on the margins may be teaching us.

Some European Christians complain that secularisation has seen the church itself being marginalised but loss of power and – which are not to be understood primarily as geographical or physical but social.

The English language abounds with forceful words for those who have been described as “from the underside of history, from the outskirts of society, from among the oppressed masses”2: these are the downtrodden, the ostracized, the dehumanized, the subjugated, the alienated, the stigmatized and the disenfranchised. The common thread being a denial of the right to participate fully or equally in society; being “far removed from decision-making processes.”3

There are those who are marginalised on the basis of their ethnicity, race or religion, whether Roma or evangelical Christians in some countries, or victims of centuries-old prejudices and discrimination. Such marginalisation may be institutionalised, legalised or legitimized by state approval (or tacitly endorsed by, for example, state churches).

Secondly, there are those who are marginalised because of their social and economic status: the homeless, unemployed, lower social classes, prisoners and others who face limited opportunities as impersonal but powerful forces work to exclude them from fully participating in society. Refugees and asylum seekers and those who are trafficked also fall into this category: often socially marginalised and, sometimes barred altogether from ‘Fortress Europe’.

A third type of marginalised people are those who are rejected, dominated or
‘dis-privileged’ because of their identity: women, young people, the elderly, the disabled, those not conforming to heterosexual ‘norms’. Across Europe, different states have made different levels of progress in terms of social inclusivity and acceptance, with some lagging behind considerably.

All three forms of marginalisation describe situations where those with power and influence use it (whether intentionally or not) to control, impair or harm those with less (or no) power and influence. That is to say, marginalisation has its roots in human selfishness, power lust and, ultimately, sinfulness. It is a complex phenomenon and varies from context to context; a person who is marginalised in one setting may be someone who excludes or marginalises others in a different context.

Our response

How can European churches and Christians respond? There are at least four necessary responses.

Firstly, oppressive powers – and that includes those of marginalisation – must be identified and denounced. This is part of the church’s prophetic role in society, and such denunciation may bring us into conflict with elites and those benefiting from the status quo. In some countries such as the UK there are many precedents for such condemnation; in others countries, churches may need to take bolder steps to confront injustice and inequality.

Secondly, the church itself must practise a “radical inclusiveness”4 that simply refuses to perpetuate us/other divisions, fundamentally challenging the concept of core/margin thinking: all are to be welcomed, all are to be invited, and the need for genuine Christian hospitality has never been greater in European churches.

Thirdly, those who have been marginalised “should not be seen as only recipients… but as actors in mission.”5 The marginalised are to be equal participants not only in society but in terms of participating in God’s mission too. Some would go further and argue that marginalised people are the “main partners” in God’s mission.6 What could we learn from such sisters and brothers? As the World Council of Church statement Together Towards Life reminds us, on the margins it is often possible to see what is out of view from the centre.7

And finally, some hard questions need to be faced by European Christians, especially given our continent’s long history of imperialism and colonialism: how have our lives, our churches, our theology, even our missiology, served our own interests and excluded or marginalised others? To what extent are we complicit in others being marginalised? Have our actions (or inaction) led to other groups or individuals being kept out – of our countries, our parliaments, our universities, our workforce, our churches.

When we marginalise

It is important for churches in Europe to be alert to the possibility of marginalisation wherever there may be imbalances of power. Three examples will illustrate the point.
Firstly, Harvey Kwiyani has sensitively raised the question of whether non-Western missionaries are being marginalised in the West, including Europe.8 The danger being that Western attitudes, assumptions and unacknowledged prejudices may lead to non-Western missionaries being seen as inferior to Westerners; or seen as equal but lacking equivalent resources and influence and being disregarded as a result.

Secondly, at missions conferences, training colleges and so on, are minority European voices being heard? Do Eastern Europeans have as much influence as Western Europeans in these circumstances? We need to reconsider who is setting the agenda for European mission.

And thirdly, are some missiologies or missiological approaches themselves being marginalized within Europe – whether liberationist, feminist, Pentecostal (or non-Pentecostals) or other? So even within missionary and missiological circles, we may find marginalisation occurring.

Where does this leave us? Ironically, there has been talk in recent years of Europe itself being marginalised, as other countries, including China and India, develop economically and assert themselves politically.
But whatever the international status of Europe, its churches and its Christians would do well to simply follow the example of Jesus Christ and his approach to power and to those isolated or excluded by it: the Jesus who ministered to the poor, the sick, the maligned and the oppressed, and challenged his disciples to do likewise; the Jesus who died among the despised, rejected and forsaken; the risen Lord who sent – and continues to send – his followers “to the margins (ends) of the earth” that all might be invited in.

