TIME FOR ANOTHER LANGUAGE 

Everything starts with language. The deeply human experience of religion is grounded in language, because religion cannot possibly flourish without the spoken, sung and written word, whether or not capitalized. Church rifts also take place thanks to the same word, because hermeneutics and exegesis have led to such a colorful collection of churches that the size of the last electoral list stands out. In short, words matter.  

I repeat, words matter. They can exclude or include, stigmatize or connect. The social debate about Islam is a textbook example of the destructive power of language. Politicians, the media and citizens have now learned a vocabulary in which it is almost a special feature when the news presents Muslims somewhat nuanced. Research into coverage of Muslims in the media showed that the four largest newspapers in the Netherlands mainly write about terrorism in relation to Islam, the oppression of women by Islam, the we versus them in the worldview of Huntington, where ‘they’ are the Muslims and ‘we’ are the enlightened West, and finally the far -reaching stigmatizing of migrants and refugees. 

Our language is now imbued with negative images about Muslims and Islam. We are talking about a ‘liberal’ Muslim if he does not comply with the ritual regulations. As if the rest adhere to a  non-liberal Islam. We are talking about a  ’feminist’ Muslim woman when she takes off the headscarf, as if all Muslims wearing headscarves are victims of male domination. We elevate the exception to ideal and calibrate it to the secular, Western standard. We then problematize the group to a large extent by putting bad, linguistic labels on it. We do not know the diversity among Muslims, the result of numerous schisms and cultural manifestations. And I daresay most people don’t care either. 

Christians in the Netherlands are once again guilty of stigmatization and exclusion of Muslims. It hurts me to write this down, but if  you, as a Christian party, vote for a burqa ban, want to block funding from only Muslim countries, mainly take in non-Muslim refugees, work with an openly  Islamophob party and you still talk about freedom and equality, you have not understood the gospel well. When I stayed in a convent (nunnery) for a weekend two years ago, as part of a dialogue project, I thought: why is this house not seen as a source of radicalisation? Women join a  fairly strict religious  order, sever social ties, are busy with ritual services all day, and on Sundays they are not allowed to stand behind the pulpit. We affectionately call a monastery a place of silence, could an Islamic variant count on such a label? 

Christians, I write it consciously as plural, should think about another struggle, namely the struggle between secular thought and religious thought. Actively professed Muslims are a negligible minority in this country, there will never be an Islamic political majority, and Muslims are even more divided than all churches put together –  therefore focus on a different danger. The secular idea that religion is an irrational source of life and therefore does not deserve a place in public life implies that not only Muslims, but all believers will have to look after their freedoms. If ‘the church’ continues to focus on Muslims, it can come home from a rude awakening when the secular wind ripsall Christian roots out of the ground. You’ll then have a dusty cultural Christianity of looking for Easter eggs and two weeks off for Christmas. 

Another reason why Christians should really consider a partnership model with Muslims is that secularization in the Netherlands is steadily continuing. You don’t get any extra profile by opposing radical Islam and presenting yourself as a better religion. You don’t win souls with it. During my many church visits, I myself experienced that the pews are becoming emptier year after year, despite the apparent years of progressive Islamization. Then what’s your story as a church? Is the story: beware of Islam? Or is the story: this society requires spirit, mercy, charity,  fellowship and community. That is the language of the soul. 

You bet that as a liberal, humanist, orthodox, feminist, cultural or any other Muslim with a label, I get out of bed to stand beside the Christian. But it’s hard for me to wake up in the morning when I have to prove to Christians that I’m good, or that I have to explain that the Qur’an really speaks differently about Jesus than the Bible. Why is the conversation about that all the time? Muslims are part of the Qur’an and Christians belong to the Gospel for a reason- otherwise Muslims would be Christians and Christians would be Muslims. So why don’t we talk about the language of the soul again? Then instead of one source you have no less than two richly filled sources from which you can draw. This is what this  country, the church and the mosque need above all today this much more nowadays.   

