As theological debates on sexuality and marriage become more and more central, many Christian denominations are being asked to clarify their views.
If we would talk as much with Muslims as we do about them, Europe would be a different place.
“You never come into contact with a religion but an adherent's religion. You never come into contact with Muhammadanism, but you do come into contact with a Muslim and his Muhammadanism."
(J.H. Bavinck, Dutch missiologist, who lived from 1895-1964)
The presence of Islam in Europe is not only something that concerns the European politicians or the community in Europe at-large. It is something that should also be high on the agenda of the Church and Mission councils.
What happens to Europe and Islam is not something that the Church can ignore. Muslims have come to live in our countries, cities, neighborhoods and streets. When we send our workers and money to Muslim countries overseas, we should also invest time and energy in Muslim on our doorstep.
But the fact is, that at present a small minority of Churches and Christians across Europe have a meaningful relationship with the mosques and Muslims in their cities and neighborhood.
Yes, we have books on Islam, we have debates and conferences about the future of Islam in Europe, but that doesn’t mean that we have ongoing deep and meaningful dialogues with Muslims across Europe. I believe that if we would talk as much with Muslims as we do about them, Europe would be different.
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. I notice that many Christians are infected by the widespread Islamophobia that is present in many European countries of today. Christian voters have participated in the growth of extreme right wing political parties, that make Islam their number one issue. Instead of agents of change and transformation in a society estranged from God, we mimic its sentiments, such as xenophobia, islamophobia, alarmism, nationalism.
I believe we should repent of such attitudes and instead seek to be part of society and 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 our continent in a fourfold manner:
a) With a compassionate heart
As followers of the One of Whom the Bible says was ‘full of grace and truth’, we should deal with Muslims in a gracious and loving way. This means that we might to have the Holy Spirit work in us to change our attitude from fear to grace.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:8 Paul writes:
“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.”
A tool that could help our churches change their attitude is the course “Sharing Lives”, that I developed.
b) With an informed mind
It is important that we refrain from making caricatures of the Muslims in our midst. We need to know who they are, where they come from, what their religious commitment is, who are the key people, what are their dreams, aspirations, fears, concerns? How do they feel about us?
c) With an involved hand
When our heart is right and we are well informed, we will see all kinds of practical ways that can bring us alongside Muslims. We might find them to be allies in dealing with problems in our city or neighborhood. We might be able to together make a stand for social issues (abortion, drug abuse). We might find other areas of common concern that will put us together on a human level.
d) With a witnessing tongue
Of course, being a witness of the Good News of Jesus Christ is important and necessary. I have discovered that when we have come through the steps a to c, there a plenty of opportunities to do so. When we do we are been taking serious, we testify not about an abstract faith but a faith in Christ that is seen and given hand and feet in daily life.
Muslims are here to stay. Instead of seeing it as a threat, I suggest the Church looks upon it as:
1- An opportunity to learn how to be loving and gracious to people that do not deserve it (neither do we);
2- An opportunity to help Muslims understand what Christianity is all about and breakdown some of the stereotypes and prejudices that they have towards us;
3- An opportunity to break downs the walls of hostility that have been built for centuries between Christianity and Islam
4- An opportunity to show the Muslim world that there is a better and more scriptural way to relate to Muslims than crusading and colonializing, namely the way of the Cross, the way of grace and unconditional love.
5- An opportunity to welcome those within Islam that are seeking for the truth that they didn’t find in Islam.
6- An opportunity to be a friend of Muslims and share your life and in this context also the Gospel with them.
The Church can shape the future of Islam in Europe when we are willing to reflect the truth, the glory and attitude of God in the way we relate to Muslims in our midst.
Bert de Ruiter, Consultant of Christian-Muslim Relations OM Europe and European Evangelical Alliance.