The keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. Matthew Kaemingk (Fuller Seminary), began the conference on Thursday by presenting his new book, Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear (Eerdmans, 2018), which is based on several years of research in the Netherlands. Kaemingk suggested that a robust “Christian pluralism” in the tradition of Abraham Kuyper offers Christian citizens a viable third way between intolerant nationalism’s “high walls” and naïve liberalism’s “open doors.”
Following a lunch break, three scholars offered responses to the book from different angles. Dr. Markku Ruotsila (University of Helsinki and University of Tampere), author of several books and articles on the history of American Christianity, spoke appreciatively of Kaemingk’s book, but pressed for clarity on the distinction between hospitality of individual Christian citizens and the responsibilities of civil governments.
Egdūnas Račius (Vytautas Magnus University), Professor of Islamic Studies and author of a new book, Muslims in Eastern Europe (Edinburgh University Press, 2018), offered an anthropological perspective. Prof. Račius cautioned against broad characterizations of “Islam” and “Muslims,” terms which are used to refer to quite a diverse set of communities, beliefs and practices. Račius highlighted the differences between Western Europe, where Muslim communities are mainly comprised of 20th- and 21st-century immigrants and their children, and non-Muslim-majority Eastern European nations, in which reside Muslims who are recent immigrants, Muslims who migrated during the Soviet period, and “autochthonous” Muslim communities. In Lithuania, for example, Muslims have been present since at least the 14th century. Those differences matter for personal attitudes, advocacy and community recognition, and public policy, Račius argued.
Finally, Dr. Joe Harder (LCC International University) offered the perspective of a historian, a theologian, and a former pastor in the Anabaptist tradition. He remarked on Kaemingk’s emphasis in the final chapter on worship, and encouraged further reflection on the role of worship in shaping Christians’ responses to terrorism, tragedy and suffering.
On Friday, the discussion continued with presentations of historical and social-scientific research on attitudes toward migrants. In a paper entitled, “Refugees, Immigration and U.S. Churches in Historical Context,” Dr. Ruotsila traced the history of American Christian attitudes toward immigrants of various ethnic and religious communities. He claimed that the present gap between the attitudes of Christian leaders and Christian laity—the former emphasizing the scriptural imperative of hospitality to the stranger, and the latter emphasizing the civil government’s role in securing the life of citizens—is a relatively recent phenomenon. Previous waves of immigrants reaching American shores had been met with suspicion by (mainly Protestant) Christian leaders and laypeople alike.
Dr. Eglė Verseckaitė-Grzeskowiak (LCC International University and ISM) presented the results of recent work conducted along with her LCC students entitled, “Exploratory Research on Attitudes Toward Muslims Among Post-Communist Youth.” The research indicates that deep personal contact is the most significant determining factor in welcoming attitudes toward Muslims, and migrants more generally. Verseckaitė-Grzeskowiak said that these findings, though preliminary, are consistent with other research in this field, and she suggested that they lend support to the main contention of Kaemingk’s book.
“Migration, hospitality, and faith are close to the heart of our institutional identity,” said Dr. Benjamin Giffone, Director of the Center for Faith and Human Flourishing. “Our international community includes students of many different faith backgrounds, including Christians and Muslims. ‘Christian pluralism’ offers followers of Christ a compelling way to live out our faith, respecting the dignity and worth of each person made in the image of God, while at the same time refusing to ‘paper over’ important differences between worldviews.”
For more information about the Center for Faith and Human Flourishing, including its work on migration and other important topics, visit lcc.lt/research or email firstname.lastname@example.org.