Diversity: The Variegated Grace of God


I have been asked to post this article written for the Nazarene Theological College ‘Link’ magazine:

Recently I heard a canon of Manchester Cathedral comment that his experience of the Church in Manchester was of congregations of multi-racial and multi-cultural membership. Someone observed that this is probably an urban phenomenon, and would not be the case across the whole country.

The comment set off a train of thought in my mind. In 1981, when I arrived in Manchester as pastor of the Carmoor Road Church of the Nazarene, I found a small-but-not-too-small congregation that included people from many parts of the world as well as all over the UK. I discovered this diversity was unusual in the city, finding only one or two churches in our very mixed part of the city that reflected that mixture in any way. Indeed, African Christian students would often come to our church after first visiting churches (consisting of a handful of people) of their own denomination (where their churches numbered hundreds of members), reporting that they had been politely told that they ‘might be more comfortable somewhere else with people of their own kind’. They were often in shock at what they found in their Mother Church.

We wanted to reach out to our community. Given the significant proportion of our community that was West Indian, we wondered if we should focus reaching out to that ‘homogeneous people group’. We decided, however, to affirm our multi-racial and multi-cultural make-up as our strength: we would witness to the variegated image of God by our variety. The church did not grow rapidly, but it grew to accept diversity as normal.

The Manchester church was my introduction to the joy of worshipping and learning with the diversity of God’s people. My whole life of service since has been in multi-cultural settings, teaching in three Nazarene educational institutions all serving diverse nations, and returning to be a part of that Manchester congregation. It has become so much the norm that I feel a sense of shock when I find myself in a single-culture setting—which can happen by travelling only a few miles from my church.
What has happened in nearly 40 years? On one hand, church membership as a whole has continued to decline in Britain at an alarming rate. On the other hand, immigration over the past twenty years—under the generous and highly criticized policies of the government of the day—has brought a significant number of active Christians into the cities. An unexpected result has been the breath of new life these committed believers have brought to the often-dying local churches they have joined. Many have embraced the newcomers, and such churches are growing. It is a matter for thanksgiving and praise to God that diversity has become the norm across Manchester!

This is not a commentary on immigration policy, but an observation from its impact. And there are lessons to be learned from the debate over immigration that grips so much of the West right now. How do we respond to ‘the Other’ on our own territory? The tabloids, as well as prominent politicians, tell us to be afraid, to reject, and expel the Other—the ones not like us, whom we deem a threat to our own existence. What do we do when we discover that so many, even among those deemed ‘illegal’ and arriving via leaky boats, are brothers and sisters in Christ?

I have come to the conviction (that is not too strong a word) that God intends us to be all mixed together. The sin of Babel was the human attempt to be one homogeneous unit—one language, huddling together in one place. The work of the Spirit in Acts 2 brought languages and people together into one new whole. In fact, the whole biblical story of is one of migration—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are all migrants who settle in foreign lands; Jesus was a (likely undocumented) migrant to Egypt as a child.

Image result for nebula
The New Testament text that comes to my mind on this point, however, is 1 Peter 4:10, where the church is urged to be ‘good stewards of the manifold grace of God’. That word ‘manifold’ can be translated ‘variegated’, ‘diverse’, ‘pluriform’, or ‘many-coloured’. It is the same word used of Joseph’s famous coat, in Genesis 37. Peter’s focus is on the grace-gifts God gives which we are to give to each other. To me, when I look at the Sunday gathering in my own church (the same I came to those years ago), it describes the image of God, the imago Dei. Our tendency is to read Genesis 1:26 as speaking in the singular, of an individual image: ‘I’ am created in the image of God. But the fact is, the image is ‘male and female’, and can only seen fully in the whole of humankind and our manifold colours. ‘I’ am incomplete on my own, a partial picture of how God created us; ‘we’ fill out the picture, each adding our part. As the Godhead is triune, and diverse, so is His creation.

This translates into my everyday life as curiosity. When I meet someone different than me, or different than I have met before, rather than fearing the unknown I am curious to learn how this person expands my understanding and experience of the image of God in the human. In the past few years this curiosity has extended towards Muslims of many sorts. The experience has added more colour and texture to my sense of what God has done, confirmed my expectation that God loves them too, and expanded my wonder at the grace of God in Christ.

The Holiness Movement, of which I am an heir, stressed the meaning of holiness as separation—separation from sin, and, in its sectarian phase, separation from the world. At times it fell into a rather Pharisaic emphasis on keeping pure by avoiding any contact with the impure. A grave danger of the holiness-as-separation view is that it leads easily to other kinds of separateness, including racial and national, until churches become excluding rather than welcoming of strangers. When diversity is deemed a bad thing, as we are seeing in much of our world today, God’s grace becomes diminished to an unattractive narrow, monochrome, homogeneous spirituality of fear and reaction. But, when we catch a glimpse of the riotous diversity of sacred life springing from the creative Word, we can do nothing less than cry out, ‘Holy, holy, holy’!

