Tuesday, May 26, 2009

No Fear in Love

...love casts out fear...

This verse has been running through my head for about a week and a half. I had the pleasure of hearing Bishop Josiah Fearon from Kaduna Diocese Nigeria, speak about Gospel Ministry in Areas of Strife: The Interface of Christianity and Islam. Kaduna is in northern Nigeria, and if you know anything about that country, you’ll know that the north has been the scene of religious tension for many years now between Muslims and Christians. Bishop Fearon explained that this goes back to the establishment of Nigeria as an independent nation in the 1960’s. At that time the population was made up quite sizable populations of Christians and Muslims, and a fair number of traditionalists at well. Southern Nigeria is the home for Christians, and northern Nigeria is the home for Muslims. But over the last 50 years the Christian population in the north has been steadily growing, so that in Kaduna Diocese today, Christians now slightly outnumber the Muslims. This change in demographics has only heightened the tension between the tow religious communities – the Muslims who want to enforce the constitutionally recognized sharia law; and the Christians who want to use their new found majority to free themselves for the yoke of Islam. This is the main tension in Kaduna. But Bishop Josiah helpfully explained that these tensions are often used to exploit local and tribal conflict. A religious crisis may begin when Muslim and Christian farmers have land next to each other, and the Muslim farmer’s cattle enter the Christian’s lands. This is then spun out as a religious conflict between the two religions. And 10 years ago this would have resulted in violent clashes throughout the diocese, often causing fatalities.

The result of all this is fear – fear of the religion, and fear of the people. Bishop Josiah said that this has led to a genuine hatred and resentment towards Muslims by Christians. However, his approach is to promote ‘friendship evangelism’. He engages in dialogue, and is not afraid to build friendships with Muslims. He sees himself as having been called by God to evangelize his Muslim neighbours. So he tries to love, rather than shouting them down with doctrine as some of his colleagues prefer to do. And he has copped flack for this from inside and outside his diocese. He shared the story that during the major sharia crisis around 2001, some young members of his clergy had really had enough of his evangelism approach. And so they planned to assassinate him and blame it on the Muslims! Miraculously they were stopped on the day they set out to do this dreadful deed. 

And so I was reminded that ‘there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear’. Sitting in a church hall in the Georges River Region of Sydney, with several mosques within walking distance, (within close proximity of several Anglican churches that 50 years ago were the largest in the diocese but are now empty), I was reminded again that Jesus is so powerful, so magnificent, that I do not have to be afraid with Muslims; out of love I can share with them the Lordship of Jesus in my deeds and words. 

The talk was recorded, and if you would like a copy you can email me at work. CMS also interviewed Bishop Josiah earlier that day, and that will released soon – stay tuned. Josiah Fearon is an international expert on Islam. Besides his degrees in Nigeria, he has postgraduate studies in theology (Durham), Islamic Theology (Birmingham), Arabic (Jordan) and a Doctorate of Ministry (Hartford). He has recently completed his time as the Archbishop of the province of Kaduna, was on the Eames commission that produced the Windsor Report, and is a licensed preacher at Canterbury Cathedral.

PS This post by Byron is also relevant to this discussion - it's not just our African brethren who are afraid of Islam.

1 comment:

Matthew Moffitt said...

Sorry for the change in font half way through.