Sunday, May 24, 2009

Multiplying fears: Islam and the demographic freedom of the church


I saw this video a few weeks ago and was shocked. Not so much at the demographic claims (which have been around for a while), but at the manipulative attempt to scare Christians/Americans (the groups are treated as almost synonymous) into reproductive action. This video is little different from the tactics used to perpetuate the White Australia policy during the first three-quarters of last century, in which the fear of Chinese or Indonesian hordes descending onto our country to fill our wide open spaces was the justification for encouraging a higher birthrate and restricting immigration from those outside of the preferred race.

I am all for married people having children where possible and think that the loving and sensitive evangelisation of Muslims (and western nationalists) is a duty and a privilege of the church. But I found this video disturbing in its implicit theology and its barely concealed racism.

Christian honouring of the gift of singleness (based in Jesus' own life and the teaching of 1 Corinthians 7) is, amongst other things, an affirmation that the church is not reliant upon biological reproduction for the gospel to be passed on from generation to generation. As a missionary faith, it is not the natural children but the spiritual children who are our next generation. Of course, being raised in a nurturing Christian family is a great way of passing on the faith, but our hope is not in demographic trends. Children are a wonderful blessing and gift from God, but they are not a strategy that we employ in order to preserve a culture.

Indeed, the church is not bound to any single culture (whether European, American or Australian) and if it diminishes amongst some groups during the next few decades, that would be sad, but not the end of the world. This century the church will be far more African, Asian and South American than European or North American, and perhaps God may use this to bless the church and the world through fresh vigour and creativity in obedience and love.

I love the Australian cultural heritage in which I have grown up, but it is not sacred. It has its own many blind-spots and weaknessess. May God use our brothers and sisters around the world to help us notice and repent of the cultural sins that we drink in with our mother's milk.

One of those sins is a deep fear of those who are not like us, whose beliefs, habits and loves differ from our own. We are right to love what is good in the familiar arena of our own history and current society. And when something we love seems threatened, it can be right and good for some concern to be part of our response. But may God teach us also to love the alien and the stranger in our midst, for we too are aliens and strangers.
UPDATE: This post by Matt also seems highly relevant to this discussion.

17 comments:

geoffc said...

Thanks Byron, you are right.

The other fear Christians need not have is that Islam will "win". Jesus already won on the cross, and Revelation 7 and 22 reminds us of the future.

The last thing we need is evangelism or procreation out of fear, not love.

Anonymous said...

I've been living in Sydney for a little over two years and have been shocked at the number of times I've heard claims like this.

Mike Bull said...

Byron

While I agree with your points, I think the facts in the video are the judgment of God upon a culture born of Christianity that has apostatised. Western culture is effeminate, fatherless and barren. We have exercised our democratic right to extinction. It has little or nothing to do with singleness or procreating for the wrong reasons. It is precisely this individualistic thinking that got us into the endangered species list.

God always cuts off the generations of Jezebel. This is big picture stuff, and unlike gnostic western Christianity, the Bible puts a huge emphasis on dominion-by-godly-offspring. When God's people forget the power of real fatherhood, the devil takes it up, with gangs, mafia families, and Islam.

However, the other side of the biblical pattern is that God most often raises up the 'Babylonians' to not only discipline His wayward people, but to convert the Babylonians. So I agree with Geoff, and would take it even further. The world has a Christian future, and that includes not only the end of our compromised Christianity, but the end of Islam in a gospel victory.

Anthony Douglas said...

Maybe it's the mathematician in me, but I just can't get past the dodgy numbers quoted.

I'd be extraordinarily surprised if the fertility rate in Italy was as low as they say, given Catholic opposition to contraception.

But I'd be even more surprised if it was as low as quoted in France, given the extraordinary fecundity of the swathes of Muslims reputedly reproducing there.

And I only made it as far as the Netherlands, where half of all newborns are Muslim, and in 15 years half the population will be Muslim. That's some mortality rate amongst the non-Muslims!!

I'm sure there was some European fellow who said something about lies, damned lies and statistics. I'm not sure which of the latter two categories to employ here....

Michael Canaris said...

Another element of that video which I find worrisome is the cleavage it potentially puts on the Trans-Atlantic relationship by transparently insinuating that the EU is inherently defeatist and ridden by fifth-columnists. While I share some of its concerns, about the last thing I'd want is for such alarmist videos to produce rifts in understanding between Washington and Brussels.

Matthew Moffitt said...

According to Philip Jenkins in 'God's Continent', the decline of Christianity in Europe is not as bad as is often made out, and is actually being renewed by 1. grass roots churches and 2. the migration of Evangelicals and Pentecostals from Africa.

Dave Taylor said...

Man, you mean we won't be able to pretend that we are a Christian civilization anymore?! Dang!

Toby said...

Hey Anthony,

The raw birthrates they quoted for italy/frace/etc weren't too far off, although they were on the low side of these figures:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_and_territories_by_fertility_rate

I'm also intrigued by the lack of resonance the Italians seem to have with the official Catholic teaching on contraception.

Toby said...

Here's that link again: fertility rates by country

Izaac said...

The problem with this 'educational video' is that there are two issues which have been mashed together.

1. The growing emphasis on immigration (often from Islamic states) to maintain populations in the Western world

2. Increasing individualism and subsequent decreasing birth rate in the Western world including among Christians.

Ignoring the slightly dodgy figures and impending doom voiceover, these are both true and valid observations which if presented separately, I believe need to be heard.

1. Problem one presents great opportunities for the gospel. The world is coming to us. We cannot ignore the need to understand Islam and how best to proclaim Jesus to people from a Muslim background.