When it gets local…


We woke to headlines of people dead in a terrorist attack. The sort of headline we read all the time. Where was it this time? Syria? Iraq? Afghanistan? We have become accustomed to such news, coming from parts of the world where such bloodshed has become so common we hardly notice any more.

But this was Manchester, with 22 dead and scores injured from a suicide bomb. This was London, seven dead and dozens injured by van and knife attacks. Terror has come close to home, and it comes as a shock.

Just a couple hours before the Manchester attack I attended an exhibition called ‘Jesus Doors Easter Stations’, artwork depicting—on doors—the last days of Jesus’ life. One picture stood out to me from the others—a depiction of the women who stood by the cross. Their grief reminded me of the faces of mothers of bombing victims shown on the news night after night. Their grief came immediately to mind learning the news in Manchester. Once again, mothers grieve.

Mourning women, by Ali Hutchison (http://www.alihutchisonart.co.uk/)

The response to the attack in Manchester has been noted by quiet defiance, and marches for unity. The very next evening tens of thousands of people gathered in Albert Square in front of the Town Hall, for a vigil. We stood with about 100 leaders of all religions before the immense crowd; there was cheering for the first-responders; there was absolute silence in honour of the dead and injured, and great ripples of applause spread across the square in agreement with words of determination and hope; and at the end, there was chanting of ‘Manchester’. Over the next week vigils were held around the city; St Ann’s Square has become the repository of floral tributes and private pilgrimages. This proudly diverse city exhibits a quiet determination to deny terrorism its goal of creating division.

The Manchester response continued over the following week, as public events went ahead—40,000 running in the Manchester Run; 50,000 attending the tribute concert ‘One Love Manchester’. Yes, there was increased police presence; no, there were no troops on the streets.

One common feature of world media reporting has long been the absence of coverage of the reactions of the Muslim communities to such outrages. The question is often asked by commentators with an agenda, ‘Where is the Muslim response?’ The response is usually there, but unreported. In this case, mosques held vigils, inviting non-Muslims to attend; a peace-march of hundreds of Muslims from dozens of mosques walked down the main streets of the city.

Of course, it is also true that the bomber was born in Manchester. The arrests across the city are evidence that there are many who do not share the sense of unity and good will that has been on display these past weeks, are disaffected from British society, and nurture a simmering hatred. And there are many who are ready to blame every Muslim for the actions of the few, and nurture their own hatred.


In the midst of this, the unanswered question is, why are young people from our own communities willing and ready to kill young people—teenaged girls, and their brothers and parents—and themselves? And, what can be done to prevent this happening?
The second London terrorist incident in three months has made this question, and the security of the nation, come to the fore in the election campaign. Politicians and political commentators respond with the same sorts of answers we hear each time. We seem no nearer a solution to the problem of terror on our streets.

In my blog written last August I suggested that the answers will have to come from the communities. And that the faith communities will need to take the lead. The community in which I live has a nearly equal Christian and Muslim population. We live on the same streets, and get along with each other; but church communities tend to keep to themselves, and mosque communities tend to keep to themselves. However, over the past couple of years they have been reaching out to each other, finding ways of meeting each other to get to know each other. In this current crisis moment, the relationships of these years has meant we are able to work together to stand against the forces of division.

Even so, we have hard questions to work through together. This is a crisis of Islam, in its struggle to come to terms with pluralism and tolerance in a world that cannot be returned to the 7th Century. This is a challenge to Christianity, to face the racism, prejudice, and privilege with which we have kept Muslims at arms’ length in our society; and to grasp the extent to which so much of the conflict in the Middle East is the fruit of colonialism.

Community, by Ali Hutchison

The challenge for our communities is to nurture our young people to meet people of other faiths and races, to see the best in each other, and to find common ground in building a caring and secure society.


It is a sad commentary on human nature that we seem only to take notice of dangers when they become local. The grief we share over the innocent loss of young lives in Manchester and London should make us more compassionate for those in war zones for whom this is almost a daily occurrence. From this moment on, when we waken to news from Kabul, or Baghdad, Mosul or Peshawar, let us also weep; and let us also stand determined to work against hatred and division.

Acts of Terror, Crimes of Hate


Almost every day breaks to news of another act of violence under the headline of ‘terrorism’. The murder of a French priest in the midst of celebrating Mass raises the level of anxiety in Europe to another level. In the UK the police have sent an email to churches with advice on security during services.

These incidents are not directly related to the ‘Brexit’ vote in the UK, but are part of a flurry of events that are changing the UK, and Europe, in ways we cannot yet grasp.

The divisive Referendum campaign ended with a narrow margin of the population voting in favour of leaving the EU. However narrow the vote, the decision has been made and the will of the majority is ‘Brexit’.

