The New Northern Kentucky Islamic Center

As recently reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Northern Kentucky will soon be home to its first mosque. Here are some brief thoughts:

Freedom of religion applies to all Americans of all religions. I have often heard Christians thank God for the freedom to worship in the United States. Like freedom of speech, freedom of religion doesn’t apply only to popular, inoffensive ideas. In parts of the US, evangelical Christianity is viewed as offensive and dangerous. Should those regions be allowed to ban new church buildings?

Few Muslim countries allow freedom of religion. We should shame them by our example. Yes, it is indeed unfair that Muslims are allowed to build mosques in the US, while Christians are not allowed to build churches in Saudi Arabia, even though more than one million Catholic Filipinos live and work in Saudi Arabia. In fact, the laws of Saudi Arabia (and many other Muslim nations) directly contradict the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which is binding on Saudi Arabia as a UN member[*]. What would we gain by lowering ourselves to the hypocrisy of Saudi Arabia?

The Gospel spreads through relationships and truth, not government enforcement. In Rodney Stark’s book Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome, the Baylor historian and sociologist demonstrates that the early church grew from 150 Jesus followers to more than 30 million through ordinary relationships: family members, coworkers, neighbors. Elsewhere, Stark has suggested that gaining its status as the state religion of the Roman Empire actually slowed the growth of Christianity. If we want to share the love of Christ with Muslims, we can do so only by building relationships with them, not by isolating them from our community.

Muslims already live in Northern Kentucky. This mosque would not be built if there were not already a community of Muslims in Northern Kentucky. By opposing the mosque, I’m not sure what we gain other than antagonizing our neighbors. Opponents of the mosque cite fears of terrorism. But is there a faster way to turn a Muslim youth against the US than by making him feel hated and unwanted?

What should we do then?

  • Welcome our Muslim neighbors as fellow Americans and support their freedoms under the US Constitution.
  • Build friendships with our Muslim neighbors so that they can witness Christian love and hospitality firsthand.
  • Share the gospel with them in word and deed, in the hope that they will accept the good news of Jesus Christ.

Today, a major problem in Muslim countries is the perception that Christians are uncaring, immoral, and hypocritical. We may not be able to do much to shape the views of Muslims overseas, but shouldn’t we ensure that American Muslims see a better side of Christianity?

[*]Tellingly, the Saudis abstained from the original adoption.

Should Christians Move Beyond Politics?

James Davison Hunter has a new book out called To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, and by all accounts, it’s pretty good. (For example, here’s Andy Crouch’s review of it.)

I’ve just read an interview with Hunter in the new Christianity Today (it’s not online yet). In it, he says something that really ticks me off whenever I hear it. He suggests that Christians need to move beyond politics, and he singles out the pro-life movement as an example:

What would a post-political gesture look like in the pro-life movement? Borrowing an example from a friend, imagine ten thousand families signing a petition in Illinois that declares they will adopt a child of any ethnic background and physical capability. If they wanted to do something spectacular, they could go to city hall for a press conference, announcing that in the state of Illinois there are no unwanted children. That would be a public — but not political — act. Such an act leads with compassion rather than coercion.

Cool idea — so why does it tick me off?

What does he think Christians are already doing? Continue reading

How Did You Celebrate Easter?

Easter Eggs

Easter Eggs

Do you think of worship, hospitality, or celebration as spiritual disciplines? If you’re like me, you associate the idea of “discipline” with things that are hard, like fasting, daily prayer, intense Bible study, and so on. But if a discipline is something that trains us to live and think rightly, then what better response to the resurrection can there be than over-the-top celebration?

In fact, celebration holds a place of honor in both of my top two books on spiritual disciplines. Richard Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, places celebration at the conclusion of his classic work, while Adele Ahlberg Calhoun puts Celebration at the very front of her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook.

Here’s what Calhoun writes about Celebration:

The world is filled with reasons to be downcast. But deeper than sorrow thrums the unbroken pulse of God’s joy, a joy that will yet have its eternal day. To set our hearts on this joy reminds us that we can choose how we respond to any particular moment. We can search for God in all circumstances, or not. We can seek the pulse of hope and celebration because it is God’s reality. Heaven is celebrating. Right now the cherubim, seraphim, angels, archangels, prophets, apostles, martyrs and all the company of saints overflow with joy in the presence of their Creator. Every small experience of Jesus with us is a taste of the joy that is to come. We are not alone — and that in itself is reason to celebrate. (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, 27)

The Hickerson Family at Easter

The Hickerson Family, all dolled-up for Easter

Here are a few ways that my family and I celebrated the resurrection of Jesus:

  • Dressing up in new clothes (including new shoes for me)
  • Attending a packed church, taking communion, and hearing a powerful message on the hope of the resurrection
  • Singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and the “Hallelujah Chorus” (and hearing perfect silence at that moment of tension before the final “Hallelujah”)
  • Joining extended family and old friends for an Easter feast of lamb, ham, and too much sugar, all while being welcoming my principal role models of hospitality, my father- and mother-in-law
  • Catching up – unexpectedly – with some good friends who have had a rough spring
  • Puzzling over my 6-year-old’s sudden obsession over reading the Bible – and trying to decide whether it is sincere or not (and whether that matters)
  • Delving into the study of God through conversation about justification and covenant
  • For my wife, playing (and winning) some great board games with cousins and friends we don’t see nearly often enough

All in all, a great day of celebration. And I didn’t even mention the eggs.

How did you celebrate Easter?

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The Advent of Christ for All People

This month, we remember the first coming of Christ and anticipate the second coming. Here is early church leader Irenaeus, on the coming of Christ:

For it was not merely for those who believed on Him in the time of Tiberius Caesar that Christ came, nor did the Father exercise His providence for the men only who were not alive, but for all men altogether, who from the beginning, according to their capacity, in their generation have both feared and loved God, and practiced justice and piety towards their neighbours, and have earnestly desired to see Christ, and to hear His voice.

— Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.22.2, via Veli-Matti Kärkäinen, An Introduction to the Theology of Religions

Who was Irenaeus? He was an early Christian leader, Greek by ethnicity, Turkish by birth, who served as bishop in modern-day France. (See – globalism is not only a contemporary phenomenon!) He was the “spiritual grandson” of the apostle John, having been discipled by Polycarp, a disciple of John’s.