Chris Ducker is Lecturer in Mission at Redcliffe College, Gloucester.

Endnotes
1. Joseph Prabhakar Dayam, “Postscript: Mission at, with and from the margins – A missiology of the cross” in Jesudason et al (eds., 2014) Mission At and From the Margins: Patterns, Protagonists and Perspectives (Oxford: Regnum Books), p.262.
2. Miguel de la Torre (2014) Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins, 2nd edition (Maryknoll: Orbis).
3. Genevieve Mwayuli and Misia Kadenyi (2009) “Environmental Justice for Peace and Development: A Biblical Perspective”, African Ecclesial Review 51:4, p.533.
4. Matthias Wenk (2009) “Reconciliation and Renunciation of Status as God’s final aim for Humanity: New Testament Thoughts on the Church’s Mission and Unity”, p.5. Wenk notes that this radical inclusiveness “also prompted conflict and schism with those that did not share his vision.”
5. Emma Wild-Wood and Peniel Rajkumar (eds., 2013) Foundations for Mission (Oxford: Regnum Books), p.240.
6. WCC (2012) Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes, p.107.
7. Ibid, p38.
8. Harvey Kwiyani (2012) “Power in Mission,” Journal of Mission Practice No.2, Autumn 2012.

 

Mission at the Margins

July 7, 2018

In ‘How the Irish saved Civilization’, Thomas Cahill tells how the Gospel transformed a wild outpost on the margins of the Roman Empire into a land of ‘saints and scholars’. The Irish church kept the story of the Gospel alive as the Empire disintegrated, and the Celtic ‘White Monks’ would one day in turn, bring back to Europe the learning lost after the fall of Rome. Over half of all biblical commentaries written between 650 and 850 were by Irishmen, and Irish missionaries reached as far as Moldova by the end of the eighth century.

marginsThis edition of Vista explores some of the margins where mission in Europe is taking place, out of the limelight and away from the centres of ‘power’, just as Ireland was sixteen centuries ago. The stories we feature are small, local and personal; a tiny proportion of what is happening. Each focuses on a specific group of people at the edge of society, whether the Roma in Bulgaria and the UK, girls trafficked for sex in France, asylum seekers and refugees in Gloucester or the LGBT community, And as Rik Lubbers’ article highlights, for many of us, just being a Christian in Europe means you are automatically on the ‘margin’.

A margin is also a ‘liminal space’ where there is a sense of stepping beyond the known and certain. As editors we recognise that some of the margins explored by the writers in this issue of Vista may step beyond what you are comfortable with, both missiologically and theologically. We offer them to you for reflection and consideration.

Downlodad Vista 30 here

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 http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/lang–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 darrellj@morling.edu.au
Reference
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

Perspectives on Islam in Europe

April 19, 2018

221In 2016, the Pew Research Centre estimated that one in every twenty Europeans self identifies as ‘Muslim’, making a total Muslim population in Europe of just under 26 million. This is a significant increase over the 2010 population that Pew reported at 19.5 million. With the dramatic rise in the number of migrants arriving in Europe between 2014 and mid-2016, Pew refocused its interest on the EU countries and attempted to project future shifts in the religious population as a result of immigration. Their research shows that 53% of migrants entering Europe between 2010-2016 were Muslim.

In addition to the increase in the Muslim population in the EU through immigration between 2010 and 2016 (3.5 million), there was an increase through 2.9 million children born to Muslim parents. Importantly, the Pew research also estimated that over the same period 320,000 Muslims switched or abandoned their religion.

Brill’s Yearbook of Muslims in Europe (Volume 5, 2013, p.18) points out that literature about Islam in Europe can be broadly distinguished according to its region of origin. Literature from the West tends to focus on Muslim immigration whereas literature from south and eastern Europe focuses on Muslim ethnicity and history. Of course, since the rapid acceleration of immigration between 2014 and 2016, all regions of Europe have been faced in new and challenging ways by the immigration of Muslims Reflecting this trend, the Pew Report provides definitions for key terms such as ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’ but worryingly does not define ‘Muslim’. The widely regarded Yearbook of Muslims in Europe, now in its 9th edition admits that ‘attempting to define ‘Muslims’ is not an easy task’ (Yearbook of Muslims in Europe, 2009, pp.9-14). The Pew Report states on page eleven, ‘Europe’s Muslim population is diverse. It encompasses Muslims born in Europe and in a wide variety of non-European countries. It includes Sunnis, Shiites and Sufis. Levels of religious commitment and belief vary among Europe’s Muslim populations. Some of the Muslims enumerated in this report would not describe Muslim identity as salient in their daily lives. For others, Muslim identity profoundly shapes their daily lives. However, quantifying religious devotion and categories of Muslim identity is outside the scope of this report.’

