On Tuesday 13 Jan 2015, I was privileged to be able to address the “Reaching Muslims” stream at the Church Missionary Society’s annual “Summer Under the Son” conference in Melbourne, Australia. The title given to my session was: “Reaching Muslims: Love Your Enemies”.
As an introduction, I was interviewed for about 15 minutes, which gave me the opportunity to explain my ministry as a religious liberty analyst and prayer advocate, my particular interest in Islam, while noting that while the HOW TO of Reaching Muslims is not my area of expertise, I am certainly very passionate about WHY WE MUST!
Having studied Islam seriously over many years in order to understand the phenomenon of Islamic persecution of Christians, it has become very clear to me that it is just as Jesus said in John 16:2 – “behold the day is coming when those who kill you will think they are offering service to God.” Significantly, Jesus immediately followed up his warning with an explanation: “They do this because they do not know the Father or Me” (John 16:3). So while mission might produce persecution / backlash in the short term, it is also the only solution to the problem of persecution in the long term.
I noted that only 1-2% of missionaries are focused on reaching Muslims – a sad statistic which led missionary Samuel Zwemer (1862 – 1952) (also known as the Apostle to Islam) to lament: “One might suppose the Church thought the Great Commission didn’t apply to Muslims.”
As a people saved by grace through faith, we should know that even though the battle is at the gate (see Isaiah 28:5-6) the promises of God assure us that the situation is never hopeless – actually, it is the opposite of hopeless. For as my book “Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today” makes clear, “by grace through faith” is not merely God’s paradigm for personal salvation, it is God’s paradigm for everything. And today, in the midst of escalating conflict and persecution, God the great Savior and Redeemer is on the move.
After the interview I presented two 25-30 minute talks – the first covering the problem of persecution, and the second looking at threats to mission –with 10 minutes of Q&A after each.
The following article is a compilation of those two talks minus all the stories and testimonies.
WHY WE MUST
be Reaching Muslims with the Gospel
Elizabeth Kendal www.ElizabethKendal.com 22 January 2015
People who have not experienced domestic violence or abuse, generally can’t understand why women who suffer it cling desperately to the idea that everything and everyone BUT their husband is to blame; or why children who are abused cling desperately to the idea that it simply has to be all their own fault.
The reason the victim refuses to blame the perpetrator is, because as soon as soon as they do – they lose control of the situation. If they accept that the other person has a problem, then they have to accept that they are trapped in a diabolical situation. That is terrifying.
This mindset of denial can be found among persecuted Christians who are struggling to survive in a tinderbox of anti-Christian hostility. A similar mindset of denial can also be found in the West among those who are very afraid, or those who hold utopian ideals, or those who simply don’t want confrontation.
These people will insist that the Islamic violence we are witnessing today is but an aberration caused by everything other than Islam (Britain’s fault, Israel’s fault, America’s fault, Assad’s fault -- blame it on the economy, blame it on a misinterpretation of Islam -- its our fault/due to our Islamophobia).
Others, meanwhile, will say that Islam is a problem precisely because it can so easily be read as mandating that non-Muslims be subjugated, persecuted and even killed -- and of course it has been read that way throughout its history. These people would say that the short era of relative peace we had through the middle of the 20th C was an aberration brought about by the fact that Islam was at its weakest point. This is my position.
I maintain that the escalation of Islamic persecution we are witnessing in the world corresponds directly to the escalation of Islamic strength – something facilitated by the decline of Western civilization – a decline facilitated by the West’s rejection of its own Christian foundations/roots.
I also maintain that a refutation of Islam does not imply hatred of Muslims. Muslims find this impossible to understand – in fact they generally reject it – but that is only because they have little concept of grace. Muhammad never said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. But Jesus did. As disciples of Jesus who have been saved by grace Christians can and must extend grace to Muslims while hating the ideology that leads to death and brings immense suffering to the Body of Christ.
A lot of people today are lamenting the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Africa and Asia as “unprecedented” – but the fact is – while this Islamic persecution might be unprecedented in our lifetime – it is not unprecedented; none of it is new – and that’s because the Islam texts are rich with anti-Christian polemical material.
This persecution existed before America invaded the Middle East, before the recent Islamic revival, before the creation of the State of Israel, before WWI. There is a problem with Islam – and we need to talk about it – no matter how unsettling – because this problem with Islam manifests as serious persecution of the Church.
