Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Multiculturalization or Immigrant Renewal?

Yesterday I heard encouraging reports about the future of Christianity in the Netherlands, and indeed in all the secularizing lands of Europe. A team at the Free University of Amsterdam, led by Hijme Stoffels and Mechteld Jansen, have been studying Christian immigrants in the Netherlands. Most European countries have been very attentive to immigration lately, but primarily from deep anxiety about Muslim immigrant communities. However, the immigrant stream brings hundreds of thousands of Christians, as well. Many of the immigrants are zealous, pious, and eager to share their faith with the people of Europe. One of the organizations we heard about is GATE - The Gift of Africa to Europe. From the immigrants' perspective, they are engaging in "reverse mission."

The research team is faced with the question of what to call the effect of these Christian immigrants from all over the world on Dutch Christianity. They leaned toward "multiculturalization" as a term and concept. Still, they were not satisfied with it. The problem that emerged with this conceptualization is that it doesn't really capture the religious effects. Moreover, multiculturalization seems to me to be a temporary, transitional phenomenon. All churches now existing have multiple cultural roots; most have succeeded in blending them together into a new culture.

The ISSRC did not settle the question of how to think about Christian immigrants in European Christianity. We were left, though, considering the idea of "immigrant renewal." The advantage of this way of looking at the issue is that it puts the religious effect front and center. There are, to be sure, many other cultural effects of the immigrant churches – Mechteld Jansen began her talk on Indonesian Christian immigrants by handing out cloves, a wonderful reminder of one of the most distinctive smells of Indonesian life. But the main effect of mixing two streams of the same faith ought to be in the faith itself. If nothing else, immigrant zeal may enliven the learned practice of the culturally established church.

The old churches of Europe are in a very parlous state. They desperately need renewal. Hundreds of thousands of zealous Christian immigrants are arriving – perhaps just in time – to help renew the faith and practice of the old, if only the European churches will let them.

Immigrant renewal of existing institutions, even more than their introducing new cultures, could be the great silver lining of Europe's demographic globalization.


LMR said...

I think it is also important to say that the old churches of Europe (and the United States) possess a lot of tradition and experience that should not be cast off with the arrival of new Christian immigrants. I think it is unfair for zealous member of churches in the global south and their members that immigrate to the US and Europe to think that their form of Christianity is superior and that the way the faith is understood and practiced in Europe should be overturned in accordance with these new ideas/practices.

It's understandable for these new expanding Christian movements to want a say in the development of Christianity worldwide, but they have to allow members of branches in the US and Europe to express their opinion too.

You know that I am not a Presbyterian, but an Episcopalian, and I resent a bishop in the global south referring to my church as a cancer that must be removed. Churches in different parts of the world have evolved in different conditions, and even those that draw from the same faith traditions can't be expected to coincide in every way - and for that reason I think it is unfair to say that a church that is growing rapidly should dominate a church that is not as dynamic simply because of this growth.

In order for Christian groups, even from the same traditions, throughout the world to communicate, the dialogue first has to be based on mutual respect, and while Northern/Western churches were wrong in not giving churches in the global south their due until very recently, that does not mean their opinion should be accepted without question now.

Gruntled said...

As a centrist, I support balance -- I want zeal and tradition. I agree that if I were a bishop, I would not be inclined to describe another denomination of my communion as a cancer.

I may part company with you on this point: "I think it is unfair to say that a church that is growing rapidly should dominate a church that is not as dynamic simply because of this growth." I don't think churches should dominate one another directly, but I do think that denominations that outcompete other denominations in a free religious market deserve the harvest they reap. The losers, whoever they might be, may decide to live with their smaller share, but should at least be shaken from complacency by the competition itself.