ADVERTISING
 
Monday, September 25   Sign in or Register
 
Evangelical Focus
 

 
ADVERTISING
 
 
FOLLOW US ON
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google +
  • Instagram
  • Soundcloud
 

Newsletter
Newsletter, sign up to receive all our News by email.
 

POLL
Nature
Is creation care seen as a priority in your church?




SEE MORE POLLS
 

 
TOP 10 MOST VIEWED



David Smith
 

Wherever Possible, Live at Peace with All Men

What can The West learn from Africa about religion in the public square? At least 5 lessons. 

FEATURES AUTHOR David Smith 05 FEBRUARY 2015 11:55 h GMT+1
Ethiopia city street Street in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. / Henrik Berger Jorgensen (Flickr, CC)

Stumbling along the dusty alleyway in the pitch black, guided only by the light of my mobile phone, my mind grasping for the lessons of my recent Hostile Environments training (Hint: don’t walk down a dark alleyway overseas), I really could have been anywhere.



Unless, that is, you ignored the wall of sound assailing me from both sides of the alley. On one side, the rhythmic chanting of the Muslim call to prayer jutted up against the melodic praise songs coming from the Pentecostal worship event, opposite, that I had just left. It was this fact which placed me in northern Sub-Saharan Africa; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to be precise.



For it’s here, in the Horn of Africa and the region known as the Sahel, that the populations – and necessarily the worldviews – of Christianity and Islam live cheek by jowl in the most explicit way. It’s not that the people of the world’s two largest religions can’t be found living in close proximity elsewhere; from Indonesia to the Balkans.  But it’s in this region of Africa that the populations tend to be both the most numerous and the most equally-balanced numerically. Regionally, there is no overwhelming majority of one faith group over the other: such as there is in the United States, or in the Middle East.



Of course, you also find a liberal sprinkling of secular democracy and other political ideologies, and those of both other religions and none. Ethiopia is, after all, a strictly-secular post-Communist, semi-authoritarian state. But it’s arguable that the majority of the population tend to find – perhaps increasingly – their transcendent identity (that is, beyond national, tribal or temporal boundaries) in their faith.



This scenario is peculiar to the popular culture of Western Europe on two counts. First, these are overwhelmingly-religious societies. The language of God is the norm, not the exception. Second, the significant and long-term influence of two of the world’s great religions makes for an interesting mix when it comes to negotiating contested public space. I suspect that – in the UK – the wall of sound which I experienced in this Addis Ababa alleyway would quickly attract the attention of a local government official in a High-Vis waistcoat, investigating complaints of noise pollution.



So what can The West learn from Africa about religion in the public square?



 



1. NOT ALL RELIGION IS THE SAME



Religion is being increasingly discussed in publishing, the media and politics. There was a time when the mantra ‘We don’t do God’ seemed to fit perfectly with the times. No more. The twentieth century axiom that religion has had its day, and that social progress will see the inevitable triumph of secularism and rationalism over mysticism and faith is looking very tired indeed.



But even as religion is increasingly discussed – in the polemics of militant atheists or in BBC documentaries – there is an astonishing level of illiteracy on the subject. The preceding hundred years of religious decline in the West really has impacted the common understanding of what were previously well-understood (if not always accepted) beliefs. Aside from a general ignorance of religious beliefs and practices, the most common mistake by many commentators is to lump all of the world’s faiths into a silo marked ‘Religion’. This is rarely explicit. But it’s often very clear to the faith-based viewer that many commentators really don’t understand the very fundamental differences between Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and the rest. Sure, these religions share many things in common; for example, the Golden Rule. But their core existential beliefs are also fundamentally at variance, leading to very different practices and worldviews across a range of subjects and even in their understanding of the purpose of life itself. The three Abrahamic faiths share much in common. But you only have to raise the question of the nature and purpose of Jesus and soon very different beliefs with their consequent implications will emerge. Even within religions, there can be considerable differences in belief between different denominations, sects or branches; Sunni, Shia, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Reform and so on. These differences need to be acknowledged and understood.