Historian Bat Ye’or writes concerning the Arab conquest of Ephesus in A.D. 781, “7000 Greeks were deported into captivity”; and concerning the Arab conquest of Thessaloniki in A.D. 903, “22,000 Christians were shared between the Arab chiefs or sold into slavery”.
The Turks were no better – Historian Orlando Figes writes that in 1822, when the Turks put down a Greek uprising on the Island of Chios, some 20,000 Greeks were hanged while the remaining population, some 70,000 Greeks, were deported into slavery. Even in the decades before WWI, as Britain was pressing for reforms, the Turks were still kidnapping European children – Russians, Serbs, Romanians, Bulgarians, Greeks – for sale in the slave markets of Constantinople/Istanbul.
In issue 4 of DABIQ (the magazine of IS), there is a lengthy theological treatise on slavery. The article, entitled “The return of slavery before the hour”, sights Quranic texts and hadiths, the example of Muhammad (who himself took Christian girls as war booty and had sex with them), and the teachings of leading Islamic scholars to come to the conclusion that the historic Islamic practice of slavery (specifically sex slavery) is not only good for reducing sexual impropriety, but it is totally legitimate in Islam to the extent that any Muslim who objects could be deemed an apostate.
It is simply the case that Islamic slavery was forced out of existence at a time when Islam was weak, now it is being resurrected in situations where Islam is strong.
The subjugation of Christians as dhimmis (second-class citizens) – a status that sees them denied virtually all their basic human rights – is nothing new.
This practice, that is becoming systematic, even official policy in places where Islam is strong has been linked to Islamic imperialist expansion throughout the history of Islam. Muslims invaded, lands were conquered, and Sharia Law (Islamic law) was established – not just for Muslims, but for the administration of the conquered peoples.
As dhimmis (subjugated, second-class citizens under Sharia), Christians have no legal rights: they can’t testify against a Muslim in court, which makes them easy pickings for criminals. As dhimmis, Christians have no religious rights: they can’t repair churches as the churches, like the Christians themselves, must appear unattractive, uninviting and in decline. Neither can Christians ring church bells or display any public expression of Christianity.
|Al-Raqqa, Syria, March 2013|
It is simply the case that dhimmitude and jizya were forced out of existence at a time when Islam was weak, now they are being resurrected in situations where Islam is strong.
The persecution of Christians by local Muslims – their neighbours and work colleagues – persecution in the form of violent pogroms in which local radicalised Muslims turn on their Christian neighbours and colleagues – people with whom they had once lived and had worked with side by side – are on the increase. Everywhere Islam is strong, Islamic norms are being mandated and Sharia is being enforced: the blasphemer must die. This is why young Christian couple Shahbaz Maseeh (32) and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi (28) were beaten and burned alive in Pakistan on 4 November . This why the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were assassinated in Paris just last week [7 Jan 2015].
This too is nothing new! Islamic history is replete with brutal killings that have shattered families, and massacres that have totally decimated Christian communities – killings and massacres triggered often by nothing more than a petition for equality or justice (rights denied to dhimmis), or even just a rumour of blasphemy.
Unprecedented in our lifetime – yes! – BUT not unprecedented!
People tend to forget that for a long time – a thousand years actually – Islam was the strongest force on the planet both militarily and culturally.
Over the course of a millennium, Muslim Empires – first the Arabs and then the Turks – conquered and devoured three quarters of the Christian world.
|spread of Islam|
We (Protestants) have paid little attention to this, presumably because Protestants were not greatly affected by the advance of Islam; rather it was those “other” Christians, particularly those of the Eastern Church.
Our indifference is pretty sad and shameful when you consider that the Eastern Church was the beating heart of the early church. The first denomination ever established was the Assyrian Church of the East, founded in the first century AD in Edessa (now Sanliurfa in Sth Turkey – just 140km due north of Raqqa – the current capital of IS) with the first Metropolitan See being established in Baghdad. It was from the East that the Gospel travelled west into Europe, south in Africa and east through Persia into China and India. And yet Protestants have had little awareness – dare I say even, little care – for the massive trauma suffered by those “other” Christians – fellow believers who have been persecuted almost out of existence.