Hot on the heals of this event, the long-awaited Chilcot Report was presented, with its damning critique of the way the nation was led into the Iraq War, and the ongoing violence which has seen over 250,00 deaths, civilians and military, on all sides. Virtually at the very time the report was being read, Daesh suicide bombers unleashed death in Istanbul and Baghdad, with indiscriminate slaughter of whole families whose only crime was enjoying their preparations to celebrate Eid. Similar carnage was visited on Nice during French national celebrations. The list of terrorist targets now extends to Germany, too.

Closer to home, the fruit of the anti-immigration rhetoric of the referendum campaign is a 40% increase in hate-crimes in the UK. Racists have been emboldened to confront people on public transport, on the streets, and with graffiti on the walls of their homes and work-places, telling them to ‘go back where they came from’—even second and third generation citizens.

Political leaders at all levels are clearly at a loss as to how to address these crises, and seem to have lost credibility with their own constituencies.


Thus, we face a two-sided crisis: on the one hand there is fear created by acts of extreme violence that are intended to create just such an atmosphere of fear (the reason we call it ‘terrorism’); on the other hand there are the low-level acts of violence in verbal abuse and vandalism directed towards immigrant and non-white communities.

We at MCSCI wish to make explicit our rejection of the rhetoric of division that is fuelling abuse and hatred across the country, and call on political leaders of all parties to take seriously their responsibility for the whole of their communities when speaking publicly.

At the same time we would encourage leaders of faith communities—church and mosque and synagogue—to reach out to the others in their communities to give common voice against fear and against violence. We would specifically encourage Christian community leaders to make the effort to affirm to other faith groups their value to the community, and the readiness to stand with them against hate crime directed against them.

In the light of the inability of political leaders to find a way forward in these fraught times, it seems the answers to the great issues of our day must come from within the very communities that are most affected by these events, if they are to be found at all. Religion is blamed for much of the ills; whether this is an accurate portrayal or not, it is therefore people of faith who must lead the way out of the cycle of violence and hatred.

The way to lead is to reach out, and not to give in to fear.

The Walls that Divide

Tall concrete barrier topped by razor wire, set on the kerb of a street.

I have been living in an Arab suburb of Jerusalem (or, Quds). The first day I was here the landlords invited me for coffee. They built their house here over 30 years ago, with room enough for a growing family. About ten years ago a mosque was built only 50 yards away. Speakers on the minaret broadcast prayers to the neighbourhood, and on Fridays that includes the sermon as well. I asked my landlord what the sermon was about. He grimaced, indicating he doesn’t listen. We have coffee just about every week; every week he comments on the loudness of the prayers. Eventually he told me that the sermons often have anti-Christian and anti-Jewish content. The Christians in the community feel the volume is so loud purposely to annoy them.

I have been trying to understand what it is like to be a member of a minority faith in relation to the majority faith. Here Christians are a double minority—both among Jews and among Muslims. While Muslims are the majority in the Palestinian context (with 1% of these being Christian), they in turn are the minority in the Israeli context (about 30%, and a Christian population of 1.5%). By comparison, the Muslim population of the UK is reported to be about 4%. What one feels keenly as a small minority is the barriers that communities raise between each other.

I began my reflections on Israel/Palestine in this Blog by speaking of the mental maps that people bring with them to Israel/Palestine, and how those maps affect what they see. In this, my last blog from Jerusalem, I consider the walls that are built by the various communities.

Tall concrete barrier topped by razor wire, set on the kerb of a street.

The ‘separation wall’

The most obvious wall here, impossible to ignore, is the barrier built by the Israelis between Israel and the Palestinian Territories during the Second Intifada. The very terminology used for this wall is an example of how everything is contended: for Israelis, it is a ‘separation’ wall, using the same term used for the central median on dual carriageways, or ‘security’ wall; for Palestinians it is the ‘apartheid’ wall. At checkpoints large signs in red lettering warn Israeli citizens that it is against the law to go beyond the wall/fence. Palestinians seeking to enter Israel face mountains of bureaucracy to gain entry papers, then stringent searches at the checkpoints. This physical barrier separates the communities, and prevents people from mixing or meeting one another in every day settings.

But there are other walls, or barriers, that are not as visible or easily detectable, and which are just as impermeable. There are the barriers of race, tribe, language. But overall is the barrier of religion and sect. These barriers appear on both sides of the wall. Jews, Muslims, and Christians create barriers between each other—and amongst themselves. This is not a phenomenon unique to this land, of course—but it is, perhaps, keenly visible in ways not always observable in the West to the majority populations —and the examples here are illustrative of the sharp divisions that shape the conflict in Syria and Iraq today. The ‘sound’ barrier in my neighbourhood separates my Christian landlord from his Muslim neighbours.
In a conversation with a Palestinian Christian teacher I was told that schools are still using textbooks introduced when Hamas was in the Palestinian Authority government, and that these included anti-Christian material.