 



2. RELIGIONS ARE OFTEN COMPETITORS BUT NOT NECESSARILY ANTAGONISTS



In spite of these differences, antagonistic relationships between religions are not inevitable. Of course, antagonism can be found easily enough. But conflict between humans of divergent identities can be found everywhere, even where religion is largely absent. 2015 is the 40th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia – need I say more? Indeed, religions abound with resources to support an ideology of social harmony, peace-making and conflict resolution. Disagreement – even fundamentally so – is not inherently unhealthy. It is how we manage and accommodate our differences that matters.



 



3. THERE IS A PLACE FOR RELIGION IN PUBLIC (AND NOT JUST PRIVATE) SPACES



Part of the dominant narrative of Secularism is that, in order for fairness to be delivered, competing religious worldviews (interestingly, not other worldviews, only religious ones) should be consigned to the private sphere; what you do in your own home is up to you, but don’t bring religious reasoning or practices to the public square. As a result, religious groups who take their faith seriously have often found the public square to be a cold house for them. This is particularly true of counties like France, where the only religion allowed in the public square is the Cult of La Republique. Make of that what you will. But one thing is certain: if we are to address the threat of Religious Extremism, we must be careful not to marginalise religion as a whole. Which is why:



 



4. THEOLOGY MATTERS



Much of the lurch to Islamist extremism has been fuelled by bad theology. Of course, it has also been fuelled by an autocratic Saudi state awash with petro-dollars. But an extreme Wahabist interpretation of the Quran and Hadith in Sunni Islam is primarily a theological issue. The solution to this bad theology cannot be no theology: it is not an effective option to simply disengage with or parody the warped theology of ISIS or the Charlie Hebdo murderers. The ultimate solution to the problem of Islamism, Hindu Nationalism – or even the attempted co-option of Christianity by some elements on the extreme right – is good theology.



We need to do more to understand the complexities, differences and, yes, similarities between religious worldviews in order to understand how we can best live together. To this end, I’m reminded of two sayings of the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans. As we seek to address the core existential questions and understand divergent beliefs, we need to ‘Be transformed by the renewal of our minds’. As we seek to learn how to live together we should follow Paul’s injunction:



“Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good”.



 



David Smith was born and raised in the West of Scotland. He gained his M.A. in Modern History and Politics from the University of Glasgow, and an M.Phil in Reconciliation Studies from Trinity College Dublin. Following six years in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he ran a peacemaking programme, David now lives in Sunderland with his wife and two children. He currently works for Bible Society as their Head of International Programme. David is writing in a personal capacity.



 


 

 


0
COMMENTS

    If you want to comment, or

 



 
 
YOUR ARE AT: - - - Wherever Possible, Live at Peace with All Men
 
ADVERTISING
 
 
 
AUDIOS Audios
 
Michael Schluter: Relationships are the key to build Europe Michael Schluter: Relationships are the key to build Europe

The economist summarises the manifesto “Confederal Europe: Strong Nations, Strong Union” and explains why personal relationships should be at the centre of our economy, education and democracy. 

 
Gary Wilkerson: The Bible, the Holy Spirit and the Reformation Gary Wilkerson: The Bible, the Holy Spirit and the Reformation

Pastor Gary Wilkerson talks about what all evangelical Christians can learn from the Protestant Reformation and underlines the need for more churches with both a sound doctrine and obedience to the Holy Spirit.

 
Lindsay Brown: Islam and the Gospel in Europe Lindsay Brown: Islam and the Gospel in Europe

Is the arrival of thousands of Muslims to Europe a threat to Christianity? What is the growth of evangelical churches in Eastern and Southern Europe? An interview with theologian and Lausanne Movement representative Lindsay Brown.

 
Efraim Tendero: Relationship with Roman Catholicism and other current issues Efraim Tendero: Relationship with Roman Catholicism and other current issues

The World Evangelical Alliance Secretary General participated in the Italian Evangelical Alliance assembly (Rome, 8-9 April). In this interview with Evangelical Focus, Bp Tendero talks about the need to listen to local churches and to face challenges like the refugee crisis and climate change. 

 
Evi Rodemann: Youth and mission Evi Rodemann: Youth and mission

“We want to see the youth not just being equipped, but also being multipliers”, Evi Rodemann director of Mission-Net. The European Congress took place in Germany from December 28 to January 2.