Enis Odaci 

Enis Odaci (1975) is director of Volzin online He is a policy advisor, speaker and publicist on Islam, diversity and society. Together with reverend Herman Koetsveld, he published two books, De Zeven Zuilen en Spiegelreis, on the encounters between Christianity and Islam. 

Can inclusivity go too far?

“Come on, come on!” The man in the immaculate white dishdasha (long robe) gestures invitingly to his front door. I don’t have time, and perhaps neither does the man, but that doesn’t stop him from inviting me into his house. We agree that I will visit him next time. So that we can get to know each other a little better. By simply sitting together in his majlis (Arabic sitting room), drinking tea and talking about what is on our minds. This is inclusivity at its best. And I experience it very regularly since I live in the Arabian Peninsula.

Yes, I am different from most people around me. I look different, wear different clothes, eat different things, speak a different language, have different customs and most importantly, I believe different things. My identity in Christ is unbreakable to me, as the Islamic identity is unbreakable to many of my neighbors. Yet all these differences do not prevent people from inviting me into their homes – invitations that I gratefully accept whenever possible.

Yesterday I talked about this with my wife and some friends. Are we just as hospitable as they are? Yes, if someone is at the door I try to do the same. “Tfaddel, come in!” But if it really doesn’t work out at all? To be honest, I find it difficult, if not hypocritical, to invite someone in enthusiastically when I’m super busy. That is the downside of the famous hospitality: even when you are that busy, you still have to pretend you have been waiting all day for the guest who unexpectedly knocks on the door. Receiving guests is simply a top priority in this society – even when it is difficult.

And I have more questions. Receiving guests is one thing, but where is the point where guests are no longer guests, but become friends? Where the formalities can be omitted? Even local people sometimes reach that point among themselves only after a long time, if they ever reach it. I have often been amazed at how extremely polite good friends can be with each other without a single discord. It’s wonderful, yes, but by doing so, do they really share in each other’s lives, in each other’s worries, in each other’s troubles? Is there room to integrate those dark sides of life in the mutual contact? Or is that too inclusive? And is it actually possible to be too inclusive?

In short, life here keeps me thinking. About what an ideal community looks like. About what a community of local Christians could look like. About who is welcome in such a community, and under what conditions. And about what we actually want to share with each other in such a community. Because what is inclusive for some can be overwhelming for others.

Jacob Hoekman is a freelance journalist living in the Middle East. He writes about the region for various media. He recently wrote the book “In the Shadow of the Caliphate”, about the Arab world. Earlier he wrote “Sons of Ishmael”, about the various views of the church on Islam.

Should we wish a ‘Blessed Ramadan’ on our Muslim friends?

A few days ago, the month of Ramadan began. ‘Ramadan’ is the name of the current month, the ninth in the Muslim lunar calendar, which has come to symbolize the 29 to 30-day Muslim fast, one of Islam’s five pillars. The social media, over the past few days, have been filled with Ramadan-related posts and comments. Given that Facebook conveniently connects you mostly with like-minded people, the posts I have been seeing are for the most part either pious ones from my Muslim friends or well-wishing ones from sympathetic non-Muslims.

But from time to time, both in my network and, I am sure, in other ‘less Muslim-friendly networks,’ there is also the odd voice of dissent, or even the scolding Christian who warns that Christians are not to wish blessing or happiness to Muslims on Ramadan. One friend who took well-wishers to task over Facebook a couple of days ago argued that doing so is hypocritical since Christians disagree with Muslims on a number of religious matters, and that no blessing can come to anyone outside of Jesus. He argued that the only legitimate blessing wish that we are to make is a Jesus-blessing. I don’t want to be judgmental of this sort of attitude. Religions tend by nature to be exclusive of other religions, and religious people naturally face various dilemmas when they have to decide how to relate to members of another religious group. I would like, therefore, to explore briefly what Jesus would have us tell our Muslim friends during this Ramadan season.

The first thought that comes to mind is that Jesus invites us to offer blessing to everyone, including our enemies:

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you’ (Lk 6.27-28).

Not that I consider Muslims in any way my enemies, but that is the upper boundary that Jesus sets for us. We certainly cannot go wrong by wishing blessing on our friends and neighbors.