Church building, with banner in front reading 'And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers'

Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel. The population is 65% Muslim, 35% Christian. I am told there are good relations between the two groups. On my recent visit my host received many warm greetings from Muslims as we walked along the street. He told me, though, that they simply do not talk about religion. That is how they get along. The sign posted in front of the Church of the Annunciation, however, seems a rather blatant antagonism: ‘And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers’ (Qur’an 3:85; see photo).
Traveling through Jordan and Lebanon I have found similar barriers of religion. My hosts regularly identified the village or the neighbourhood we came through as ‘Christian’ or ‘Sunni’ or ‘Shia’, or ‘Druze’. As conflicts continue, there seems to be an increasing clarity of demarcation between these identifiers. The religious identification inhibits social mixing—not simply in every day discourse, but in the choices of where to live and go to school.
This discussion focuses on religion as a major barrier placed between communities. This is a reflection of the extent to which religion has become the focal point of identity in today’s world. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not primarily religious, but political and even nationalist. The same may be seen in other conflicts. But since 9/11 everything is viewed through the lens of religion. This is the world in which we now live, and while the solutions to conflict must address the political, nationalist—and economic—sources, they cannot ignore the role of religion.

It is easy to spot the barriers of others and to overlook those we ourselves erect—it is easier to see the speck of dust in the other’s eye than the plank in our own. It seems particularly difficult for a majority group to empathise with minority groups—rather than to be irritated with them for not being ‘like us’; for not assimilating to the majority. In our conflicted world, the great barrier between communities is fear. We see the Other, the one not like us, the immigrant and refugee, the person of a different colour or nationality or faith, as a threat to our routine lives and to our security. This fearful Other tends, in the West, to be Muslim. Out of fear we erect further barriers—silence, hostility, discrimination, ignorance.

Barriers prevent understanding, enhance suspicion, and perpetuate themselves when we hide behind them. If there is to be any hope of an end to the bloody conflicts of our time, it has to begin with the breaking down of the walls we place between ourselves, and with the necessary effort of trying to understand each other. When we do this, we are likely to discover our common humanity, our hopes and desires for a peaceful and secure life in which our families may thrive. From such ‘common ground’ we can then work at understanding how to live with our differences.
The great challenge of our time is to learn how to live together with our differences. MCSCI exists to advance this purpose.

More food for thought:


Return to Damascus Gate

Satirical cartoon with figure on wall by banner declaring 'United Jerusalem' as various skirmishes take place below
A small crowd gathered inside a taped-off section of walkway, in front of a gate in the city wall

Recent scenes at the Damascus Gate.
Photo: Haaretz.com

In my last post I introduced Jerusalem via the Damascus Gate of the Old City—the neighbourhood of my church. That week there had been two incidents at the Gate—a 16 year-old boy attacked police with a knife, and three West Bank men were shot dead when found with guns and bombs. The Damascus Gate continues to weigh heavily on my mind, as it has remained regularly in the news. In the past week there have been four more incidents. In two cases the attackers were shot dead; in the others a young woman and a young man were arrested.

In two weeks, six attacks, six dead, at the end of the very street where my church is located.

These, however, were only part of the almost daily incidents taking place in the West Bank. I call them incidents because they are hard to label. Some may involve armed men with clear intent to kill many people. Others seem opportunistic and random, such as driving cars into pedestrians. So many, however, are young people with common kitchen knives lashing out at highly armed police and soldiers.

The ministry of foreign affairs describes all of these as terrorist attacks, incited by radical Islamist groups. The army Chief of Staff, on the other hand, commented on the fact that half of what is now nearly 200 such attacks in the past five months have been by young people under the age of twenty. Teenagers. Security forces have had no advance intelligence about any of the attacks, few of them had links to terrorist groups or strong ideological motives.

Since September Palestinians have killed 28 Israelis and 4 others. More than 160 Palestinians have been killed — 111 during attacks; 50 in clashes with Israeli forces (figures change daily).

The Damascus Gate seems to have become a focal point for young Palestinians. What is the reason for this wave of hopeless attacks by youngsters?

Where might we begin to try to answer? Do we start with the present as it is, or view it all in the context of its history? Recourse to history is fraught with difficulties. How far back do we go? The 1967 war in which Israel first occupied the West Bank of Jordan and Gaza? The creation of the state of Israel by UN vote in1947? The Arab conquest of Jerusalem in 637 CE? The Jewish Hasmonean Kingdom of 135 BCE? I have seen all of these appealed to as explanation or rationale for actions of the present. The past is a tangible component of the present in the Middle East. An inescapable aspect of the conflicts which rage across the region is the clash of competing narratives about the past—the competing maps.

But, for today, it is not the history I wish to note, but the present reality coming out of that history. That reality has two sides of consequence: one, the existence of the state of Israel, and, two, the ambiguous status of Palestine after nearly 50 years of Israeli administration as an occupying power. The first is, and must be, unequivocal; the second is, and must be, resolved.

