The Way of Love
One thing struck me this week as I sorted through newspapers that had piled up at home during my recent travels. Religion is back!
One prize-winning Dutch author, quoted in the secular NRC Handelsblad, suggests we may even be experiencing the re-Christianisation of Holland! Another writer dared to suggest that secularism was now old-fashioned.
This could be significant for Europe as a whole, as Holland has led the way in issues such as abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage and drugs, under governments with an anti-Christian agenda. Of the three parties engaged in forming the new Dutch government, two are led by committed Christians.
But this is not just a Dutch trend. The International Herald Tribune noted that the assumption held widely until recently-that religion would fade as people became less primitive and more rational-was simply false. The 21st century would be dominated by religion in a way considered unthinkable just a few years ago.
Not that this means a return to old legislation, nor to traditional religious forms. The search for transcendence is more personalised and less institutional.
Reasons given for this new spiritual openness include the uncertain climate of terrorism and globalisation. Paradoxically, the rise of Islam is prompting Europeans to re-examine their own spiritual roots.
For decades we have lived in a state of denial about our past. The stubborn refusal to acknowledge Judeo-Christian roots in the proposed EU constitution was part of the secular vision of a future without religion.
What was also clear from my collection of newspaper clippings was that we Europeans are confused about how to respond to Islam and to our Muslim neighbours. In recent times, Europeans have not been used to dealing with people of clear conviction. While multi-culturalism, tolerance and pluralism were preached as the gospel of progress, it became more difficult to know how to deal with those unprepared to play by the rules.
This confusion is guaranteed to make religion a subject of debate for a long time to come in Europe.
Followers of Jesus need to play an active role in this debate. By and large, we have been caught as much by surprise as our secular neighbours. Islam was a subject for special seminars at conferences for the missionary-minded. But now it has become one of the most pressing social and political issues here on the ‘home-front’.
Not only should we become involved. We should recognise the key role that networks of Christians all across Europe could have in making a real difference at this stage of Europe’s history. For to follow Jesus’ instructions concerning our neighbours-and our enemies-means breaking the cycle of fear, hate and violence by responding in the opposite spirit. That is the way of love.
But in today’s real world of terrorism, that sounds na√Øve and idealistic: ‘Sure, why not just turn the other cheek each time the radicals succeed in their bombings? Why not let the Muslims gradually take over our neighbourhoods and schools? Let’s just keep turning the other cheek until we wake up to discover we are living under sharia law.’
Christ’s instruction to turn the other cheek is directed to believers and to the church, not to courts and governments. Those in authority have the mandate to wield the sword to uphold justice and order. That is not the task of the church.
Our task as believers is to be salt and light -to help preserve that which is good, being a conscience in society, and to be a source of understanding and wisdom. By our lifestyles even more than by our words, we are to flesh out hope for the future.
While there are no pat answers or easy recipes, there are biblical guidelines:
· We must see all peoples as loved by God -Turks, Moroccans, Dutch, Pakistanis, Algerians, French, Afghanis, Iraqis, Iranians, Brits, Jews and Arabs…
· We must build bridges of friendship to Muslim communities. What we have in common ethically with Muslims is often a lot more than with our secular neighbours: e.g. on family and marriage, prayer and devotion, abortion and euthanasia…
· We must become more familiar with the Muslim world; and with how God is at work there bringing more Muslims to faith in Isa (Jesus) than ever before in history.
· We must rise above nationalism-pride in ethnic superiority-to a biblical sense of nationhood that celebrates our nations’ positive cultural heritage and yet welcomes immigrants wishing to integrate, as in Israel of the Old Testament.
· We must pray for our Muslim neighbours and new immigrants; pray for our rulers, politicians and security forces commissioned to use the sword to restrain evil; and pray with confidence that the Lord of history will continue to work out His purposes, understanding that we wrestle not against flesh and blood.
· And we must keep a clear perspective. Islam may not be the greatest spiritual challenge to Europe. One in ten Europeans will be Muslim in 2025. Europe’s spiritual ‘awakening’ already includes a far greater proportion attracted to ‘neo-paganism’.
Till next year,
Till next week,