Friday 9 October 2009

Evangelism between Muslims and Christians

One interesting document of which I hadn’t heard fell out of an interfaith learning day at St Philip’s Centre Leicester, yesterday. The UK Christian Muslim Forum has produced Ethical guidelines for Christian Muslim Witness in Britain. Both faiths teach firm friendship with those outside the faith, but (here comes the twist) are, inherently, missionary faiths — Christian Evangelism parallels Muslim Da’wah. People respond to this fact variously, of which Alan Race, Vicar of St Philip’s Leicester logged three characteristic pragmatic ways, mirrored among both Christians and Muslims:
  1. Simple competition/ slugging it out: As Annie Oakeley put it “anything you can do I can do better.” English people, Christian and Muslim, have a strong cultural resistance to being strident and competitive about anything, least of all religion.
    Positively, this default position does avoid the bother of using your brain or taking your own faith tradition seriously. Its the easy “thumb in bum and mind in neutral” option.
    Negatively, it makes friendship very difficult, denies first principles of the faiths concerned, and pushed to its logical extreme, as it almost never is in the UK, you’d end up in a Telegraph fantasy world of “No Go areas” and suchlike.

  2. Acceptance that it is God’s providence that both faith communities exist — a theology of “people of the book” or providence, in which believers feel secure enough about their faith to leave it to God to sort things out in the end.
    Positively, this does engage with reality and express tolerance in a way which is attractive to English people. It’s probably where most English people of all faiths and none actually are.
    Negatively, it seems to require pure relativism, and requires work to engage with one’s own religion more seriously in its own terms rather than just as cultural identity.

  3. Acceptance of (2), supplemented by feeling OK about conversions (either way). This raises the stakes on (2) and feels edgier.
    Positively, it’s arguable this makes a virtue out of a theological and practical necessity in a free society.
    Negatively, Conversions of this sort are surprisingly uncommon, and can inspire fear and backlash in people taking View (1).
So here are the Christian Musim Forum Ethical Guidelines, observing which probably would enhance fruitful dialogue between any faith group and any other — but what are their limits?
The Christian Muslim Forum offers the following suggestions that, we hope, will equip Christians and Muslims (and others) to share their faith with integrity and compassion for those they meet.

1) We bear witness to, and proclaim our faith not only through words but through our attitudes, actions and lifestyles.

2) We cannot convert people, only God can do that. In our language and methods we should recognise that people’s choice of faith is primarily a matter between themselves and God.

3) Sharing our faith should never be coercive; this is especially important when working with children, young people and vulnerable adults. Everyone should have the choice to accept or reject the message we proclaim and we will accept people’s choices without resentment.

4) Whilst we might care for people in need or who are facing personal crises, we should never manipulate these situations in order to gain a convert.

5) An invitation to convert should never be linked with financial, material or other
inducements. It should be a decision of the heart and mind alone.

6) We will speak of our faith without demeaning or ridiculing the faiths of others.

7) We will speak clearly and honestly about our faith, even when that is uncomfortable or controversial.

8) We will be honest about our motivations for activities and we will inform people when events will include the sharing of faith.

9) Whilst recognising that either community will naturally rejoice with and support those who have chosen to join them, we will be sensitive to the loss that others may feel.

10) Whilst we may feel hurt when someone we know and love chooses to leave our faith, we will respect their decision and will not force them to stay or harass them afterwards.


Erika Baker said...

The list is so obvious, isn't it! And yet, a number of my Christian friends would be horrified, not because they're arrogant people, but because they genuinely believe that it is their duty to tell others about Jesus in order to save souls that would otherwise perish.
They're genuine, gentle people with a very strong faith.
But deep down, they cannot live and let live, believing this to be directly counter to what their faith demands of them.

What to me is a lack of respect for the other, to them is a lack of respect for what Jesus is about.

How do we speak to people like that?

Andii said...

I'd have to say I prefer the Bradford concord over the Leicester statment here. There are certainly problems relating to the second 'pragmatic' way seems key, but it fails properly to recognise the kinds of positions of those who do have some element of an exclusivist position. I've written a bit more at

Vinaigrette girl said...

Once again, a set of guidelines without a word by or about women. I hate to break it to you, but without the female perspective, these guidelines are simply more beating of the air. I'm really not interested in this one-sided male debate about evangelism which completely ignores where and how evangelism impacts on women.

And the killer here is that in your link there is a suggestion that the objection of Shamshad Khan, Director of the Islamic Presentation Centre in Birmingham, to the word "respect" in article 10 is a mere quibble about wording? Try being a female convert to Christianity from Islam, and "tolerance" doesn't enter into it, let alone "respect". He hasn't expressed a "concern", but an articulate and argued refutation.

I'm not keen on overt evangelical action, but I am very keen on freedom of speech and on the notion that women are in fact human beings with the same moral and civil autonomy pertaining to males. There is neither male nor female, free or slave, before God. As my late great auntie used to say, there was one thing she didn't take, and that was offence. If people choose to be offended by evangelism, from any quarter, that's their responsibility. When religious people try to take away my rights based on their religion, that's another matter.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Andii, many thanks for the Bradford material - I've popped a comment on your blog.