Crusade historian Thomas F. Madden writes:
“When we think about the Middle Ages, it is easy to view Europe in light of what it became rather than what it was. The colossus of the medieval world was Islam, not Christendom. The Crusades are interesting largely because they were an attempt to counter that trend. But in five centuries of crusading, it was only the First Crusade that significantly rolled back the military progress of Islam. It was downhill from there.
|Sultan Mehmed II |
29 May 1453
“. . . By the 15th century, the Crusades were no longer errands of mercy for a distant people but desperate attempts of one of the last remnants of Christendom to survive. Europeans began to ponder the real possibility that Islam would finally achieve its aim of conquering the entire Christian world.
“. . . Of course, that is not what happened,” writes Madden. “But it very nearly did. In 1480, Sultan Mehmed II captured Otranto [in south-east Italy] as a beachhead for his invasion of Italy. Rome was evacuated. Yet the sultan died shortly thereafter, and his plan died with him. In 1529 [12 yrs after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle], Suleiman the Magnificent laid siege to Vienna. If not for a run of freak rainstorms that delayed his progress and forced him to leave behind much of his artillery, it is virtually certain that the Turks would have taken the city. Germany (which was in chaos) would have been at their mercy.”
This sounds like divine intervention to me – from a God who was starting something incredible in Germany.
The defeat of the Ottoman Turks at the Gates of Vienna in 1683 is generally regarded as the pivotal moment when, after a millennium of advance, Islam was finally stopped in its tracks. Islamic military and imperialist power subsequently began to fade and crumble beneath the expanse of the empire, the corruption of the caliphate and the rising industrial, military, scientific, technological and economic ascendancy of post-Reformation Europe.
Thomas F Madden remarks:
|link to lecture|
“. . . By the 17th Century, European wealth and power was growing exponentially. Europeans were entering a new and utterly unprecedented age. It is one of the most remarkable events in history, I think, that the Christian West – an eternally divided region, seemingly on the brink of conquest by a powerful empire – suddenly burst forth with amazing new energy, neutralising its enemies and expanding across the globe.
“The spectre of advancing Muslim armies, which for centuries had posed such a danger to the Christian West, no longer constituted a serious threat. Indeed as the gaze of Europeans now spanned new global horizons, they soon forgot that such a threat had existed at all. . .”
Thinking Islam was essentially in its death-throws and would expire as soon modernity caught up with it, the West – and the Church just ignored it.
BUT Islam promises its adherents success – something Muslims are reminded of five times a day as the call to prayer rings out: “Hasten to success; Hasten to success”. So how were Muslims to interpret their defeat, failure and humiliation?
In the 18th C, as Europe’s and Islam’s fortunes were reversing, Arab Islamic reformers were agitating for Islamic Reformation – a return to “pure Islam” as found in the Quran and the life of Muhammad (as distinct from the corrupted, worldly Islam of the Ottoman Turks). The most famous of these Arab Islamic Reformers was Mohammed Ibn Abdel Wahhab who maintained that only a return to pure Islam could guarantee Islamic success.
Eventually, the work and teachings of al-Wahhab and numerous other subsequent Islamic reformers converged with the short-comings and failures of socialism, nationalism and despotism to produce the Islamic Revolutions of 1979.
Most people are aware of the successful Islamic revolution in Iran (February 1979) – but not so familiar with the attempted Sunni revolution in Saudi Arabia (November 1979) – which, though it failed to oust the Saudi monarchy, actually worked to empower the Wahhabi clerical establishment which went on to Wahhabise Muslims and disseminate intolerant, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, pro-jihad, pro-Sharia fundamentalist Islam worldwide.
The escalating conflict and persecution we are seeing today is the result of Islamic reformation and revival – in particular 35 yrs of intensive global radicalisation of Muslims. Thirty-five years! That’s a whole generation that has risen up profoundly influenced by reformed, Wahhabi/Salafi – pure early Islam – the Islam that had success.
|Surf life-savers, Sydney|
We all recognise that we must be Reaching Muslims with the Gospel because Muslims are precious; they are human beings created by God in the image of God for relationship with God. Muslim individuals and families can be greatly blessed by God’s wisdom, and saved by his grace.
But that is not the only reason we must be Reaching Muslims with the Gospel.
|Pleading for help!|
Bishop Elnail of Kadugli,
Nuba Mountains, Sudan
The victims of Islamic intolerance and persecution are precious too; for not only are they human beings created by God in the image of God for relationship with God – they are beloved children of God, our brothers and sisters, the Body of Christ.
