Some years ago while completing my research for a PhD I interviewed Farifteh Robb. That led to the publication of a brief article titled “The Secret World of God: Aesthetics, Relationships, and the conversion of ‘Frances’ from Shi’a Islam to Christianity” in Global Missiology. At that time Robb was not discussing her history publicly, but I’m glad that she decided to do so.
This books brings a welcome contribution to the growing literature by converts from Islam to Christianity. Robb’s strong background in literature allows her to reference great authors and work in a way that other converts cannot. The fact that she ended up in Anglican Christianity as opposed to evangelical or charismatic Christianity is also rare for such conversion narratives. My favorite thing about the book was reading her personal recollections of what life was like in Tehran before, during and after the 1979 revolution.
Finally, the author has a light and witty style. Her sense of humor is much appreciated.
He explained that numerous pastors who lived in multi-ethnic neighborhoods or close to asylum centers were being approached by individuals or families from places like Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Sometimes these people would just start attending church. Other times they were looking for baptism. Still other times they related that they had converted in some other country but wanted to join the local church. Would I be interested in coming to Denmark to provide some seminars for local leaders and deliver some more academic lectures at a local university?
This led to me spending a week in Denmark. We started with a seminar in Copenhagen, traveled by train to Århus where I did another seminary and even learned to correctly pronounce Århus. The next day I was at the second largest university in the country. At the invitation of Prof. Peter Lodberg I spoke on sociology of religious conversion from Islam to Christianity to around 100 students, many of whom are studying for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark.
The church is the national church. Some 75% of all Danes belong to it, though of course many of those people rarely attend it. It is episcopal, meaning it has bishops. But I learned that it is not synodal, meaning the bishops don’t meet in synod to govern the church (which is indeed the form of government of the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain here in Madrid). Also, both the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark belong to the Porvoo Communion, meaning the two churches recognize the ordination and sacraments of each other.
It is easy to find bad news about Islam in Denmark. Just today my news feed told me about the Turkish government funding new mosques there. The clergy I spoke with there were quite open when talking about the rise in violence that has come with Islamic immigration. Yet they were also excited to do what they could to help people move from Islam to Christianity. One pastor spoke of 20 baptisms at the local parish. Another spoke of his desire years ago to be a missionary in Turkey but explained how it had not worked out, but then he realized that Denmark had a large Turkish population and that he could spread the gospel among Turks in his home country. A young man training for ministry at the university wrote me an e-mail after the lecture expressing his excitement to help the church move into challenging new places of ministry like this in order to connect not only to Muslims but also to the post-Christian secular population of Danes.
The seminars consisted of four talks each, with plenty of time for Q&A, lunch, and the singing of a hymn or two. The first three lectures were about background—what is conversion? What are some of the global movements from Islam to Christ? And third, what attracts people from Islam to Christ? The fourth talk was my favorite one—it focused on practical pastoral steps that ministers can take to help converts from Islam form a firm, new identity in Jesus Christ. Evenings often consisted of dinner meetings with key local figures.
I did get a little sight seeing in too. We were done by Thursday night, and my plane didn’t depart from Copenhagen until 3:20 in the afternoon. So I took the day to wander around Copenhagen and even managed to stumble on the Little Mermaid as well as other interesting historical sites.
Denmark is wrestling with many difficult questions. What is integration? What does it mean to be Danish? What are the ramifications of the break down of rule of law connected to people who immigrate? (I’m talking about people whose asylum claims are denied—many simply move on to another country or stay in Denmark with no negative repercussions.) Can a country where every successive generation is smaller then the previous one—thanks to low birth rates—really have a future? How can you protect the human rights of a person who has pledged himself to destroying the human rights of others?
In spite of being keenly aware of how precarious their situation is they are taking action on many fronts. One of those was to find an expert on converts from Islam and bring him to provide ideas and guidance for their clergy and leaders. This denotes to me a certain hope and confidence in God. Unrealistic? Perhaps. But it is better than the alternatives—denying the real dangers that come with a growing Muslim population or giving into anger and despair. All in all this is a church that is taking the initiative in a prudent and hopeful manner. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark is surely on the right track.
Al Fadi, from CIRA International, interviews me more on my research on converts from Islam to Christianity. Here is a second installation for his excellent podcast “Let us Reason.”
The first question is about the main challenge faced by ex-Muslim Christians. Guess what? It’s not persecution. If you want to know what it is, listen along. Also, want to hear about what a baptism looks like at an Iranian church? Listen along. Finally, how do congregations of ex-Muslim Christians form new convert identities for their believers? Listen along.
The interview begins with Al Fadi asking me about my own conversion to Christianity, and then about what motivated me to learn about Islam and then research religious conversion from Islam to Christianity. Here the great story about a church of MBBs that was planted accidentally! (At 14 minutes or so.) Near the end he asks about the main factor that attracts some Muslims to the Christian faith.
The podcast was published on December 31st of 2016. You can find the original at iTunes, or just listen to it right here:
I am pleased to share with you this article which was published in Mission Studies, a Brill journal.
Here is the abstract:
While Christianity has existed in Iran/Persia since the fourth century, if not earlier, at the middle of the twentieth century almost all Iranian Christians belonged to an ethnic minority, especially the Assyrians and the Armenians. Ethnic Iranians were almost all Muslims, and then mostly Shi’a Muslims. Since the Revolution of 1979 hundreds of thousands of ethnic Iranians have left Islam for evangelical Christianity, both within and outside of Iran. This paper seeks to explore the multifaceted factors – political, economic and technological – that have helped to create an environment wherein increasing numbers of ethnic Iranians have apostatized from Islam and become evangelical Christians. A concluding section outlines Steven Lukes’ theory of power and analyzes the growth of Iranian Christianity in the light of his theory.