CHRISTIAN HOSPITALITY AND MUSLIM IMMIGRATION IN AN AGE OF FEAR
WM.B EERDMANS PUBLISHING CO., 2018
On January 27, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily suspending the U.S. Refugee Admission program and banning admission to immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. President Trump’s actions reveal a growing tension among many European aend North American nations between the desire to uphold the liberal values of tolerance and multiculturalism and the feeling of many in the West that Muslim immigrants represent a threat to the Western way of life. In Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear, Matthew Kaemingk, assistant professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary, rejects simplistic and polarizing political postures toward Islam that either opt for “open acceptance and tolerance” or “aggression and antagonism.” Instead, Kaemingk offers a third possibility through the tradition of Christian pluralism advanced by Reformed theologian and Dutch politician, Abraham Kuyper. Kaemingk describes the aim of his book as helping Christians “defend the rights, dignity, and humanity of Muslim neighbors without downplaying their exclusive commitment to Christian orthodoxy or the important differences between Christianity and Islam.”
Kaemingk begins by offering a biting critique of secular liberalism and theocracy (read Christian nationalism) arguing that both ideologies share a common and flawed political agenda of hegemony and uniformity. Using the Netherlands as a case study, Kaemingk argues that attempts by secular liberal authorities to integrate Muslims into society by asking them to embrace liberal values inadvertently establish a state-sanctioned moral and religious hegemony. Kaemingk writes, telllingly, “A Muslim woman who wishes to defend her right to wear her veil must claim that she does so because she is an autonomous, rational, self-creating, self-defining individual. She must claim that she ‘personally prefers’ to wear a veil because she happens to freely like it. Her true theological orientation and posture must remain concealed.” The example of the moral validity of Muslim women wearing a head-dress illustrates the cruel irony of the liberal state’s attempts to resist the hegemonic religious control of theocratic regimes precisely through a universalization that totalizes liberal values and mores.
CHRISTIAN PLURALISM: A REFORMED ALTERNATIVE
Many will be surprised by Kaemingk’s claim that Christians can mobilize the Reformed theological tradition to defend the right of Muslims to practice and express their faith in the public square, without having to compromise on their missional identity. To support his claim, Kaemingk draws on Kuyper’s political interpretation of the Reformed doctrines of divine sovereignty and common grace. Kuyper reasons that a Reformed belief in God’s absolute sovereignty ought to prevent any ideological or faith-based institution (including the church) from claiming absolute sovereignty over the state; absolute sovereignty over all peoples and places, for Kuyper, belongs to Christ alone. Kuyper then argues from a theology of common grace that in a state with a decentralized power structure, people of all faiths and ideologies can hope and strive for “moments of consensus and cooperation” with each other in their attempts to live together peacefully. These ad hoc moments of “consensus and cooperation” come as the result of the Holy Spirit having granted all human cultures a basic moral and rational capacity, with the caveat that, because of creaturely fallenness, these capacities are drastically limited. So a Christian living in a pluralist state such as the one Kaemingk and Kuyper envision would be able, Kaemingk says, to “faithfully describe and politically defend Muslim clothing, literature, families, and schools” not by putting aside her Christian convictions but precisely because she believes that Jesus Christ is Lord of all people and history.
A CHRIST-CENTERED POLITICS OF LISTENING
One of the implications of Kaemingk’s theo-political vision of Christian pluralism is that Christian political action in the world requires taking a posture of listening to other faiths and ideologies as an act of hospitality before political deliberation. However, the voices of Muslims and immigrants are not seriously engaged until the final chapters of the book, where Kaemingk tries to apply the lessons learned from Dutch immigrants now living in the U.S. In Chapter 10, Kaemingk engages the voices of a few Muslim scholars who describe the significant role that mosques and other “Muslim spaces” have played in “protecting, nurturing, maturing and extending their Islamic vision of the good life in America.” However, it is not clear having read this brief survey (seven pages total), whether the Kuyperian vision of Christian pluralism is indeed something that the Muslim community in America or anywhere in the world has or would be willing to embrace.
Moreover, there are other key points in Kaemingk’s argument where the voices of Muslims and immigrants are not well represented. One such place is in Kaemingk’s discussion of borders, where he argues that “without borders, without a distinction between insiders and outsiders, hospitality quickly becomes impossible.” There is theological validity to the claim that in a finite and fallen world, borders might be a real good, necessary to preserve peace. However, by excluding a diversity of voices, particularly those of displaced migrants and asylum-seekers, Kaemingk fails to acknowledge the brutal history entailed in the making of many modern states’ borders. This brutal history of border-making is often forgotten or distorted by those in places of power and privilege, but it is never forgotten by immigrants of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds whose displacement and often unlawful presence in Western nations can be traced back to the ongoing effects of European colonialism and American southward and westward expansion under the banner of manifest destiny.
Overall, Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear proves to be a thorough, accessible and insightful book, written predominantly for an educated evangelical Christian audience but also for anyone interested in positive religious accounts of pluralism and diversity. Reformed readers of this book will also discover helpful ways in which the Reformed tradition is well equipped to respond to the political challenges precipitated by global migration and even how the Reformed tradition can be mobilized in order to engage in peaceful and meaningful dialogue with our non-Christian neighbors. In the end, Kaemingk’s contribution to the conversation around Christian hospitality will significantly increase its effectivity and influence with a more profound engagement with minority voices of Muslims and immigrants.
Alberto La Rosa Rojas is a Th.D. student at Duke Divinity School, studying the theology and ethics of immigration.