Sadly, many persecuted Christian believe that we (Western evangelicals) don’t care about them. And that’s because during the latter part of the 20th C, evangelicals have increasingly come to put their trust/faith in politics. This has led to the resurrection of the failed policy of “quiet diplomacy” – a policy that brought nothing but shame to the World Council of Churches (WCC). In the 1960s-1970s the WCC betrayed thousands of Russian priests – faithful believers who were abandoned to the gallows and the gulag under a shroud of silence for the sake of “quiet diplomacy” with the Soviets, and Marxist-Christian dialogue. Today, it is the victims of Islamic persecution who are being abandoned, betrayed – they and their advocates are being told to “shut up!” – usually by evangelicals.
This denial of reality, this lack of empathy, has done great damage to the evangelical cause with the persecuted church – which increasingly views Western evangelicals as naive, unsympathetic, appeasers.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can love Muslims AND the Christian victims of Islamic persecution. It does not have to be one or the other. Loving Muslims does not necessitate we sweep persecuted Christians under the carpet as if they are a problem, an inconvenience or an embarrassment. "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me [Jesus]" (Matthew 25:40).
We MUST be reaching Muslims with the Gospel – not only for their own sake, but for the sake of the persecuted Body of Christ – and for the sake of our children and grandchildren, so that they will not have to live with Islamic persecution.
|April 2013, secret baptism |
in the Middle East:
228 Persians, 17 Afghans, 1 Pakistani
However . . .
We are in a Spiritual battle and moves are afoot to reign in Christian witness – to have it recognised as an abuse of free speech, an abuse of human rights, an abuse of religious freedom – even to have it criminalised.
In August 2007, UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Doudou Diène – presented his report on “the manifestations of defamation of religions and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia . . .”
According to Diène (a Senegalese Muslim), "defamation" of Islam arises out of "baseless Islamophobia" which expresses itself as "hatred of Muslims" which in turn gives rise to "extremism".
His conclusion: those who "defame" Islam [say bad things about Islam] must be held accountable for Islamic extremism [violence].
Special Rapporteur Diene also concluded that anti-Semitism is essentially political and is Israel's fault; and Christianophobia is caused by aggressive and "unethical" missionary activity – mostly by evangelical groups that "exploit freedom of expression" to defame religions.
[See: UNHCR: Watershed Days, By Elizabeth Kendal, 18 Sept 2007]
Do you see what he is saying? He is saying that when it comes to persecution, Muslims alone are innocent victims – for unlike Islamophobia (which is apparently baseless), anti-Semitism and Christianophobia are not baseless, but are valid responses from exploited and threatened peoples.
The UN Special Rapporteur concluded by recommending that our International Human Rights covenants be re-interpreted and amended – and that complementary standards be adopted to clarify the relationship between freedom of expression and freedom of religion.
The UN subsequently went on to pass Resolution 16/18 which fully supports freedom of speech and freedom of religion with the complimentary proviso that “defamation” [criticism] of religion be recognised as incitement – which according to the ICCPR article 20 must be prohibited by law. Anti-free speech campaigners will no doubt seek to exploit the Paris killings in exactly the same way that they exploited the Cartoon Intifada.
[See: UNHCR Res 16/18 - History of a Resolution’, by Elizabeth Kendal, 21 Aug 2011]
ALSO taking up that call for “complementary standards” was the World Council of Churches, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the World Evangelical Alliance.
Motivated by the UN Special Rapporteur’s report, representatives from these bodies got together and, guided over the next five years by regular inter-religious dialogue, produced a document entitled:
"Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World; Recommendations for Conduct." After its release on 28 June 2011, it quickly came to be known as the "Rules for Christian witness".
My response, entitled ‘Christian mission and persecution,
Why the new rules for Christian witness will not solve the problem of persecution,’ can be found on Religious Liberty Monitoring, 6 July 2011
The "Rules for Christian Witness" affirm Christian humanitarian service, but with the complementary proviso that exploitation of situations of poverty and of vulnerable people has no place in Christian outreach.
Sounds good! Yet in reality the only way to avoid the charge of exploitation is to refrain from all Christian witness while serving the poor, hungry, sick, harassed and helpless.
And while it is fine to denounce the offering of allurements and rewards, one needs to understand that in un-free environments basic delivery of aid, health care, sanitation or education is considered allurement, and the offer of heaven is considered a fraudulent reward.
