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Islamic State, the West and church planting

Everyone has heard of Islamic State or ISIS now. They have surpassed Al-Qaeda as the world’s public enemy number one. In the space of a few short years they have catapulted themselves in to the big league of evil.

The image of the 21 Egyptian Copts awaiting their murder in Libya will be one of the images of the year if not the decade. It was a master stroke in the visual age, with the black masked executioners in perfect line behind the kneeling line of men in their Guantanamo orange jumpsuits. Powerful, visually arresting and profoundly shocking and just as compelling as any pictures of the moment of murder.

This brutal world of violence and death has shocked the world. As Martin Saunders writes,

The free world is reeling. We’re not quite sure how to respond to a group that seems to have no moral boundaries; that has beheaded, crucified and burned alive men, women and children.

In Iraq, Syria and Libya force is being met by force, the warriors are at war but in western Europe the response has been confusion.

To some ISIS is proof, if any were needed, of the poison of religion and Islam in particular. All religions are a blight upon the earth and all we have to do is look at these fanatical Muslims for evidence. They have certainly strengthened the lament for the loss of belief in hell. ISIS and child molesters belong together.

What is more disconcerting, to many thoughtful observers, are the sheer number of recruits travelling from Western nations to join ISIS. Angry and disillusioned young men who have been born or lived for years in liberal democracy have chosen the vision of the Caliphate over the consumer dream. My adopted country of Sweden being one of the leading sources of European recruits. It is hard to imagine a starker or more forceful rejection of the values of the West than leaving Europe behind for the chance to kill, rape and pillage.

Christians have of course been concerned about the brutality, the attacks on Christians, the disappearance of ancient Christian communities from the Middle East and have been praying for peace, the defeat of ISIS and wrestling with a sense of powerlessness and futility. That need not be the case there is a long term strategy that can be implemented immediately.

Make immigration an election priority

The rise of ISIS has also created a wave of migration as hundreds of thousands of ordinary Muslims flee the chaos of North Africa and the Middle East for the promise of a better life in Europe. These dangerous journeys, often costing tens of thousands of dollars are creating a greater strain than ever on the social fabric of Europe. The rise of the ‘other’ is fuelling the rise of the far-right. Expect Europe to get ever more hostile to outsiders. It’s what we do when we feel threatened, we build walls.

As Christians we need to fight that urge and fight it vocally and practically. Mark Meynell is right we need to stop doubting and learn to love immigration. Worryingly at present only 6% of UK evangelicals consider immigration a priority and 18% are considering voting for UKIP. At the very least those numbers ought to be reversed.

In the UK I suspect that is because the majority of evangelicals belong to churches and communities that are not at all diverse. It also shows a sorry lack of Biblical knowledge. The kingdom of heaven has a shocking disregard for national boundaries and homogeneous communities (Mt 8:11-12; Mt 28:19; Rev 5:9 for starters). I recommend Nick Spencer’s book Asylum & Immigration as a primer on the issue (reviewed here).

build diverse churches

There are all sorts of reasons for this and the Bible should be chief among them. Building a diverse church reduces fear between communities and builds social cohesion but most of it all it beautifully pictures the kingdom of heaven. I recommend the resource paper by Steve Tibbert from Kings Church London on diversity.

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It has been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding (while challenging) discoveries of planting a church in Stockholm with a rich multi-cultural flavour. We ourselves are immigrants into Sweden, we have an Egyptian living with us and today we had a Colombian for dinner. My world is richer for knowing them and listening to them and learning from them.

Every church should have a strategy for building relationships with different cultural groups in your town and city.

PLant churches cross-culturally

I have a friend who is church planting in the area of Sweden that has seen more young men go and join ISIS than any other in Europe (as far as anyone can tell). Others have rooted themselves in predominantly Asian and Muslim communities in the UK to serve those people, love and where opportunity arises share the Gospel with them. What if the church by radically loving and reaching out to our Muslim neighbours (instead of cowering in fear) could begin to cut off the supply of jihadi fodder? What if Jesus’ strategy of loving your enemy was actually put to the test?

As Christians our goal is to store up treasures in heaven not protect the pension pot on earth, the radical immigration policy of heaven allowed anyone from any tribe or tongue to come in based only on faith in Jesus Christ. As always it is heaven’s example we should be following.

Photo by Prayitno / Thank you for (5 millions +) views

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