The second thing that strikes me is that Muslim extremists argue as well that Muslims are not to offer Christians good wishes on their religious feasts, based on sūra 5 of the Qur’an (al-Mā’ida), verse 51. Shakir’s English translation of the verse reads: ‘O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people.’ Other well-known translations, such as Pickthal and Yusuf-Ali, translate it similarly. But even that needs not be the case. The very recent Qur’anic translation of my good friend Safi Kaskas chose to translate it differently:

Believers, do not take the Jews and Christians as allies. They are only allies with one another, and whoever allies himself with them becomes one of them. God does not guide such unjust people.

Kaskas is likely right to translate the Arabic original awliyā’ in this way, and in a footnote to the word ‘allies,’ he explains the political origin of this command. A significant proportion of the Qur’an’s verses have primarily a temporal rather than universal implication, particularly those verses which, like this one, are considered by Muslim scholars to have been revealed during the highly charged period beyond the second year of Muhammad’s migration to the city of Medina.

For the Qur’an’s more universal message about how to relate to Christians, Kaskas – in line with a number of other Muslim commentators – turns primarily to verse 82 of the same sūra:

You will find that the nearest in affection towards the believers are those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ because there are priests and monks among them, and because these people are not given to arrogance.

When Muslim radicals can prevent a Christmas tree from going up in their city during the Christmas season, despite the high number of Christians in that city, they consider it a victory. Not that I care much about the Christmas tree, but the matter is symbolic. If such are the power games played by religious fanatics, then I certainly do not want to share the mentality of Muslim extremists.

A third thought that comes to mind is that wishing ‘Ramadan Kareem’ or ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ to my Muslim friends does not turn me into a Muslim, any more than I could persuade myself that a Muslim wishing me a Merry Christmas has converted to Christianity. When my Muslim friends wish me a Merry Christmas or a Blessed Easter, I do not look down on them as compromisers, or as schemers; I simply feel honored and appreciated, and it makes me think highly of them, as open-minded Muslims. In the same way, when we wish our Muslim friends ‘Ramadan Mubarak,’ it simply makes us more gracious, better neighbors, and quite frankly better human beings.

Finally, what do we really fear? Are we worried that we would be perceived as compromising our faith? But what does compromise mean here? Do we think that our Muslim friends will suddenly think we have turned Muslim by wishing them ‘Ramadan Kareem’? Or do we fear that they might think that they have finally won some grand cosmic battle? Or if we wish them ‘Ramadan Kareem,’ might it mean that we have given up on sharing with them the Good News of Jesus? If you’re going to give up sharing the Good News, you’re going to give it up anyway, whether you offer a good wish for Ramadan or not. It seems silly to hear that good wish as compromise.

So quite simply at the start of this Ramadan month, I encourage all my Christian friends to wish a ‘Blessed Ramadan’ to their Muslim friends. Invite them to an Iftar (the daily breaking of the fast at sunset), accept their invitation to an Iftar if they so grace you, and enjoy fellowshipping, speaking about spiritual things, and about Jesus with them. Nothing will make your Muslim neighbor feel happier and more welcome and valued than this sort of attitude.

Martin Accad is Chief Academic Officer @ the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, Mansourieh, Lebanon, and Director of its Insititute ofassociate professor of Islamic Studies and director of its Institute of Middle East Studies. He is also Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at ABTS and Affiliate Associate Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, USA. Accad recently wrote Sacred Misunderstanding and (co)edited: The religious Other. A Biblical Understanding of Islam, the Qur’an and Muhammad the Iinstitute of Middle East Studies at ABTS Lebanon.

MARTIN ACCAD has a DPhil from the University of Oxford, UK. He is Chief Academic Officer at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, Mansourieh, Lebanon, and Director of its Institute of Middle East Studies. He is also Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at ABTS and Affiliate Associate Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, USA. Accad recently wrote Sacred Misinterpretation. Reaching across the Christian-Muslim Divide (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2019) and (co)edited: The religious Other. A Biblical Understanding of Islam, the Qur’an and Muhammad (London: Langham, 2020).