According to the rules, Christians must "reject all forms of violence, even psychological or social, including the abuse of power in their witness".
But India's Hindutva protagonists regard conversion as violence. The Iranian regime has deemed evangelical Christianity, cultural terrorism. Even Doudou Diene, the UN's Special Rapporteur, warned in his Aug 07 report that the "legitimate expression of ideas" could in reality be "ideological violence".
Is it psychological violence to call someone a sinner? To say that they are “lost”; to warn them of judgment?
What is abuse of power in witness? Can a coach witness to an athlete? Can a teacher witness to a student? Can an employer witness to an employee?
I think it is very significant that “abuse of power” and “fraudulent conversion” (i.e. language straight out of the Rules for Christian Witness) were the charges leveled against 51-yr-old Lebanese Christian Henna Sarkees in May 2013 after he, a supervisor in an accounting firm in Saudi Arabia, witnessed to a Muslim employee who then became a Christian.
The convert – a 26-yr-old female Saudi accountant – subsequently fled the country; and on the 11th May 2013, a Saudi court sentenced Sarkees to 300 lashes and six years in prison for abuse of power and fraudulent conversion through deception/brainwashing. The woman's parents appealing – they want Sarkees to remain in jail until their daughter returns to Saudi Arabia. [Saudi Arabia actually issued an Interpol Red Notice for this woman.]
Unless these rules manage to stop all Christian witness, then they will not prevent persecution. For the fact remains – to some, the evangelist is the fragrance of life – to others, the stench of death (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).
All these rules will do is enable certain Christian elites to say: "Well that murdered missionary, that imprisoned evangelist, must have said something they shouldn't to someone they shouldn't to have brought this upon themselves. But hey – it's not our fault – we told them not to!" Then they can wash their hands of it and the dialogue can continue.
Now dialogue is imperative – but not at the expense of truth – not if it demands that the persecuted be betrayed and abandoned.
Though it be divisive and offensive and increasingly risky, the Gospel must not be silenced.
Tertullian once famously remarked: “Blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”
While there was persecution in Carthage, Tunisia, at Tertullian’s time (AD 200), it was nothing compared to what would come from the 7th C with the armies of Muhammad and the arrival of Islam. Had Tertullian been right, then with all that martyrs blood poured out in Carthage churches should have been springing up like mushrooms.
Matthew 13 – the seed of the Church is the Gospel; and we are called to scatter that seed.
As a keen gardener – with half an acre of terraced cottage garden in the hills – I can tell you that no amount of blood and bone will make poppies grow if you fail to scatter the seed.
I believe the blood of the martyrs works very much like blood and bone – and the sweat of the labourers and the tears of the intercessors work very much like irrigation; they prepare the soil – but without the seed it is all pretty pointless.
If blood, sweat and tears prepare the soil – then might not our great redeeming God use an abundance of blood, sweat and tears to make hearts receptive to the Gospel? I believe that is exactly what he is doing.
In many countries, witness to Muslims comes with severe risk; in some countries the window has all but totally closed. In Somalia today, the remnant of a very young church is now deep underground thanks to al-Shabaab. Many Christians have fled, many have been martyred – the first among them, 25yr-old Mansur Mohammad – a believer for 5 yrs – who, in 2008 was dragged before a kangaroo court, charged as a murtad (traitor to Islam) and then, because he refused to renounce Christ, beheaded.
Most witness to Somalis now takes place in Kenya and in the West among the Diaspora. Most Somalis in the Diaspora have relatives and friends in Somalia with whom they maintain contact. Lead a Somali Muslim to Christ in Australia, and you will touch Somali Muslims in Somalia. The same is true of Pakistani Muslims, Iranian Muslims, Saudi Muslims, Malay and Indonesian Muslims etc. Reaching Muslims locally will have global impact.
As I said earlier, we can love and evangelise Muslims AND care for the persecuted Church – they are NOT mutually exclusive. Indeed we must to both – and we can do both, precisely because we are people of grace.
We have an opportunity to be Reaching Muslims now as God moves among them preparing their hearts by applying the sweat of the labourers and the tears of the intercessors (of which we need much much more) and the blood of the martyrs.
May we be faithful with the seed that their sacrifice be not in vain.
Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
‘Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today’
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)
This book provides a Biblical response to suffering, persecution and existential threat.
Elizabeth is currently writing a book on the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, due for release later this year.