The Israelis live with the constant fear of terrorism; Hamas presents a realistic threat of violence at any moment, and the recent attackers from the West Bank have been able to enter Israel and settlements ‘below the radar’.

The Palestinians, in turn, live under military occupation and governance, increasing building of permanent settlements in their territory, and regular destruction of their own houses with little warning (113 houses just last week).

Hope of a solution is exasperated by a total lack of contact between the two communities, apart from the efforts of a few groups seeking reconciliation, and the absence of sufficient political will on either side.

Satirical cartoon with figure on wall by banner declaring 'United Jerusalem' as various skirmishes take place below

Yossi Verter cartoon. From Haaretz.com article

One thing that is inescapable to notice here is the security measures. There is the constant presence of police on the streets and street corners of the cities; outside of the cities there are army vehicles everywhere. There is the ‘security wall’, and control points; there is the continual military patrol of the borders, of the occupied territories, of the sea and the air; there is a huge network of prisons. The cost is enormous, and strains the national budget even with the vast subsidies from the US.

It has to be clear, terror is not acceptable, nor in any way to be condoned. But if the only response to the security dangers is more security, tighter controls, screwing down the lid on Palestinian society, it can be no surprise if, as with any pressure cooker when the lid is kept on too long, there is an explosion.

The question raised in my mind by the phenomenon of teenagers throwing themselves at police at the Damascus Gate is whether it can be labelled as terrorism in comparison to pipe bombs and missiles. These are children, no more than infants during the last Intifada.

Fifty years of occupation has been corrosive to Israel’s democratic ideals, and has undermined all Palestinian institutions of society and development. Both communities suffer in a death grip with little hope of resolution.

It would seem that desperation lies at the heart of the issue.

I know that virtually everything I have written here will likely be contested by someone. But the reality that sparked this post is the particularity of six people lying dead at Damascus Gate in the past two weeks, in my neighbourhood. Six grieving families, Muslim and Jew. And local teenagers are in prison for assaults that will pursue them and their families for the rest of their lives. And no resolution is in sight.

This is but a small example of the cycle of violence and response, violence and response, taking place in much more deadly fashion just across the border in Syria and across the Middle East. In each case we in the West are participants. Bombs and missiles rain from the skies from Western air forces to add to those on the ground.

And while armed men vie for power, another generation of children is born into the normalcy of bloodshed.

Jerusalem: roadblocks, mental maps and the “Third Intifada”

An red ambulance being searched by soldiers in green uniform, behind concrete barriers
Photo of a street with a car passing and a neo-Romanesque square church tower in the background

St George’s cathedral in Jerusalem.
Photo by Ron AlmogCC-BY

If you walk out the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City, and go straight up Nablus Road (Derek Shechem in Hebrew)—past the Garden Tomb and the École Biblique on the right, the bus station, former US consulate and the British Council on the left, but not as far as St George’s Anglican Cathedral—within about 4 minutes you will come to the Jerusalem Church of the Nazarene.

Over the years I have brought groups of students to Israel for study trips. I speak to them about the ‘mental maps’ we bring with us to Israel, and how those maps determine what we see. Readers who have been to Israel on pilgrimage may recognise certain of the places mentioned above, but not others. Most likely not the Church of the Nazarene.

For most Christians the mental map is that of the time of Christ. Those who come on pilgrimage, or as part of studies, tend to look at the experience with that biblical map in mind as the focus is on the places where Jesus walked, or where Old Testament events took place. Orthodox believers move from church to church. It is possible to spend two weeks in Israel and live altogether in the past. For others the present reality will come as a shock—sprawling cities, traffic jams, and fast-food jostle alongside holy places crowded with the thousands of pilgrims all seeking the connection with the ancient stories and events.

In the interest of disclosure, I should declare the influences on my mental map of Israel.

An red ambulance being searched by soldiers in green uniform, behind concrete barriers

A Red Crescent Ambulance being searched at a checkpoint into Jerusalem.
Photo by JustinMcIntosh, CC-BY.

The first time I visited the Nazarene church on Nablus Road was in 1988 in the early days of the first Intifada, or Palestinian uprising. As I was leaving the Israeli security forces were just setting up a road-block on what was then the main road into Jerusalem from the north. The soldiers were calmly leafing through papers found in one of the cars. Traffic was backed up as far as could be seen. It was not clear to me then, nor is it even now, what purpose the roadblock served.

In 2004, I was living in the Old City during an earlier sabbatical, this time in the midst of the second Intifada. I was wakened one morning by the explosion of the Number 19 bus, packed with young people on their way to the university. Some of them may have been among the students—typical students—I watched getting on the buses to go home each evening. I could not understand then, nor do I now, what purpose the targeting of young people, Jew and Arab, served.

The first Intifada was characterised by youth throwing stones at soldiers with guns; the second by the emergence of Hamas, suicide bombings, and the Separation Wall.

Photo of a street market with city walls in the background

Old Jerusalem Street, with the Damascus Gate in background. Photo by James Emery. CC-BY.