This blog first appeared on the website of IMES Lebanon https://abtslebanon.org/2016/06/10/should-we-wish-a-blessed-ramadan-on-our-muslim-friends/

Corona crossing borders

  To write a column today without talking about corona is really impossible. After all, it seems as if the whole world has come to a standstill and everything revolves around the fight against the corona pandemic. In one sense it is rightly so, after all, this battle somehow affects everyone in our globalized world. Despite all our efforts, the virus does not care much about boundaries and does not bother with religious beliefs. 

The fight against this evil unites us, at least it seems natural that a united fight is crucial. However, a pandemic like this often conveys fine words about common interests, but in practice we find distancing rather than connection. We see this on all levels. The “scramble for vaccines” is happening everywhere and dividing the world in an unprecedented way. Rich countries buy the lion’s share of the tests and vaccines. The gap with the so-called Third World will therefore become larger in stead of smaller. And according to virologists, this will eventually lead to a virus continuing to circulate and mutate, eventually creating another mutation that will also hit hard the rich West again. 

Closer to home, people withdraw more and more into the small circle of the family, their own bubble. We look with more suspicion at people who are not part of our inner circle. Vague contacts become even more vague, and our own circle smaller and smaller. Psychologists fear this could have long-lasting negative effects on the community. After all, the other moves out of the picture and our own small circle becomes even more the centre of the world. 

Historically, these are the known and understandable responses to pandemics. It happened in the times of the plague, the cholera, etc. In the past, this was often accompanied by the search for a scapegoat. You not only shield yourself from the other, but the other is also blamedE.g. the Jews in Europe were seen as the cause of the plague. What impact will this pandemic have on contacts between the various groups in the Netherlands? The tendency to blame others also became visible in this pandemic. The virus very quickly became a “Chinese virus”. 

During the second wave, more than 50% of the corona patients in the ICU in Amsterdam hospitals appeared to have a migrant background, and have little or no understanding of the Dutch language. PVV leader Geert Wilders immediately commented on Twitter: ‘So treatments and operations of Henk and Ingrid with cancer, heart failure or other diseases are being postponed again because the ICUs are mainly occupied by Mohammed and Fatima who do not speak our language and do not care about the rules?’ 

It appears that even now a pandemic can easily increase the contradictions, the mistrust between population groups. It is striking that this can also affect the church. Perhaps even more than on our immigrant fellow countrymen, the churches have come into the picture as hotspotsApparently, they are people who do not obey the rules and do not partake in the social debate in the usual way. On the other hand, there are attempts by denominations and consultative bodies to prevent precisely this reaction. Which then creates the same processes of condemnation and exclusion within churches! Churches, church members who are good and those who don’t care about anything and just let things happen. 

The language of exclusion, dividing people into us and them, blaming the other, is a many-headed monster. It turns against every possible minority. It changes direction, but retains its character. At the beginning of our era, Christians were seen as those who were guilty of child sacrifice and drinking blood. Now it can be used by “Christians” against liberal politicians. 

Corona crosses all boundaries, but our response doesn’t! It seems that establishing old and new borders is the only answer we can come up with. Doesn’t the pandemic challenge us to reconsider our relationships? It may start with the language we use when we talk about the other. Language matters. It also requires to keep in contact. No matter how complicated that at the moment may beAlso with the migrant Dutch citizen, the Muslim neighbour. We must be aware of behaviour and language that divides, not establishing new boundaries but breaking them down. Perhaps more relevant than ever, now that we realize more than before that we can easily become the victims and not only be perpetrators. 

 

Rev. J.P. (Jan) Ouwehand 

Jan Ouwehand has been active in missionary work and social aid for several years. He is a minister in the protestant Church of the Netherlands (PKN) en after serving the church of Wilnis, he worked as the CEO of the Reformed Mission League, a Missions organisation in the Protestant Church. Since november 2020 he serves as a fulltime minister of the Church of Ilpendam en Watergang, near Amsterdam. Jan has been a member of the board of the ‘The Church in the Context of Islam’ Foundation and has actively contributed to the development of the Chair’s current research project: Inclusion versus exclusion, searching for Biblical inspiration.  

