CH: You write: “After living in the Middle East for most of a decade, I must say that I find the public religion of Muslims (and Eastern Orthodox Christians) compelling and refreshing. Yes, sometimes it can be confrontational, but the introspective Christianity of the West with its quietism and compartmentalization strikes me as defeatist, bland, and feeble-hearted.” This relates to one of the key elements of secularism, the internalization of belief. You expanded on this in the book, but I wonder if you have seen this done in a Western context?
DM: The word introspective is from Latin and means looking inwards. The response to this is public religion, meaning an expression of religious commitment lived out in the midst of the people. I have seen baby steps towards this in America—it is easier in Europe. A church opened its grounds to local families for a movie night and it was well-attended, for instance. But that was still on the church grounds. I remember doing theology at the pub in Edinburgh with a local church. The deacon, who was quite liberal I’ll say, and I went to buy pints at the bar and this old Scotsman just saw his collar and started telling him about God. The point is he wore his collar in public, and that allowed a space for witness.
I’m in Spain and I wear my clericals several times a week because our cathedral is a very busy place. One day an old Spanish lady stopped me in the street and said, “I’m glad to see a priest wearing a collar! They used to do that all the time!” So obviously she thought I was a Roman Catholic priest, not an Anglican deacon, but it doesn’t really matter. We need to find ways of bringing the presence and reality of our religious commitment into the public world. No, we don’t need to be confrontational and abrasive—though we should realize that God may indeed call us to that sometimes. And here is me as the evangelical preacher who wants a practical application for everything: be deliberate about saying grace with your family when you eat out. Hold hands, bow your heads, make the sign of the Cross. Not to impress people. But to witness to Christ. To witness that his Church is still alive and well and it’s there at Applebee’s or Taco Cabana.
MC: Why do MBBs [Muslim-background believers] seem to be more comfortable in evangelical settings? Or is the correct question Are evangelicals more evangelistic than liturgical/traditional denominations?
DAM: One might think that since the ancient churches of the Muslim world are mostly Eastern or Oriental Orthodox, that people would be converting to those forms of Christianity. But that rarely happens. First, those ancient churches are still suffering from the trauma of centuries of living as dhimmis under the sharia. It was a belittling and dehumanizing way to live wherein Christians (and Jews) were routinely publicly humiliated by Muslim rulers. Christians could always convert to Islam, but were not allowed to evangelize Muslims or even learn about Islam. This has led in many places to quietism and seeing Islam as invincible. One pastor has likened how these Christians see Muslims to how a prostitute views her pimp as someone who really loves her, even though no one else sees it that way. Second, evangelicalism—as broad as that term is—places a great deal of importance on conversion. The strength of evangelicalism is that each and every Christian is seen as an evangelist. In other churches people tend to assume the priest or bishop is in charge of evangelism—if they even know what the word means. I will say that theologically there is nothing in Anglicanism, Catholicism or Orthodoxy that preclude vigorous evangelism by the laity. The barrier really is pastoral.
It was quite a new experience for me, as an Anglican Christian, to be interviewed by a thoughtful and inquisitive leader from the LDS (Mormon) Church about my research in religious conversion from Islam to Christianity.