A recent private member’s bill in Canada’s House of Parliament brings to the forefront the challenges and opportunities of living in post-Christendom. Motion M-103 called for the condemnation of Islamophobia (admittedly a slippery term that calls for definition). The intent, as stated in the bill is to address “the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear,” and to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” (italics mine) Even though the bill (which passed with a majority on 23 March 2017) has no binding legal power, it nonetheless created a strong response from a number of places. Some condemned the bill as an attempt to muzzle any negative critique of the Muslim faith. Others saw it as a way to further marginalize traditional Christian faith and pave the way for Islam to increasingly move toward the mainstream of Canadian culture. Many just saw the bill as unnecessary. The bill and the ensuing debate are reminders of the changing nature of Canadian (and Western) culture and the place of Christianity within it.
Not too many years ago, a bill like this would never have seen the light of day. Today, it not only reaches Parliament but is actually passed by the House of Commons. At the very least it reveals both a challenge and perhaps an opportunity for the church in the post-Christian West as it seeks to engage in the reality of religious pluralism. At least two things are key to keep in mind as we respond to these kinds of developments.
First, we must recognize that we live in a particular point in time and that the particular time in which we live attacks on mosques and hate crimes against Muslims happen all too often these days. Recently in Canada, a gunman murdered six people at a mosque in Quebec City and a mosque was set on fire in the city of Hamilton. Crimes like these, as well as “lesser” crimes, are not uncommon in Western Europe and North America. In times like these, it is absolutely appropriate for Christians to stand in support of our Muslim friends and stand against hatred that is directed toward them because there is a segment of their religious group that is uniquely radical and bent on violence. If the shoe was on the other foot and a member of government in a country where Christians were targets of violence (and of course there are a number of countries where this is the case) stood in their house of legislature and proposed a bill that condemned hate against Christians we would most likely applaud such an initiative. When Muslims become targets of hatred, the church needs to stand with our Islamic brothers and sisters and support initiatives that condemn these racist, hateful acts, even if the initiative is not perfect from our perspective.
Second, for the church to bear witness in a post-Christian society it must live into its identity as a holy people. Central to this is to live as a people of love. To love is not to agree with everything that others believe or do, nor is it to believe that all ideas are equal and therefore we should just affirm everyone and everything. But, to love is to look for ways to build bridges and not live in fear of those who are different. It seems to me that those who see an initiative that condemns prejudice against Muslims as problematic are operating from a place of fear. They are afraid that Islam will overtake Christianity, or that it will provide license to persecute Christianity and not Islam, or that it further erodes the pride of place that Christianity once enjoyed and thus consolidates the changes that have taken place in Western culture — all for the worse! Perhaps a better approach is to respond in love by condemning the injustice and discrimination that Muslims are facing. This is Christian holiness in action. Responding to an increasingly pluralistic culture will constantly challenge us to be open hearted toward all people. It will cause us to see the beauty of people and affirm the work of God in them, even if they themselves are unaware of it, or reject it.
Standing with our Muslim friends is a thoroughly Christian thing to do. It reflects an appropriate response to the times in which we live and it demonstrates a practical expression of Christian holiness and love that offers an eloquent witness to our faith in these days of post-Christian complexity.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of McMaster Divinity College or the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.*