Tasting the aroma – by Martijn Leeftink

Is it OK in the encounter between Muslims and Christians to explicitly talk about your faith in Jesus and the importance of it?
Het Kruispunt is a Christian meeting center that stimulates the encounter and the dialogue between Muslims and Christians. At the same time we create space for the encounter between Muslims and Jesus (as far as this space can be created, the Spirit goes where she wants to go). With this intention we always have to take care of the right balance. We want to be socially involved with others. For that you should not always be so explicit about your believes. On the other hand it is hard to keep silent about what motivates you and about the importance of God in what you are doing. So, when do you keep silent and when is it impossible to keep silent about the importance of Jesus, also for the Muslims you encounter?

This question came up once again recently. We have a weekly Bible study meeting in Arabic and Dutch. This is of course the place where Jesus ís the subject of conversation. Everybody is welcome to join, also Muslims. One day a young Muslim attended. His Christian foster-parent had brought him. During the meeting a woman told about her experiences as Muslim in her home country. She told how she felt liberated, also as a woman, when she met Jesus. This young Muslim man came one more time and then stopped coming. Asking about the why, he told that he felt offended and hurt by the story of this woman. As if Islam and Muslims are to blame for all the wrongs and injustices in the world, specifically against women. It was clear for him: this place, where Christians meet, is a no-go-area for Muslims.

That’s a pity. For as a meeting center we want to connect people with each other. Especially when they are of different religions. Because it is a good thing to learn to understand each other’s religions. But speaking explicitly about Jesus, as it shows, provokes resistance. It keeps people away. For some diaconal and social projects that is a reason to not talk at all about Jesus and faith. Because we don’t want to hurt and offend Muslims. Our aim should be to help them socially, not to convert them. Right?
But do you do justice to each other, in the encounter with Muslims, when you keep silent about who Jesus really is? Muslims don’t keep silent about what the Quran and who Muhammed is either!

I assume that churches who pursue social and diaconal activities in their neighbourhoods do so to bring people together. And they do so because they want to follow Jesus and spread the ‘Aroma of Christ’. At least this is how Het Kruispunt wants to work in this way. All activities and meetings are within the frame of encountering each other regardless of religion or race. Everybody is free to participate  in whatever activity he or she wants. However, some activities will have faith in Jesus and the bible as explicit subject, whereas others are neutral. You know what you are participating in.

What is important in all activities, is to make people feel really at home. To offer a place where people are being heard, acknowledged and appreciated as human beings. Without first having to preach against them. The space that will open up as a result, creates security, trust and safety. When these conditions are met, and people are not objects for conversion, they will come and tell their stories, to which we listen. And because of this secure and safe home-setting, there will become room for God’s story becoming part of their story. In that way Muslims, who have a lot of prejudices against Christians (which by the way is true the other way round. A reason for many not to get involved with Muslims anyway) will learn that this place where Christians are, is really a good place, beautiful, secure and honest. A place without pressure and where you can be yourself. That is because by dealing with the other in love and respect, the aroma of Christ is ‘hanging in the air’. We let them smell who Jesus is.

One of the characteristics of aroma is that one either feels attracted by it, or repelled by it. The latter is, by itself, not necessarily a bad thing. After all, there is no compulsion in religion. But when you spread the aroma, and people are attracted by it, what’s next? People get appetite. They start longing for more. They become curious for the source of that aroma. Will you let those people hunger, or is it ok to invite them explicitly to the place where the source of this aroma is being served?
It is great, when we, as a Christian meeting center, through our activities spread the aroma of Christ. Many Muslims really like this aroma. They are taking in the stories of Jesus and the prophets, and often ask for more. But will we have something more to offer them? Or will we send them back with empty stomachs?

For that reason we seek the balance by always having a place where dinner is served (often literally and then always halal). Available for anyone who wants to taste the good news of Jesus. We invite people for that meal. We find that important. Because when you only spread the aroma of Christ, but don’t offer the food, you’re doing the wrong thing.
Where there is odorless cooking, people won’t get appetite. But where there is no meal available, the spreading of aroma doesn’t make sense. There must be ‘tasting the aroma’. Because the meal ánd the aroma of Christ come hand in hand!

