Wednesday, 30 December 2015

'Radical Grace' in Christian-Muslim Relationships

I’ve written previously about the scrutiny placed on Muslims in the US and Europe, the nature of the word ‘moderate’ (how it is seen as a desirable trait in Muslims by Christians who’d probably not want the word used in reference to their own Christianity), and the need to practice radical inclusiveness in the face of violent extremism.

I’ve been thinking about it a bit more (what else can one do around the holidays?) and since my field of research and work is theology, I’d frame this around the theological concept of ‘grace’, although the term extends into the realm of public discourse as well.

Grace is central to the Christian faith. Christians believe that their salvation is the end result of the grace shown to them by God.

Out of this grace shown to us, we then extend that grace to others. But the true tack of grace, as I see it in the biblical text, is never simply about a solipsism of personal salvation and spiritual renewal. 

Grace- and all other spiritual attributes- must always have an outward-facing vision, a social component.

This is what I might call ‘radical grace’- forgiveness, compassion, works of mercy directed toward fundamental social change.

‘Radical grace’ is a praxis of reflection and action toward actively building the Kingdom of God- truth, justice, life, and light- in the world.

But for the Christian conception of grace to become a truly ‘radical grace’, it must also include a degree of critical reflection on the rather privileged position that Christianity holds in the social and cultural milieu of the US.

Since Christianity is the predominant socio-religious position in the US, it is extended a level of grace in the sphere of social-political commentary (certainly in the media) that is not extended to followers of Islam.

In the wake of tragedy or terrorism, Muslim Americans immediately come under a level of scrutiny and commentary out of all proportion to that given to Christians in the wake of extremist Christian actions.

Simply put, it is naturally assumed from the outset that all Christians don’t support the views of the Westboro Baptist Church, the actions of Dylann Roof, Robert Lewis Dear, the Klan, the militias, etc.

There is no public debate about the intrinsic nature of Christian theology, thought, or practice regarding social views, extremism, or terrorism; pundits on the nightly news shows are not parsing over whether or not Christianity is a ‘religion of peace’, whether or not its stance toward women is healthy and progressive or not, or whether or not Christians can be fundamentally trusted in the public arena. 

In the civic forum, Christianity’s intrinsic ‘goodness’ is assumed, not debated.

Moreover, Christianity’s intrinsic diversity is assumed as well. Everyone assumes that Christianity is a broad house with a variety of views and expressions, mostly positive or benign, some dubious… but rarely any Christian views are immediately labelled a clear and present danger, much less a national security threat. The religious faith of Robert Dear might be reported on in passing, but it is never held out as reason to suspect the Christians living in your neighbourhood, what’s being preached from their pulpits, or whether you, as a citizen, need to be concerned about the amount of Christians living in your area.

Basically, a Christian may, or might not choose to condemn Christian extremism if they so desire; one might even think it would be good if they did…

but there will not be a near-continuous clamoring for them to do so, and no calls for their monitoring, incarceration, or deportation if they don't. 

The news shows will not have endless commentary from panel shows demanding, ‘where are the voices of moderate Christianity? Why do they not condemn these people? Why would they choose to stay silent, other than that they silently agree?’

This is a distinct privilege that Christians in the US and Europe have that Muslims do not.

‘Radical grace’ will be found, not so much in Christians condemning their extremists more (though that would be nice…) but in cultivating a public discourse where the majority of Muslims will need to condemn their extremists less;

Where their public good will, civic participation, and dedication to right and justice are inherently assumed rather than immediately doubted;

Where trust overrides suspicion and love overcomes fear.

Jesus said, ‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.’

We have been given much grace. We have been entrusted with much grace;

It is time to extend it with the same reckless abandon that it has been given to us.

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