 
Greg Pritchard: European Leadership Forum Greg Pritchard: European Leadership Forum

Pritchard explains the vision of ELF, comments on the 2015 event in Poland and reflects on what it means to have an "evangelical identity".

 
Pablo Martinez comments on Evangelical Focus’ launch Pablo Martinez comments on Evangelical Focus’ launch

Author and international speaker Dr Pablo Martínez discusses the main challenges in Europe nowadays and hopes Evangelical Focus will be a useful tool to help build bridges between churches and society.

 
PICTURES Pictures
 
I am not on sale I am not on sale

Young Christians gathered at Madrid’s central square Sol to denounce human trafficking. A flashmob highlighted the work of three evangelical NGOs which support women who escape sexual slavery in Spain.

 
Stamps to commemorate the Reformation Stamps to commemorate the Reformation

Poland, Lithuania, Namibia and Brazil are some of the countries that have issued special stamps on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses.

 
‘Reconciliation’ in the Basque Country ‘Reconciliation’ in the Basque Country

Bilbao hosted the Spanish Evangelical Alliance's annual meeting (assembly). Politicians, professors and evangelical representatives shared views on social reconciliation. The theme was also analysed from a theological perspective and in workshops. 

 
WPF17: A look at the world’s current issues WPF17: A look at the world’s current issues

A selection of pictures of World Press Photo 2017.

 
The Progress of Europe, deeply connected to Bible The Progress of Europe, deeply connected to Bible

Indian author Vishal Mangalwadi spoke about how the biblical worldview shaped the West. 300 professionals attended annual GBG meeting on faith and work in Cullera (Spain). Photos: J.P. Serrano, S. Vera.

 
Impressions of Lausanne's #ylg2016 Impressions of Lausanne's #ylg2016

Around 1,000 young Christian leaders from 150 countries are participating in the 2016 Lausanne Younger Leaders Gathering, to reflect on global mission.

 
“Spain, we pray for you” “Spain, we pray for you”

Hundreds of evangelical Christians from many denominations marched in Madrid (Spain) to pray for their city, the authorities and asking God to bring hope to its society. Many gathered in other cities on June, 11.

 
VIDEO Video
 
“It is inconsistent to say we love the Creator while we destroy His creation” “It is inconsistent to say we love the Creator while we destroy His creation”

In creation care, “we need more people who lead by example”, says well-known Brazilian politician and activist Marina Silva. 

 
Human traffickers recruit girls and boys online Human traffickers recruit girls and boys online

The new video of the European Freedom Network addresses the dangers of social media. 

 
“Remember you are dust” “Remember you are dust”

Vaughan Roberts speaks from 25 years of ministry experience to share four lessons on staying the course as a Christian, despite ongoing battles with the world, the flesh, and the devil.

 
Walk Walk

A two-minute video on the meaning of Jude 24.

 
Playmobil animation on Luther’s life Playmobil animation on Luther’s life

British video platform GoChatter uses 4,000 individual photos to create stop motion video on Martin Luther's life.

 
Individualism: from the Protestant Reformation to 21st century capitalism Individualism: from the Protestant Reformation to 21st century capitalism

Indian author Vishal Mangalwadi on how the Protestant Reformation underlined individualism as a means to please God, and how secular Europe corrupted it.

 
Students in Europe: “We are present” Students in Europe: “We are present”

A summary video of the IFES Europe conference which brought together 1,700 students from many countries in Aschaffenburg (Germany) to reflect on God's mission in society.

 
Philip Yancey interview Philip Yancey interview

An 8-minute interview with Philip Yancey on the role of Christians in a secularised society. Recorded in Madrid, September 2016.

 
An interview with Prof. John Lennox An interview with Prof. John Lennox

New atheism, the definition of "faith", Christianity in Europe, the role of the Bible in mission, and the need to listen more. An exclusive interview recorded at "Forum Apologética" (Tarragona, Spain) in May 2016.

 
 
Follow us on Soundcloud
Follow us on YouTube
 
 
WE RECOMMEND
 
PARTNERS
 

 
AEE
EVANGELICAL FOCUS belongs to Areópago Protestante, linked to the Spanish Evangelical Alliance (AEE). AEE is member of the European
Evangelical Alliance and World Evangelical Alliance.
 

Opinions expressed are those of their respective contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of Evangelical Focus.