Nothing has divided the Christian Democratic Party as much as public statements and publications calling for a moratorium on Muslim immigration to this country, and the closure of Muslim schools.
This was not a policy that came about through careful debate and prayer by CDP members. It was an idea issued in a press release by the Rev Fred Nile during his campaign to be elected at the last State Election. The issue of the closure of Islamic Schools came about through another Press release by Rev Fred Nile prior to the Federal election. After a spirited rejection of the immigration moratorium, this was presented at a later Management Committee and a State Council meeting and endorsed as election policy seeing we had already printed thousands of brochures.
However, a number of branches declined to distribute the letterbox material, and some even printed their own. The issue of the closure of Islamic Schools in New South Wales has never been discussed or endorsed. No debate has been encouraged and no alternate views have been published in any official CDP publication.
It is deplorable that policy should be made on the run like this. It is certainly not democratic in its methodology nor Christian in its theological application. I offered my own website as a place for discussion or presentation of members views. We were overwhelmed by members who totally despaired that such policies were promoted by the CDP (http://www.gordonmoyes.com/2007/12/07/closing-islamic-schools-responses-from-cvip-readers/)
This is an example of wedge politics – creating an issue that will cause fear and anxiety in the minds of some citizens that will drive them away from other parties and into voting for the CDP, which promises simple and probably unworkable solutions. This is not a methodology that has the approval of any Christian denomination or one that presents us in a very good light.
Criticism from churches, clergy and Christians alike was uniformly condemnatory of the CDP and our public figures. Only Pauline Hanson came out in support! There are social issues caused by some Muslims, but what is the Christian response?
Condemning a whole race or religious group and preventing them from coming to Australia as refugees or immigrants on the basis of race or religion is not acceptable policy for Christians. We have examples of the Good Samaritan in the teaching of Jesus that is total abrogated by such a policy.
Such a policy does nothing to solve the social issues caused by some people from Muslim and non-Muslim backgrounds, but only inflames the situation.
What is a better way of handling the social issues?
1. We should enter into dialogue with Muslim leaders and seek their co-operation.
When I set up an Arabic Speaking service in Lakemba in 1987, just near the great Mosque, to support women and children suffering from domestic violence in Arabic speaking families, I appointed Arabic speaking Christian staff to speak with victims and opened a centre where women and children would be safe. I then went with some fear and trembling before the Islamic Council, laid down the results of our surveys and findings, and requested that community leaders discipline their own men and uphold the standards of Western behaviour. I was delighted with the response. We shared a meal together and ended the evening with financial support for our Christian ministry. This work continues to this day. I do not fear dialogue with Muslim leaders to overcome social problems we all want to see solved.
Many Australians fear any dialogue with Muslims. I constantly ask people expressing fear of Muslims if they ever discuss the issue with Muslim citizens. Conversation with others with whom we have differences can breakdown fear of them, as the Jewish writer, Jonathan Sacks says correctly: “Bad things happen when the pace of change exceeds our ability to change, and events move faster than our understanding. It is then that we feel the loss of control over our lives. Anxiety creates fear, fear leads to anger, anger breeds violence, and violence – when combined with weapons of mass destruction – becomes a deadly reality. The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation, speaking our fears, listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities discovering a genesis of hope. Too often in today’s world, groups speak to themselves, not to one another: Jews to Jews, Christians to fellow Christians, Muslims to Muslims, business leaders, economists and global protesters to their respective constituencies. The proliferation of channels of communication – e-mail, chat-groups, the Internet, online journals, the thousands of cable and satellite television channels – mean that we no longer broadcast. We narrowcast. Gone are the days where people of different views were forced to share an arena and thus meet and reason with their opponents. Today, we can target those who agree with us and screen out the voices of dissent.” (Sacks, Jonathan (2002) The Dignity of Difference. Continuum Books: p2).
Instead of fearing Muslims and seeking to ban them alone among all immigrants and refugees, we should be discussing the problem issues with them.
2. We need to understand Christian doctrine.
Rev Dr Brian Edgar is Director of Public Theology for the Australian Evangelical Alliance, writes: “God is the creator of all that is good (Gen. 1:31) and, as the psalmist says, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it’ (Ps. 24:1). All nations and peoples live under God’s care, and he looks forward to the time when all will know that, ‘The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance”’ (Isaiah 19:25).
Paul wrote to the Galatians, ‘in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus’ (3:26-28). Here Paul is dealing with the implications of being in Christ. There is a practical, social dimension to life together in Christ that will affect the way Christians live and relate to one another and the wider community. Christ came to redeem the whole world, to inaugurate a new kingdom and to transform relationships as well as enter into union with each believer.Similarly, the principle that in Christ there is ‘neither Jew nor Greek’ undercuts any justification for monoculturalism within the church, and this has wider social ramifications. What is expected of the church is also a model for the world: a society where different cultures live together in harmony. Only those things that are contrary to God’s laws are to be rejected or changed, not those things that are simply culturally different. God’s community is diverse and includes people and cultures from around the world. John’s vision of God’s ultimate future includes ‘a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb’ (Rev. 7:9 also 14:6 and 22:2). This is a picture of what God desires and what will be achieved.”