It is 2016, and I am back in East Jerusalem, this time in pastoral support of the church. Last week a Palestinian youth attacked a Jewish youth outside the Damascus Gate—just 4 minutes’ walk from the church—with a knife, causing light injuries. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz this was the 33rd attack in Jerusalem alone in the past four months, in a phenomenon that the Israeli authorities are struggling to come to terms with. The incidents are most often knifings, and the attackers include young teenaged girls—not the normal terrorist suspects. They are clearly not coordinated or instigated by the ‘professionals’. But all are labelled ‘terrorists’.

This is being called the third Intifada.

Plaza with steps down to small gate in large city wall

The Damascus Gate in Jerusalem

This week three young men from the West Bank attacked security forces when stopped at the same point outside the Damascus Gate. One border police woman was killed. The three men were killed. They were found to have guns, knives, and pipe-bombs. This is feared to be the introduction of a new level of violence.

These events frame my experience of the Israel/Palestine. They have re-written my mental maps over the years. In the coming weeks I shall post observations on life in Jerusalem, and Christian/Muslim/Jewish relations from the perspective of life in Jerusalem, and three decades of engagement with the Church here. The emphasis will be on observation, and does not propose to have answers to the problems, but rather to seek understanding.

The challenge of life here is that one has to learn what mental maps the people one meets are travelling by. There are Israeli and Palestinian maps, for instance, that give different names to the same places and draw lines in different places. For many Europeans, particularly on the political left, the Palestinian map takes priority, and no legitimacy is given to other maps. For many Christians, usually evangelical and particularly Dispensationalist in eschatology, the Zionist map takes priority and there is no place for Palestinians in The Land.

These are maps that mark the political fault-line that exists in Israel/Palestine as well, and there are variations and fault-lines on each side. There are no simple solutions, and even discussing the problems is like walking through a minefield. Yet, many of the issues facing Israel and the Palestinians today are tied in with the complexities of the Middle East as a whole; and, with the challenges which the refugee crisis brings to the West. As such, the reflections on the situation here are not just about another place. They are part and parcel of the interconnectedness of East and West, Muslim and Christian, and Jew.

‘Evangelical Responses to Islamic Revival’: A Report on the MCSCI Conference


Rev Canon Phil Rawlings welcoming people to the conference

The theme of this conference was decided upon some two years ago, in the early days of setting out the goals and activities of the MCSCI. Since then we have seen the sudden onset of ‘ISIS/Daesh’ into the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria, the kidnapping of hundreds of school girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria, deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, and the migration of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East into Europe. The responses to these events range from more Western bombing of Syria and Iraq and fear of all Muslims as potential terrorists to a welcome reception of refugees and protection of mosques from attack. The topic for our discussion could not have been more timely.

We discussed the wording of the title for the conference at great length. The MCSCI’s focus is on equipping and encouraging Christians to engage with Muslims. In this we wish to serve the Church. As such, we could well have spoken of ‘Christian responses’ in order to encompass those of all theological and confessional standing. But, we purposely chose to speak of Evangelical responses. The reasons are two-fold: one, we are Evangelicals engaged in this endeavour; two, in much of the rhetoric of today Evangelicals are often among those most caught up in the rhetoric of fear of the ‘Other’.

Discussion Panel of various speakers. (l-r): Rev. Canon Phil Rawlings, Dr Martin Accad, Dr Randy Cloud, Dan Miller & Rev Gordon Hickson

The term ‘Islamic revival’ encompasses a great range of issues, and was intentionally ambiguous. It includes the awakenings of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011; the coming to power of Islamist movements in places like Tunisia and Turkey; and the ‘fundamentalist’ military movements creating sectarian conflict in so many places far beyond the Arab world. It also encompasses a renewal in the sense of Muslim identity among young people in Europe. These find expression in greatly diverse ways, and violence is only one of the ways. What we are observing is a crisis in Islam, as it grapples with change within its own societies, and the challenges of how to live as a minority in non-Muslim societies; as well as with coping with the challenges of modernity and globalisation.

In the face of such an array of issues within Islam, there can be no single response by the Church, or by Christians. This conference had two objects: one was to try to grasp what is going on in the Muslim world; and for this we had invited speakers to inform us of what we cannot learn from public media. The second was to consider the range of ways Christians may express the love of Jesus to Muslims; and for this we invited people to tell us what is happening in the Church in various parts of the world.

The following is a summary of the presentations by the key-note speakers. Their full presentations can be found in audio on the website; text versions will become available as soon as possible, along with the presentations given in the seminars.

Photo of Dr Phil Lewis

Dr Phil Lewis

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Man stood at lectern speaking to people in seats

Dr Martin Accad giving his speech to the conference

One, the long-term implications of the refugee crisis. The active involvement of Christians with refugees will be needed for a long time beyond the initial enthusiasm of hospitality.