 

Martijn Leeftink

Martijn is as a pastor for mission connected to Het Kruispunt in Rotterdam, on behalf of RijnmondMission. Het Kruispunt facilitates the encounter from heart to heart between Muslims and Christians.
Martijn studiesd theology in Kampen (Broederweg) and Beirut (Near East School of Theology), lived for 8 years in Damascus. He is married to a Syrian woman and together they have three children.

How to develop our integrative complexity? – by Bert de Ruiter

In the book Islamist Radicalisation in Europe and the Middle East,[1]  there is a chapter called “Being Muslim, Being British”. In this chapter the authors explain the background of the course “Being Muslim, Being British (BMBB)” that they have developed to prevent young Muslims to become attracted to violent radicalism. The course aims to raise the level of the participants’ ‘integrative complexity’ (IC).

Integrative complexity refers to how we perceive reality: IC rhymes with ‘I See’. IC is a way of thinking by which one perceives the validity of, and the connection between, different dimensions of an issue: I see my point of view, I see your point of view, I see a way towards win/win.  This does not mean we have to agree!

IC is about the structure of thinking; about how we think, not what we think. The IC model has not only been used among Muslims, but also among Christians. This was not to prevent them from becoming attracted to violent radicalism, but to enable them to transform conflict while respecting theological integrity and to engage with other viewpoints while retaining their own deep value commitments.  The same principles that are used to help Muslims youth are used for Christians to relate to others across the denominational lines and also to relate to Muslims, both the ones that are prevented from becoming radicalized as well as those for whom the course has come too late.[2]

That Christians need more integrative complexity both to relate to one another as well as to Muslims, became clear from another book that I read: The Routledge Reader in Christian-Muslim Relations.[3] This book provides the reader with a glimpse into different kinds of writings between Christians and Muslims about each other from the earliest encounters to the present day. In chapter 22, entitled  “No God in Common –American Evangelical Discourse on Islam after 9/11”  Richard Cimino, examines evangelical anti-Islamic discourse between 1991 and 2004. He points out that some evangelical Christians focus on the inherently violent nature of Islam and others demonize Islam. He sees a connection between the predominantly negative critique of Islam among evangelicals and their concern about a growing religious pluralism and relativism that they see in society at large. This concern leads Christians to reinforce their boundaries.

I believe we, Christians also need to raise our level of ‘integrative complexity’, because we often find it easier to refute than to relate. In our zeal for God and our fear of being contaminated by the world we withdraw within our safe comfort zones.

In doing so, we seem to resemble the attitude of Muslim extremists. There is nothing wrong with being zealous, as long as it is not blind and ignorant. The Apostle Paul wrote about the zealous Jews of his day “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” (Romans 10:2). Proverbs 19:2 adds: “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.”

One of Jesus’ close disciples and one of the Twelve Apostles is referred to as Simon, the Zealot. The Zealots were religious extremists who didn’t shy away from using violence to get their way. In our days they might have been called “Taliban” or “Boko Haram” or “Muslim Brotherhood”  or “Hamas” or “IRA” or “Lord’s Resistance Army”.  Simon, one of Jesus’ apostles, used to be one of them. In fact, he is still called a Zealot in the Gospels.

Through a three year course with Jesus he learned to rub shoulders with others that had totally different worldviews. He must have learned a different kind of zeal. He went through Jesus’ equivalent of an IC course, which helped him to integrate his zeal with other values such as brotherly love, respect, joy, hope, patience, faithfulness, hospitality and blessing those who persecute you (Romans 12:9-14).  Let us strife to follow this example!

 

Bert de Ruiter is Consultant Christian-Muslim relations with European Christian Mission and the European Evangelical Alliance. He is also associate faculty member of Tyndale Theological Seminary. He is involved in Christian-Muslim relations in Europe for 34 years. He got an MA in World Evangelization and a D.Min. in Christian-Muslim relations. He has authored two books:  “A Single Hand cannot applaud” and “Sharing Lives” He edited the book Engaging with Muslims in Europe.  He has written several courses that are taught in Churches and educational institutions throughout Europe. Together with his wife Jenny he is also involved in marriage training and counseling. Bert lives in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, is married and has two children and five grandchildren.