2. Problem two presents great opportunities for the gospel. It is a consequence of Christian thought on family and parenthood being corrupted by the secularist world. We should celebrate the potential of raising followers of Jesus from our loins. I hope that the misleading view that conversion growth is more valuable and important than growth by birth, will be corrected (Conversion, Transfer, Birth growth are all important.) We should be encouraging where appropriate our Christian brothers and sisters to have children for Jesus, just as we encourage one another to proclaim Jesus to non believer's. I pray that the all couples will heed the "call to action" (read: baby-making) mentioned in the video, not out of fear or obligation but out of thankfulness to God for the opportunity to preach Christ crucified to someone for 18 years before letting them loose on the world to tell others.

Just my thoughts...

byron smith said...

Izaac, welcome to the blog and thanks for your comment. I agree that the video conflates two real issues (and muddies them both with the scary soundtrack and images). And I also agree that both issues are genuinely complex. It was the note of somewhat panicked fear throughout the clip that I wanted to address head-on, however.

When you say "I hope that the misleading view that conversion growth is more valuable and important than growth by birth, will be corrected", where do you see this view being put forward?

Izaac said...

Hi Byron,
I see the view that conversion growth is more valued than birth growth everywhere: It's in the clarification question often asked when we speak of the number of people coming to church (How many of those are new converts?), it's inherent perhaps in the way that people pray, it's inherent in the way we (rightly) celebrate new believers in a manner that isn't present in the way we speak of children who are believers. Perhaps this is a particular hobby horse of mine and I'm seeing it everywhere, but I do believe it to be a problem!

Those words quoted by you were certainly not directed at you when I wrote them. And by your reaction, you seem to hold conversion, transfer, birth growth on an even level, but looking back over your post I wonder if in this quote you are overcompensating for the viewpoint on the video and placing conversion growth on too high a pedestal?

--"As a missionary faith, it is not the natural children but the spiritual children who are our next generation. Of course, being raised in a nurturing Christian family is a great way of passing on the faith, but our hope is not in demographic trends. Children are a wonderful blessing and gift from God, but they are not a strategy that we employ in order to preserve a culture."--

Perhaps the Biblical view is that children are a wonderful blessing and gift from God not to preserve a culture (as you rightly point out), but as a large part of God's plan to preserve the gospel. Certainly it's not the only way, but I tend to think it's a bit more than just "a great way of passing on the faith" but that it continues to be part of God's purpose of marriage. [Notice I havn't quoted any Bible, but am working off a vibe]

Forgive me if I have read too much into your words. I have been wrong many times before.

byron smith said...

Thanks for clarifying. I had been wondering if you had that paragraph in mind. I agree that in some contexts, children of believers are taken for granted (speaking as one myself, I know I used to be somewhat ashamed of the fact that I didn't have a "conversion story" like some of my friends).

As for my comment in the post, I was, as you say, reacting against the tone of the video. However, there is an important point to make that natural children are not automatically spiritual children. Not to open another can of worms, but I do believe in infant baptism, yet often "natural growth" is presented as though it were, well, natural for all children of believers to end up as believers, when we know from experience this is not the case at all in a hostile and seductive de-Christianising society.

Izaac said...

Well said. Thanks for the rigorous discussion.

Anonymous said...

"Christian honouring of the gift of singleness (based in Jesus' own life and the teaching of 1 Corinthians 7) is, amongst other things, an affirmation that the church is not reliant upon biological reproduction for the gospel to be passed on from generation to generation."

There is no such thing as "the gift of singleness", a phrase that was invented by the editors of the Living Bible (now the NLT) in the 60's that has since been removed. Paul was suggesting (as did Christ in Matthew 19), that there are some who are gifted (ie. with sexual self control?) that can choose singleness, but most should marry, so as to avoid being tempted into sexual sin.

What's more, 1 Cor 7 was written to a particular people at a particular time. Paul was not recommending the kind of self-gratifying singleness that you see today, even among believers. His advisements in verse 26 for virgins not to marry "in view of the present distress" have been applied too widely today.

Nowhere in the Bible does God promise that He will spare us from the consequences of our own behavior if we do not obey His word. The falling marriage and birth rates that you see among Christians has nothing to do with God gifting all these young people to be single so they can do His will. It has everything to do obstacles and distractions away from godly marriage and family life. Those who aspire to marry but find themselves overwhelmed by these obstacles find their concerns dismissed, as if they should only be concerned with furthering God's kingdom through their witness (as if family making doesn't really count for much, for the individual, for society, or for God).

What waste and hubris that any of us should think so little of our Christian communities that God will just somehow work something out, so it will all just continue on, regardless of our effort to follow the biblical example of generations of families.

byron smith said...

Anonymous -As I said, I am all for Christians getting married and having children (how could I be against it!). And I agree that there can be a selfish path of singleness. But I also think that it is quite possible for churches to ignore the singles in their midst, or treat them as second-class citizens who have missed out on the best bit of life. And that is sad when that happens (and I see it a lot).

Nowhere in the Bible does God promise that He will spare us from the consequences of our own behavior if we do not obey His wordAgain, I agree and this is a point I make frequently. But obedience to his word does not simply mean maximising our reproduction; nor does it mean trying to preserve our cultural identity. It means taking up our cross and following Christ.

What waste and hubris that any of us should think so little of our Christian communities that God will just somehow work something out, so it will all just continue on, regardless of our effort to follow the biblical example of generations of families.The hubris is not thinking too little of our communities, but thinking too much of our abilities. We are to be faithful. Faithful in marriage; faithful in singleness; faithful in welcoming children into our midst; faithful together in witnessing to the God in whom we hope. But it is God who brings the growth.

byron smith said...

Guardian: 10 myths about far right UK politics.