Two, the long-term implications of the annihilation of Christians in the Middle East. Daesh, in particular but not only, actively seeks to blot out Christianity. This comes as a direct response to Western intervention, often explicitly described as in defence of the Christians still there.

Three, the long-term implications of the place of youth in the conflicts, and their radicalisation. The Church needs to work for integration in our communities, offering an alternative and positive narrative to that of the Daesh recruiters.



Dr Salim Munayer

Dr Salim Munayer

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  • How do we deal with evil and violence?
  • How do we deal with the breakdown of nation-states and the chaos this creates?
  • What is the role of the Church towards the political powers who are responsible for the protection of their people, but do not do so?
  • Will the Church accept her role in the work of creation redemption as priests to the moral worldviews both of the West and of Islam?


Dr Michael Lodahl

Dr Michael Lodahl

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Firstly, regarding our uses of Scripture (both Christian and Muslim), we need to engage with them as a function of the faith community, and not as isolated individual interpretations.

Secondly, Lodahl considered the widely reported phenomenon of dreams as the means by which Muslims come to Christ in comparison to Wesley’s frequent comments on similar phenomena under his preaching ministry. Lodahl suggests that these phenomena cannot work alone, but must be complemented by the actions of followers of Christ to make the connection with Christ ‘flesh’ and complete.

Thirdly, Lodahl spoke of the witness of the Church to be found in the quality of our living together, as servant communities more than in doctrine or debate. That is the quality that brings people to say ‘See how they love each other.’



Dr Greg Livingstone

Dr Greg Livingstone

The conference turned in the closing sessions to the voices of practitioners. [insert page=’world-wide-picture-believers-muslim-background’ display=’excerpt-only’] Britain may well be the hardest place for Muslims to become believers, but we need to remember that in places where we hear of large numbers coming to Christ there has often been generations of witness that saw no such result. Time and faithfulness would seem to be the key. He suggested we pray that the Lord would send a Cornelius (Acts 10) or a Lydia (Acts 16) to our areas of service—trusting God to prepare the heart of the person of his calling. Finally, Livingstone also spoke of the role of the Church as a living and loving community of faith (a theme common to all speakers); in our divisions and carelessness we miss the opportunity for witness that is given us.



Gordon Hickson

Rev. Gordon Hickson

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What are the most important Evangelical responses to Islamic revival? There were two themes heard from virtually every speaker:

  1. The church must live its witness in every day life;
  2. Reach out with love to the Muslims around you, and pray in love for the Muslims in the midst of life and death crisis.

On the politics of fear


With the Paris attacks, the San Bernadino shootings, and the stabbing in the London underground, terror has taken to the streets of Western cities. The European response is an intensified bombing campaign in Syria. In the US Donald Trump has dominated reaction, with remarkable interventions by prominent dynastic Christian leaders Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr. The very nature of ‘terrorism’ is to create fear, and so it seems that the terrorists have succeeded. Must we live in fear?

With this post we wish to offer some measured observations with which to consider the events of the immediate past.

A main premise of action for us at MCSCI, if not the main premise, is that Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbour’, and that includes Muslims. For those who think of Muslims as the enemy, Jesus also said ‘Love your enemy’, so that fairly well covers everyone. This is the Christian starting point for evaluation of the events that face us, and the conflicting narratives that are offered in explanation. How does this play out amidst the politics and media of fear? By Jesus’ command we may judge the comments of such so-called Christian leaders as Falwell and Graham, who counsel Christians to arm themselves and call for the deportation of Muslims from the US.

I have four observations:

Firstly, the rise of Daesh is a development of a crisis within Islam. This is an intra-Muslim war, and there are hundreds of thousands more Muslims being killed by Daesh, Al Qaida, and the Syrian government, than non-Muslims. Ultimately, this is a crisis that the world of Islam has to resolve. Western military intervention serves only to complicate matters for the worse.

Secondly, Muslims who live in the West have almost unanimously come as a result of colonial links. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis were invited to the UK for their skills in textiles. Algerians arrived in France under their particular arrangements of colonial rights. Turks were invited to Germany because of a shortage of workers following the Second World War. The colonialists drew the lines of the current Arab states, now being redrawn by Daesh. As for America, a large number consist of those displaced by US military action since 9/11. In all these cases people choose to come to the West for the very peace, security, and freedom of worship that we value. Many of them could not remain in their own countries because of their association with the West.

And here is an important component of this migration: they all think they are coming to the Christian West. How do we greet them?

Sadly, usually with prejudice and racism and fear.

It is helpful to consider some simple statistics regarding Muslims in the West. France has the highest percentage of Muslims of European countries at nearly 10% (more on this later). In the UK the figure is 4%. In the US, no more than 2%, but possibly less. This makes the rhetoric of floods of refugees and the impending imposition of sharia law rather overblown. How can such a small population be viewed with such fear?