These are important qualifications for a report that some readers of Vista might have consulted and used as they have considered responses to the presence and growth of number of Muslims in Europe. The statement from Pew obscures the fact that self-identifying as ‘Muslim’ does not necessarily signify devout observance of the pillars of Islam. It also overlooks the decision by Pew (in the absence of census or survey data) to assume that Muslim identity can be predicted by ethnic and national origin. Whilst the report’s authors acknowledge that, for example, ‘there is a higher share of Christians among Egyptian migrants to Austria than there is among those living in Egypt.’ It continues, ‘this type of data is used to estimate the religious composition of new migrants, but only when available’ (emphasis mine). The problems of such an approach are underlined by Jørgen Nielson who realises that ‘religion becomes an ambivalent marker for ethnicity and national belonging’ (Yearbook of Muslims in Europe, 2013, p.18).

“Pew’s research obscures the fact that self-identifying as ‘Muslim’
does not necessarily signify devout observance of Islam.”

A further eccentricity of the Pew report (seen on p.46) is that their estimate of religious switching across Europe is based on a figure of 10% reported from the French Trajectories and Origins survey of immigrants in France. It found that ‘approximately 10% of those raised Muslim later switched to no religious affiliation or to some other religion’. I am aware that there is little hard data available on conversions by Muslims to another or no religion, but this edition of Vista features important stories of Muslims who have become followers of Christ and descriptions of many thousands of Iranians who are now also following Jesus. This frequently comes about through the active witness of evangelical protestants and it is not as common to evangelical Christians in France as it is elsewhere. The likelihood is that the witness of evangelicals in historically protestant countries (rather than the traditionally Catholic and officially secular nation of France) is likely to contribute to conversation rates of higher than 10%. However, until we have access to hard data, we can only rely on the estimates of organisations like Pew.

More important, perhaps, are the many stories that point to significant movements of migrants towards faith in Christ and who have migrated from countries that are historically Muslim. Reza Gholami is not a Christian but has investigated the question of why so many migrant Iranian Shi’a Muslims seem determined to distance themselves from Islam (Gholami, Secularism and Identity, 2015). He worked with Iranian communities in Aarhus, Paris, and London and discovered something the he calls ‘non-Islamiosity’ to be widespread among Iranians. He saw that they seemed determined to find a secular explanatory framework for expressing freedom-related concepts, such as ‘identity’ and ‘community’, both personal and social. Doing this meant that they had to jettison the explanatory framework of Islamiosity held previously.
He rejects an either-or approach to ‘secularity’ and ‘religiosity’. He argues instead that secularity allows an individual to negotiate new ideas of self and community which are not necessarily non-religious; rather, they are non-Islamic. This finding is of significance for Christians with experience of Iranian (or Persian) background believers. The offer of faith in Christ must be offered as a journey into new forms of religious-framed freedom for them. Those of us with personal experience of talking with new Iranian believers will probably be able to testify that this is a central part of their stories of coming to faith (alongside their frequent reporting of a vision or dream in which they encountered the risen and exalted Christ).

In the face of the politics of fear, Christians in Europe have new opportunities to present Christ to new Muslim friends, for the Muslims of Europe are here to stay. Robert Pauly (Islam in Europe, 2004, p.174) makes this point in arguing that European governments should develop domestic policies of social integration as these are more appropriate and more effective than Governments directing their immigration policies towards excluding Muslims. Intentional and committed Christian witness to Muslims, even in the face of the revivalist Islamic movements such as Tablighi Jamaat (see Jenny Taylor’s article in this edition of Vista), is a particularly evangelistic way of working towards greater social stability in the countries of Europe. It is costly and long-term, but the Iranians who are now faithfully and joyfully following Christ are a shocking reminder of the power of God to change lives and hearts at a time of unprecedented Muslim migration into the nations of Europe.

Darrell Jackson
Rev Dr Darrell Jackson is Associate Professor of Missiology, Morling College, Sydney, and continues to research and lecture in the area of Islam and Muslims in the contemporary world.

Read the rest of Vista 29 here