Sherry and Abu Daoud: On mission to Muslims and Allam's baptism

Hi All,

Well, here is the last section on the debate between me and Sherry. I invite her to have the last word if she feels anything needs to be tied up. I think I have also addressed the concerns expressed by Shaw, though I have not answered his questions here explicitly.

Thank you to everyone for linking to our discussion here. If anyone has more questions please leave a comment or e-mail me.

SW: As you and I both know, some of the most effective witnesses *in the Muslim world* [...] don't have crosses on their meeting places, and they don't use bells, and women do cover their heads and men and women sit separately and they may use a Koran stand for their Bible, etc. They have adopted local customs that are not essential to the faith in order to more effectively be able to share the Gospel with others.

AD: Yes, but Italy is not the Muslim world. At least not yet.

SW: Abu Daoud, for instance, you use a common Arabic pseudonym and never reveal your Christian name or your location on your blog and have a special high security e-mail address. All very appropriate precautions but intended to give you the anonymity you need to be effective in your mission. You clearly feel that in-your-face candor is not appropriate or effective at all times (and I would heartily agree with you) so that you might be able to be present as a witness.

AD: This is very true and I want to elaborate on this point. We find in the Bible and church history two approaches to witness. One is antagonistic (think "your father is the devil," in Jn 8 or the sermon of St Stephen) and at other times it is irenic and friendly (think woman caught in adultery or Areopagus). Both are valid, and Raymund Lull (the first missionary to the Muslims) himself said so explicitly. If some classify this baptism of Mr. Allam as antagonistic that DOES NOT mean that it was not wise or good or prudent. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that being nice is a virtue. It is not.

SW: But some of my readers, who are not familiar with the realities involved, might regard this as "appeasement", knuckling under to unjust laws and customs instead of challenging them directly and boldly. Of course, if you do, you don't have access, so there you are.

AD: According to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in each individual moment I leave the question open. Sometimes I am very antagonistic and it has born surprising fruit. Sometimes I am very irenic and that has born fruit as well. Praise be to God. But it is simply wrong to say that one or the other is always right. (But dealing with governments is a whole different matter.)

SW: This is the model of St. Paul declaring that he was a Jew to Jews and a Greek to the Greeks, all things to all men that by any means he might reach some.

AD: And Paul was sometimes harsh and antagonistic. Which is ok. Antagonistic, sharp evangelism can be done in a manner sensitive to culture. So this verse does not rule out either approach to evangelism.

SW: If the question we are asking is "What has been most effective in actually winning significant numbers of Muslims to Christ?", the evidence is in. In 800 years of attempts at witness, aggressively, in-your-face challenge has consistently been the *least* effective. The alternatives are not less risky. They are often *more* risky to those who dare to take them but more importantly, they have proven to be much more fruitful. Even in this country where religious freedom reigns, we know that ordinary friendship and kindness is best way when it comes to our family members and friends whom we hope to win back to the practice of the faith or to the faith in the first place. Because it is a human way: we start with friendship and build trust and earn the right to speak about deeper things We don't begin the relationships by beating them over the head with a catechism.

AD: I want to disagree with this. For example, books like "The Balance of Truth" (Mizaam al haq) which in a straight-forward way reject elements at the heart of Islam, and are thus quite confrontational, have had a great deal of influence and have led to many conversions. Or let us examine the ministry of Abouna Zacarias Boutros, a Coptic priest, who classifies his style as "sharp, short, and shocking." He has spent time in jail. He has baptized hundreds of Muslim converts. He no longer lives in his home country of Egypt. But his satellite ministry has had a profound effect throughout the region. He speaks kindly and with love, but his confrontational style has caught the attention of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people who otherwise would not have paid any attention. One could say the same about what BXVI and Allam have done.

SW: But is "what will make us most effective in our attempts to bring Christ to others?" the question that most of us around St. Blog's are really asking? I don't think so.

AD: I'm not on St. Blog's, alas. That is the question I'm discussing though.

SW: I think that in this discussion, we have confused two issues: the western concerns about large scale Muslim immigration into Europe, and what to do when a significant part of your population no longer shares your most basic assumptions about law and freedom - the whole Eurabia debate - and the very different situation of those who are, this very moment, taking enormous risks to be present as loving Christian witnesses in the Muslim world.

AD: This may well be true of some readers. I can only speak for myself: I want to see Muslims turning to Christ everywhere, both here in MENA and there in the West.