This leads, thirdly, to the new phenomenon of radicalisation of young Muslims. Again, this takes different forms in different countries. Direct comparisons are difficult to make, and not particularly helpful for discerning the American situation. The French problem is particularly deep-seated, with the relationship to Arab Muslims fraught by a lengthy and bloody war of independence in the 1960s, which echoes down to this day. The social and economic situation of Muslims in France is pronouncedly dire, with ghettoised communities, high youth unemployment (a consequence of the global financial crisis created by Western institutions), and a national doctrine of secularism that outlaws public expressions of religion. These factors, among others to be sure, have combined into a cocktail of disaffection, providing breeding ground for radicalisation. The British situation is less pronounced. A recent academic study (in distinction to a poll) indicated that only 0.03% of the Muslim population was sympathetic to the use of violence to promote their religion. That is a small percentage, even allowing for statistical margins of error, yet it could mean a couple thousand potential militants within the UK borders. This number is what worries the state security people. But it is irresponsible to suspect or accuse every Muslim, and the whole of Islam, of terrorism on the potential attitude of such a small number.

The study also identifies factors that may contribute to the readiness of a young person towards radicalisation: a major life crisis; mental health problems; previously aggressive behaviour; minor criminality. That is to say, religion is not necessarily the root cause, but the recruiters for Daesh look out for such people and offer a religious solution to life’s problems. Additionally, those who are radicalised tend to be young people who have not previously been religious, did not attend mosque, and thus had little religious education. They are ripe for fundamentalist and literalist interpretations of the Qur’an because they do not know what orthodox belief would say.

These young people, born in the UK, even third generation British, thinking of themselves as British, have experienced a crisis of identity in the post-9/11 years, for society at large insists that they are Pakistani, or Bangladeshi; ‘Other’. What Daesh has to offer is an identity—a strong Muslim identity. Islam is, indeed, about power and strength.

The San Bernadino attack introduces the phenomenon of radicalised American-born Muslims to the scene. The task ahead is to learn to what extent the young couple represent a wider tendency in the US. My suspicion is that the sources will be similar to the UK, and the motivation rising out of the consistent policy of bombing the countries they come from. Pakistan has borne the brunt of drone bombings and the high cost in citizen casualties. (This is not to condone or excuse, but to seek to understand the others’ point of view).

Which brings me, fourthly, to the question of how to view the San Bernadino massacre. The combination of mass-shootings and an Islamic motive is a uniquely American combination, in which the Islamic component should not silence discussion of the similarity with other multiple killings with assault weapons. I note that the discussion of the shooting followed the now-normal pattern in the media and politics—shock, calls for gun-control, calls for more guns, calls for prayer—but the discussion only turned to hysteria when it was determined that this was an Islamist attack.

There are two points to make here. The first is that the Trump/Falwell response, and the rising chorus of demands for registration or deportation, is a total collapse in the face of terror. The terrorists win.

The second point is to ask in what way this is to be defined as terrorism as distinct from the shooting in Colorado the week before, or Sandy Hook a year ago. We become more afraid when it is labelled as terrorism. Why are Americans not more afraid of white extremist right-wing men?


How shall we respond to those who seek to spread this terror? Let me close with a story. When I arrived in Manchester 34 years ago, I discovered that the community around the church I had come to serve included a significant South Asian minority. As I sought to learn how to minister in this community, it was explained to me that many had come to the UK from Uganda in the early 70s, having been expelled from there by Idi Amin. These people came to what they thought was a Christian country, and were interested to learn what that meant. They were met by racism and exclusion, even from the churches. The Church lost an opportunity to show these newcomers what it means to be Christian. By the time I arrived they had found ways of supporting each other in their own communities, parallel to and apart from interaction with the indigenous community around them. We, Christians, share responsibility for the atmosphere which leads to the circumstances we now face.

The Church in the US is not only replicating the mistake of the British Church, but is compounding it with the reaction of the past weeks.

There is an alternative way. For Christians who wish to show the love of Christ to those around them, who believe that Christ gave himself for the whole world, the alternative is to reach out in friendship, and in hospitality.

(I do believe the British Church has begun increasingly to put this in to practice.)

For those who wonder what you can do, I would encourage you to find out who the Muslims are in your community, to reach out to them, and to offer affirmation and safety by friendship and the love of Christ.

[Sources for statistics can be provided upon request.]


D D Swanson


MCSCI response to recent terrorist attacks


The shock of the terrorist attack in the centre of Paris has reverberated across the Western world. We grieve at sudden death of innocent people; we are angry at those who brought violence and bloodshed into the midst of our ordinary lives; we suddenly feel horribly vulnerable to the same sort of chaos we have seen enacted across the Middle East—it is one thing to read reports this week from Beirut (40 dead) and Baghdad (26 dead), which we add to the litany of distant tragedies, such as Nigeria (219 school girls kidnapped a year ago) and Kenya (147 students killed in April), but men with suicide vests on European streets suddenly brings it all close to home.

How do we respond? Continue reading