VG, thanks for a gender perspective. It's a particularly interesting thought on a consultation where I went to a workshop this afternoon on veil wearing, or not. I'm not sure of the exact process whereby these guidleines came, but strongly suspect you're right about their provenance. I'd love to know how might you develop them to encompass women's experience?

Vinaigrette girl said...

A man of my acquaintance from a different blog - reproaching a fellow male for 1960s feminism - said that 1960s feminism was still about the girls staying home addressing envelopes while the men went out to the riots. And there's a significant difference right there: the male model of evangelism is aggressive, mouthy, and requires absolutism, and anything else is denigrated as "relativism". Maculinism, as everything else in the patriarchy, configures every single relationship - between men and women, between same-sex relations, between humanity and God, within an exclusive paradigm of domination and submission. If it's not in that paradigm it's OH NOEZ, RELATIVISM! In Christianty we still suffer from this idiotic notion that women were "made for" men, and even in the best of Islam, with a few exceptions in ultra-liberal theology, women are at best "separate but equal". In both religions, especially in their more fundamental expressions, female failure to conform to the male gaze is seen as a form of betrayal of God's will.

Women, through our experience, which is not closed to men except by men's choice, know that relationships in the world are more modulated, and we know we live in God's time. Life with God is like island life when you have to rely on the ferry: if it doesn't come on schedule you still get on with things in the meantime, and the ferry, like grace, will still come, perhaps when you don't expect it. Meantime, there's always some bloke sitting on his backside jabbing the schedule with his forefinger and declaring it a scandal: if it's printed, it must be true.

I'd start with:

1) we will make our trust in God manifest in our lives.

2) We will make ourselves known and approachable.

3) We will ask pertinent, open-ended questions of others and ourselves.

4) If we don't know the answer to someone else's question we will say so.

5) We will be welcoming and gracious co-guests at God's feast, and helpful to our Heavenly Host: passing dishes, helping people find what they want, picking up napkins off the floor, making good conversation, and helping with the washing up and tidying afterwards. We might even bring some dishes of our own for people to try.

I have to say that when it comes to Christianity, the Quakers and the Salvation Army are the people I'd consult on conversions and inter-faith dialogue: they're the least-loud players of the game and therefore the ones actually worth asking.

Richard Sudworth said...

Interesting discussion: I think there are a number of additional objections to option 2... There are not just theological issues with the Abrahamic motifs but historical questions and the questionable "good" of a cosy clique. of Christians, Muslims and Jews. How do we view Hindus, Sikhs etc in the practice of dialogue and mission? There are particular responsibilities and opportunities due to the shared histories of the Abrahamic faiths but to define our relationships by this motif is another step altogether. I say soemthing about this in my series of studies on the CofE and Islam on the Fulcrum-Anglican site. I'd suggest a more intellectually honest and rigorous place to start from is to acknowledge difference and search for how we differ well.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

VG, Thank you so much for analysing the gender aspects of the whole concept of "Evangelism" as conventionally framed. "We know we live in God's time" stood out for me as a key phrase, along with a sense of realism and the ebb and flow of spiritual life, as opposed to more mechanistic concepts of religion. there's a fascinating contracts here between inductive/ deductive principles of how to do faith. Your list made the original one look defensive, like the difference between committing yourself not to crash a car, as opposed to actually deciding where you want to go in positive terms, and by what route. It's intriguing how most effective dialogue does seem to come with food, further validating your approach in (5). The idea of starting consultation with the least loud appeals very much to my Benedictine strand. I'm really grateful for your help flipping this thing inside out, and taking it somewhere more positive/ creative.

Richard, thanks for questioning the Abrahamic/ non-Abrahamic contrasts. In Leicester there seems to have been some tension felt by Hindus (of whom there are many in the city) around the spotlight role for Muslims in present dialogue projects, driven largely by media. I much appreciated your reorientation, which would also ease the sense some Muslims have of being targeted as extremists in so many government community cohesion schemes. And what about Sikhs?

Vinaigrette girl said...

You're truly most welcome, Alan, and thank you for your kind words. Whilst I can understand why you might not like the accompanying imagery about the ferry, I bet you a pound that 6 out of every 10 women you show it to would laugh in recognition.

Beware binary follies: they're everywhere, and they're fun, and can be useful in, say, science, where deduction is a fabulous tool, but they're unhelpful in trusting God. In Gethsemane, as far as we can guess, Christ didn't engage in ratiocination: he sweated and prayed and groaned (think "o hai, maybe the image of a woman in labour could come in here"), and his death and resurrection were not deductions. If anything, what He did was by human standards quite irrational, and He got on with it.

I'm not saying that intellectual activity contradicts faith in practice - far from it - but intellectual activity is (a) no substitute for faith in practice, and (b) can be useless, even dangerously divisive, because people get so attached to their intellectual points of view that they end up persecuting other people and end up starting wars.

Sure, lots of wars start for non-religious reasons, but every one of them starts from intellectual arrogance coupled with total disrespect for God's vast generosity and will as shown through the lives of women and children. If the arrogant stopped and thought: "How many lives would I destroy if I carried on with my insistence that my way is the Only Right Way? is that what God wants from me?" we'd have a different world altogether. When evangelism starts from the right place it works. When it doesn't, it's the car crash you describe.

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