3. We need to recapture a spirit of evangelism not of fear.
Too many people are afraid of people of Muslim faith because they have never believed in the power of their witness to Jesus Christ. The scriptures declare, “We do not have a spirit of fear, but of love, self control and a sound mind.” There are many scholarly surveys that showed our witness is powerful. The number of new Christians in the world each year surpasses that of new Muslims, with the major growth for Protestants coming from conversions.
And the experience that most influenced Muslims was the lifestyle of Christians, according to a recently released survey that offers a glimpse into why Muslims are opening their hearts to the Gospel and Jesus Christ. The survey, conducted by Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Intercultural Studies between 1991 to 2007 among 750 Muslims that had decided to follow Christ, was able to track some influences that helped the converts make their decision. The respondents were from 30 countries and 50 ethnic groups – representing every major region of the Muslim world.
Others noted that Christians treat women as equals and Christians have loving marriages. “Many Muslims who faced violence at the hands of other Muslims did not see it in the Christians they knew…,” wrote the survey’s authors – Dr. J. Dudley Woodberry, Russell G. Shubin, and G. Marks – in Christianity Today. “Muslim-on-Muslim violence has led to considerable disillusionment for many Muslims.” The next most important influence was the power of God to answer prayers as well as healing. The third most popular influence listed by respondents was dissatisfaction with the Islam they have followed. The former Muslims said they were unhappy with the Qur’an, which they said emphasized God’s punishment more than His love and the use of violence to impose Islamic laws. “This disillusionment is broad in the Muslim world. Many Iranians became interested in the gospel after the Khomeini revolution of 1979 brought in rule by clergy. Pakistanis became more receptive after President Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988) tried to implement Islamic law. And Afghans became more open after Islamist Taliban conquest and rule (1994-2001),” the authors noted.
When Jesus sent His disciples out into the world, He warned them, in Matthew 10, to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves. This is clearly the approach we need to take as we interact with the Muslims among us. Patrick Sookhdeo’s book, ISLAM: THE CHALLENGE TO THE CHURCH, will help you reach out to Muslims without compromising your faith.
4. We need to enter into dialogue with moderate Muslims.
Cardinal Pell does not agree with the CDP policy of a moratorium against Muslim immigrants or the closing of Islamic Schools. He says: “Fostering leadership in local Muslim communities was crucial. One of the obvious tasks for the majority non-Muslim population in Australia is to establish and deepen friendship with the different Muslim communities now around us and to make them feel more at home, especially their young people. The ideological struggle against Islamist violence in the Muslim community is one in which most of the heavy lifting has to be done by Muslims opposed to extremism, but we should be prepared to help them in this task in ways which build trust and openness instead of fear and ghettoisation.”
Cardinal Pell’s considered opinion should be important to us and to those Catholic Christians we want to support the Christian Democratic Party.
In the USA this month Christian leaders across denominational lines responded to the unprecedented open letter signed last month by 138 representative Muslim leaders with their own letter. In October, 138 Muslim clerics, scholars and intellectuals from all the major sects signed a letter calling for peace between Muslims and Christians. The letter entitled, “A Common World Between Us and You,” urged followers of the two faiths to find “common ground” and not simply just for “polite ecumenical dialogue” between certain religious leaders.
This month, over one hundred theologians, ministry leaders, and prominent pastors have signed the response letter issued by the Yale Centre for Faith and Culture. Signers include Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners; Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church; John Stott, rector emeritus of All Souls Church in London; and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
The Christian signatories said they “share the sentiments” of the Muslim leaders who pointed out that Muslims and Christians make up over half of the world’ population and therefore true peace cannot occur as long as conflict persists between the two religious communities. “Peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians stand as one of the central challenges of this century, and perhaps of the whole present epoch,” wrote the Christian leaders. “If we can achieve religious peace between these two religious communities, peace in the world will clearly be easier to attain.” In the Christian response, Muslims have been asked to forgive Christians for their past sins – such as the Crusades and excesses of the “war on terrors” – as taught by Jesus Christ who said to “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out your neighbour’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).
Christian leaders urged an interfaith dialogue that moves beyond “polite” ecumenical talks between selected leaders. Instead, leaders of both faiths should hold dialogues to build relations that will “reshape” the two communities to “genuinely reflect our common love for God and for one another,” the Christian letter stated. “Given the deep fissures in the relations between Christians and Muslims today, the task before us is daunting. And the stakes are great. The future of the world depends on our ability as Christians and Muslims to live together in peace,” the letter added. “If we fail to make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony you correctly remind us that ‘our eternal souls’ are at stake as well.” The letter’s main emphasis is the “absolutely central” commonality between both religions: love of God and love of neighbour.
In Australia, the Christian Democratic Party could gain great support from Christians and citizens in general, by calling for an end to any idea of a moratorium on immigration and of the closure of educational institutions, and to calling the leaders of both Christian and Islamic communities to commit themselves to seeking community peace and goodwill without sacrificing basic beliefs.
One final thought. Regardless of what the previous Government might have considered, the new Federal Labor Government will never support any moratoria on immigration of Muslims, or the closure of their schools. It is foolish just to spit into the wind. New occasions demand new duties. If our current leaders cannot see the issues in a new light, then we need new leaders.
Rev The Hon Gordon Moyes, A.C.,M.L.C.