SW: Abu Daoud: Another factor in this debate that no one has mentioned so far is the huge charism in mission experience since the 60's between Catholics and evangelical Protestants. Catholic missionaries, for the most past, jettisoned the proclamation of Christ as the primary focus of mission 40 years while evangelicals revved their engines.

AD: And they (The Catholics) were castigated for this by JPII in his encyclical, missio redemptoris, which is about the permanent validity of the church's evangelistic mission to the nations. Wherein he also says that religious dialogue is nice, but it's not the same as mission. The exact position I hold to.

SW: So the two categories that Catholics tend to think of as Catholic are 1) the (understandably) extremely cautious, we-won't-bother-you-by-sharing-Christ-if-you'll-just-leave-us-alone stance of historic Christian minorities in the ME and parts of Asia and 2) the older Christendom model where everyone is assumed to be Catholic and state and cultural norms and church all reinforce one another and the Catholicism fills the public square. The fearful, quiet minority or the big battalion. Egypt and Italy, if you will. (Allam's life bridges both)
But in my experience, Catholics are hardly ever familiar with [option 3] the vastly different evangelical experience of the past 40 years in the Muslim world - where a huge number of creative, pro-active, alternatives to categories 1 & 2 above have been tried. Many have proven fruitless but some have born enormous fruit and given rise to the first Muslim background Christian communities in history. AD, your own ministry would fall into [option 3] I think?

AD: I don't come from a religious home and I was not raised in any church at all. I knew nothing at all about Christianity up til I was about 11 or 12, and that exposure was in Latin America, not in the West, so my experience of the Gospel, culture, and church are quite different than what other people may have known. So yes, unlike 1) I do want to preach the Gospel, unlike 2) I am not operating out of a Christendom paradigm.

SW: The most common reaction I get from Catholics when I mention these alternatives is that they aren't legitimate, are somehow deceptive and immoral and imperialistic (which is how these same folks often regard evangelization in this country as well) and are simply unrealistic. Because no *normal* Christian (they must be emotionally and religious unstable freaks) could or would ever do anything like this - could or would do what you are doing, AD.

AD: I get that in mainline Protestant churches too. Most people seem to be in awe of my faith, which was very strange to me at first, because I don't consider myself to be more faithful or devout than your average Christian in the pew in the UK or the USA. But they should learn more church history. You share the Good News because it's good news.

SW: The whole debate around St. Blog's seems to presume that door number one and door number two are the only two truly Catholic alternatives. And obviously, operating from those assumptions, the recovery of Christendom is the more attractive option. The reality of tens of thousands of MBB's in the Muslim world is unknown to Catholics or at best, an abstraction, while the situation of a highly westernized Muslim man wanting to become a Catholic in Italy is immediately understandable. [...] His public reception is a blow for our side in the future-of-the-west wars and it feels good.

AD: That may the reason that some people are happy about it. I'm glad because I think it will encourage Christians in MENA and bring more secret MBB's out of the woodwork in the West as well as embolden heretofore fearful clergy. Just because some people rejoice for the wrong reason doesn't mean that there's not a right reason for rejoicing.

SW: Meanwhile, the cost to MBB's and the historic Christians of the Muslim world is not obvious - is hidden from us because we hardly know they exist. Nor is the very real possibility that the promotion of a man with his history as the model of conversion may turn off many seeking Muslims who were already on the journey. Because very few Catholics believe that Muslims can and do become Christian as an act of faith. They think the concept is as new to everyone as it is to them.

AD: And this bold act will help to remedy this bad situation. Catholics now know that some Muslims are attracted to the faith, praise God.

SW: The irony is that Allam's public conversion will illuminate western Christians who didn't realize this was possible and will probably hurt the efforts of those who are already in the thick of it. That's why I'm raising the issue. Those of us who do know have to keep pointing out that there is more at stake here than the real and important debates about the Christian identity and future of Europe. There is also the identity and future of the rest of the world.

AD: Sorry for the bad news but in terms of human rights and freedom of religion the countries of MENA have been going downhill for the last four decades or so (1967 if you want a date). Things were already getting worse here, the Christians have been leaving in droves for decades, Islam is being reformed and is this returning to its more coercive and militant roots. All this was happening before Easter and will not stop any time soon, as far as I can see. Meanwhile, this baptism has the capacity to make real positive changes for MBB's and the churches in the West, especially Europe.


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