Four Thirty AM in Wengen, Switzerland

It is four thirty in the morning in Wengen, Switzerland—dark, raining as it has for the past day.  Jet lag is holding on and I find myself wishing to sleep but too restless to comply.  What should be beautiful view of the Alps is lost in fog when the sun comes up.  This quiet restful town offers no solace to the weary traveler tonight.

 

Tomorrow promises to be more of the same.

 

I am here getting ready to do our work—protecting religious freedom at Euro 2008.  This is what we know as the European Cup Soccer Championships.  Switzerland and Austria are abuzz with the tension of thousands of soccer fans gathered to gather to cheer and cry for their teams as they seek one of the most prestigious championships on the planet.

 

Missionaries are here from around the world to share their faith to the thousands who have gathered to enjoy the festive atmosphere.

 

There are a number of matters to be taken care of yet.  I know the law, there is what should be an unqualified right to express your religious views in public.  As of now, that right is still protected in Europe.  There have been rumblings of that right fading.

 

Just recently in England two evangelists were threatened with arrest for sharing the Gospel in public places.  Just a month ago two evangelists in Norway were arrested for sharing their faith in a public pedestrian way.

 

Both of these instances are signs of potential change coming to Europe.  The reasons for both instances are different, but the results are the same.  We are finding Europe to be less open to the message of the Christian church.

 

In England the situation is the most dire.  It is here that the Gospel message is not being permitted because the area where the men were sharing their faith is a Muslim community.  In an age of tolerance the only thing it seems that is not being tolerated is the Christian message.  Maybe the reason is really just an inane desire to keep the peace.  After all, if we offend the Muslim community they do not just complain.  They often take to the streets in protest.  And their protest in recent years has included signs that call for the destruction of England.  Or they call for the overthrow of democratic government, demanding that it be replaced with Sharia law for everyone.

 

Some would say that the problem between the west and the Muslim world is that we have invaded their territory and they are only looking to be left alone.  England shows that logic to be false.  In merry ole England we have Muslim immigrants who have no desire to fit into the existing culture.  They have been asking for the last few years to have their own law determine their own disputes within their community.  Recently they have begun to show signs of not being willing to accept such a minor solution.  It seems their desire is to have England bow to the Muslim community and force everyone to follow their rules—the same as is currently required in the Muslim countries of the Middle East.

 

It makes the argument that we should leave the Middle East alone so they will leave us alone ring hollow.

 

So, when Christians in England preach their message in such a way that it reaches the Muslim community they threaten violence.  The do not merely threaten violence against the missionaries but against the entire culture.  Perhaps it is time we understood that their worldview divides the world into two groups of people—those of the true faith, Islam, and the rest of us.

 

Unfortunately for the rest of us, simply by being the rest of us they believe anything that happens to us is justified.  We are, after all, infidels.

 

The problem in England is not, however, the Muslim community.  The problem in England is the British community.  A people who once ruled most of the world have suddenly become incapable of ruling their portion of the island that is left to them.  It seems they do not have the strength to preserve their own culture.

 

In a Darwinian world the British will not continue to survive for much longer as they are no longer the fittest. 

 

A friend of mine, a human rights advocate and barrister in England, told me that he was slated to do an interview with the BBC on this case.  At the last minute the interview was cancelled and the BBC does not want to talk about the case publicly.  A cursory review of the situation might say this is a good decision, but we cannot look at these issues in a cursory fashion.

 

A close look at Holland is a good example of what happens we do not keep the peaceful Muslims happy.  They feel like their religion is defamed and they do not respond by writing editorials.  They do not respond by staging a quiet, or a loud protest to show their dissatisfaction.  Instead they respond by threatening to kill the offending party.  And then, as in the case in Holland, they carry out those threats with bold, mid-day murders on public streets.

 

Think of where western culture would be if everyone of us responded to offense by issuing death threats and then followed through on those threats.  It used to be like that in America—it was the old west and we spent decades fighting to bring that culture into control.  Sure, now we glorify those days with movies about outlaws and lawmen who lived by the rule of the gun—but that is merely a Hollywood version of the past and we all are thankful that you can now ride through Tombstone, Arizona without the fear of being gunned down for any reason or no reason at all.

 

One of the hallmarks of our democratic societies is that we resolve our disputes peacefully.  Anyone who does not resort to peace will find themselves in detention.  We consider that to be justice. 

 

Now in England that is not the case.  A threat of violence from the Muslim community brings a silencing of a message that has been considered valid and free for centuries.

 

And then, to take it a step further, we do not even want to allow the discussion of the issue in public.  Free speech is the victim in this situation.  Ultimately, the loss of free speech will also lead to the destruction of religious freedom as well.

 

England now hangs in the balance and we must be diligent not to let England become the victim of their own short-sightedness.

 

In Norway the situation is different.  Freedom of speech is not under attack out of the fear of a backlash from the Muslim community.  There the situation is perhaps even more frightening.  In Oslo the battle is over the compatibility of the Gospel message with public life in general.  The problem is that many people in the post Christian world do not consider a public discussion of religion to be legitimate at all.

 

When Petar Keseljevic and Larry Keffer were in public pedestrian areas sharing their faith by holding signs and speaking to people passing by they were told that the nation’s celebration of their independence were not the place for a discussion of religion.  Several people complained that they were celebrating their independence and should not have to hear a discussion of religion at all.

 

The police agreed and arrested the two evangelists.  Not for sharing their faith—rather they were arrested for that great bastion of a free society, the failure to follow a police order.  The police order was simple—your message is not wanted here, if you do not leave we will arrest you.

 

And arrest them they did.  It was all very civil.  Calmly, the police arrested the two and took them to the station where they were processed and released awaiting trial.

 

Post Christian Europe does not want to be reminded of their Christian past.  They do not want to hear about their Christian future.  We are much too enlightened to think in terms of God anymore.  We are too enlightened to declare God is dead any more.  We simply live in such a way to prove the premise.

 

A foundation of western society is our belief in free speech and freedom of religion.  The Supreme Court of the United States has declared religious freedom to include the right to believe anything we choose about God.  More importantly, they have added that religious freedom also includes the right to not believe.  That is the battle we are fighting in America right now.  One the side of religious freedom we have always fought for an even playing field—even when the other side wanted to use the freedom they have to try and stop our message from being proclaimed.

 

The price of freedom is that sometimes you have to hear things you disagree with.  That is the mark of any free society.  We cannot only support the ideas we agree with and be considered free.  We have to permit dissent.  That is one of the problems with the politically correct ideals.  Political correctness says that some ideas are not worthy of public discourse.  That is merely another name for the suppression of free thought and public discourse.

 

We are a better people than all of this.  We have learned to live with a number of different cultures and belief systems in peace.  To stop now would only take us backwards instead of forward.  While it might make for a better moment it will not make for a better society.

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Books Worth Reading

C.S. LEWIS--Mere Christianity; CLAIRE BERLINSKI--Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Crisis, Too; BRUCE BAWER--While Europe Slept: How Radical islam is Destroying the West from Within; DAVID LEVERING LEWIS--God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215; THOMAS SCHIRRMACHER--The Persecution of Christians Concerns Us All; PHILIP JENKINS--God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis

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