[1] George Joffe (ed), Islamist Radicalisation in Europe and the Middle East, reassing the causes of terrorism, IB Tauris. November. 2012.
[2] For more information about IC and the various interventions using these principles: https://icthinking.org/
[3] Mona Siddique (ed), The Routledge Reader in Christian-Muslim Relations; Routledge, London, 2013

Explicitly inclusive – by Jan Wessels

“Embracing diversity is like inviting people to the party; inclusion is inviting them to dance, but integration means we host the party together.”

Rev. Canon Yemi Adedeji

This quote from an Anglican charismatic priest in the book ‘The [Im]possible Dream’ (published by the Evangelical Alliance in the United Kingdom) has kept me thinking for some time already, because I notice how the churches in the Netherlands and globally are struggling with this issue. And not just when it concerns Muslim Background Believers (MBBs) in churches.

Of course, everybody will agree that the Church should be inclusive: every person that believes in Jesus Christ is part of His body. No one can or wants to or is allowed to sit on God’s judgment seat. As believer you are a witness for Jesus Christ and an ambassador of His Kingdom. Every one is invited: Come and see! We are not the Immigration Department that can give asylum to people or send them away.

But how is it working? Dutch churches are really struggling to integrate non-Dutch believers. Most protestant churches are overwhelmingly ‘white’. MBBs are rare. Of course there are some fast growing ‘diaspora’ churches that really do a good job, but they are mostly not very intentional about it. A third category that claims to integrate ‘all nations’ are the ‘international churches’. However they mostly offer a cosmopolitan spirituality to highly educated global citizens.

Lastly there is a growing group of ‘intercultural’, often missional communities or fellowships that are indeed more intentional when you listen to their vision and mission statement, but even their success is limited: I only see few Intercultural Christian Fellowships where MBBs are part of the leadership.

We are fostering two young MBBs. Their problem is not the inclusive character of the ICF they belong to, but they many times lack a clear and explicit teaching. They many times hold up a mirror to us and ask questions that make clear that we are many times too implicit in our communication and presuppose that it is clear what we want to say. MBBs are not used to that: the mosque clear cut rules and teachings. Political correctness is not the greatest strength of Islam.

So the question is: how can we be explicit without becoming exclusive? To me it all starts with looking at this world with God’s eyes as in John 3:16. He loved this world (the cosmos and all in it) so much that He gave His only begotten Son, so that EACH AND EVERY ONE who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. This is absolute and explicit inclusivity: indeed, God wants to save, rescue and redeem this whole world. And indeed again this is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ.

Let me use an example: if people are drowning in a storm, but don’t grab the lifebuoy that is thrown to them and therefore drift away without being rescued, it is not the mistake of the rescuers, though – probably – still their problem (I always struggle with that feeling as missionary: to what measure is it because of me that people didn’t get it? What did I do wrong?)

Probably that is the core of the problem: our point of departure is often not God’s heart but indeed our own exclusive – many times implicit – feeling of comfort. Of course we are prepared to invite people to come, even people from a different cultural background than ours: it looks good and if it boosts the numbers it is even better. We may even be prepared to sing some other songs in exotic languages: for a good purpose and it is always interesting.

But really, from the start onward, intentionally and fundamentally form an all inclusive community of the Saints in a certain area, or village or ward, is a different story. It requires us to let go, love, to have patience, faithfulness, trust, perseverance. Isn’t that the fruit of the Holy Spirit?

Drs. Jan Wessels

Drs. Jan Wessels is a missionary minister of the Christian Reformed Bethel Church in Veenendaal and works as International Director of Faith2Share. Together with his wife Beppie, he studied theology in Apeldoorn and has a Master of Theology in New Testament from the North West University in Potchefstroom (South Africa). In the board of the chair, he fulfills the role of chairman.