In this article, Dan Carter offers a review of Center for Public Justice Fellow Matthew Kaemingk’s new book, Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear. Dan is a husband, father, neighbor, reader, runner, and Senior Pastor of Calvary on 8th St. located in Holland, MI.
The centerpiece of President Trump’s State of the Union address was immigration reform, and for many, the centerpiece of his rationale for immigration reform seemed to be fear. Many Americans are afraid. Our fear of the other, of difference, is as old as humanity. That is nothing new or noteworthy. The problems arise when we indulge those fears. So we fear those who speak differently, look differently, and believe differently than we do. Much of North America and Europe have directed those fears toward the Muslim immigrants whose numbers have increased in recent years. This has created a crisis of conscience; we choose whether to build habits of hospitality and compassion or habits of fear and suspicion.
In the coming months, immigration reform will continue to be a central issue for our nation. The protections afforded by DACA will end on March 5 and the Trump administration, as well as the State of the Union, have made it clear that big negotiations are on the horizon. We, as engaged citizens, will have the choice as to which habits we will build in our advocacy, conversations, and daily lives. We can choose which stories we tell – stories about MS-13 and crime, or stories about neighbors working together and families building new lives.
How can we make such choices? And how can we, as Christian citizens, train ourselves in the necessary theological, historical, and practical foundations we will need to engage this very difficult topic? When it comes to educating ourselves, we could do no better in this cultural moment than to invest some time in Matthew Kaemingk’s new book Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear. Kaemingk is the Associate Dean for Fuller Texas and Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics in the School of Theology, and has spent time in the Netherlands studying the country’s approach to Muslim immigration. He has studied Reformed theology and Muslim-Christian relations extensively. His heart for the Netherlands, Christian public theology, and his Muslim neighbors shines through in his work.
If you’re looking for a pamphlet or primer on Christian ethics and immigration, this is not it. It is over 300 pages of academic reflection that covers history, theology, worship, and praxis. It is not, however, a dry read. The topic and the writing are full of urgency. That urgency can be felt in the raw stories Kaemingk shares from his study of the Netherlands – stories from the last decade of vandalism, beheadings, and profanity in the streets. The disenfranchisement of Muslim immigrants led to isolated violence against native Dutch citizens, while the thin veneer of tolerance among liberals cracked and made way for constant threats against and marginalization of Muslims. This is not academic reflection for its own sake, but rather an attempt to answer our most pressing questions. Kaemingk dives into identifying cultural shifts that are tied to attitudes and policies. He locates failures and successes within the narrative of the Netherlands. He then offers ideas for how Christians can be shaped and formed to love our Muslim neighbors. All of this leads us to see how essential hospitality should be in our political, liturgical, and theological lives, especially for any Christian concerned with public justice.
Many of the stories that Kaemingk tells are tragic - stories that demonstrate the failure of Christians, Muslims, and others in the Netherlands to live peaceably together, as well as the broader failure of European multiculturalism. The dark questions these stories pose impel the book along. However, not all the stories are tragic - Kaemingk shares several stories that are filled with the hope that God is always active in the world.
It is impossible to capture the whole scope of the work here, but I will attempt to draw out several key themes that are particularly helpful to our pursuit of public justice.
What is Christian Pluralism?
Much of what is published on Shared Justice seeks to equip citizens to be engaged in their pursuit of public justice and pluralism in the public square. The Center for Public Justice Guidelines promote the importance of both structural and confessional pluralism. Structural pluralism is the effort to seek justice for diverse organizations and institutions in a society. Confessional pluralism, according to the Center for Public Justice, is the effort “to protect the religious freedom and other civil rights of all citizens - not only in their worship communities, but also in education, welfare services, and more.” Kaemingk uses the term “Christian pluralism” to describe these values. For him, the Christian defends her Muslim neighbor precisely because Christ is “a sovereign king who demanded justice for all religions and ideologies under his sovereign rule - even those who denied Christ’s very kingship” (24). This is a radical idea. Christ’s sovereignty does not create a zero-sum world where we must war against those who are different. Christ’s sovereignty creates a world where the Christian defends the rights of those who are not Christian.
Kaemingk’s practical and historical description of Christian pluralism is one of the best available. Christian pluralism, he argues, is based on a strong foundation of belief. This is in contrast to the standard way the world looks at diversity. So often, even for Christians, pluralism is attempted by letting go of one’s faith. Kaemingk highlights this fallacy: “The important thing, it is said, is that you not take beliefs too seriously. Beliefs, after all, are assumed to be a danger to democracy – not an asset. Ambivalence, not conviction, is the source of pluralism.”
However, Kaemingk argues throughout the book that “a durable defense of Muslim rights and dignity depends, not on ambivalence, but on conviction . . . Reducing Jesus to a moral teacher among many, the carpenter from Nazareth might inspire the pluralist to love her friends – but never her enemies” (19). We often cannot sense how thoroughly we’ve adopted the language and values of liberalism, how easily we shed religious language and motivations. We seek diversity by demanding that different groups melt into an indistinguishable sameness. This is why Kaemingk argues that individualistic political ideology is ultimately religious and fiercely dogmatic in nature, despite the fact that it is suspicious of traditional religious dogmatism. It asks that confessional diversity be shallow at best.
That’s a lot to unpack, but Kaemingk helps us by applying the complexities to real-world questions like a woman’s right to wear a veil.
Liberalism has therefore made its moral language the only moral language permitted in the public square. A Muslim woman who wishes to defend the 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. Like a cruel joke, she is forced to parrot liberalism – even in her protest against it (69).
Roots of Christian Pluralism
This movement of Christian pluralism and its desire for the flourishing of diverse communities has origins that are critical to understand. Kaemingk leads us through the necessary history, offering his interpretations of great Dutch thinkers and theologians, of which Abraham Kuyper features prominently. Kuyper asserts that, for the pluralist, Christ’s sovereignty is central and essential. Without a dogged insistence on Christ’s sovereignty, there is the very real possibility that the whole project of public justice splits at the seams. The Christian defends her neighbor and pursues justice precisely because “Christ alone holds the keys to history” (125).
To be strong in conviction but also leave ample space for your neighbor to flourish takes a great deal of humility. This is where the idea that Christ is Lord of history becomes practical in the life of a Christian citizen. Simply, if Christ is Lord of history, then we are not. Christ’s sovereignty should not lead the Christian to desire a theocratic government, but rather one that has the humility to see Christ at the center of history, not the Christian. Kuyper’s “pluralist movement needed to respect Christ’s exclusive rights to temporal sovereignty by engaging their diverse neighbors with ‘persuasion to the exclusion of all coercion’” (125). What a beautiful phrase to guide us. The Christian pluralist seeks to be winsome and to persuade, but never to coerce.
Kaemingk leads us through the theology of the trinity, common grace, and sovereignty to bring us to this litany of praise – worth sharing in full.
[Contemporary Christians] will know that God the Son is sovereign over the history, culture, and politics of their nation. When they see Muslim schools, families, mosques, and associations erected in their neighborhoods, Christian pluralists can respect these institutions and know that Jesus Christ alone is sovereign over their institutional life . . . Demanding that their Muslim neighbors alter their clothing, practices, or institutions will be seen as tantamount to denying the good cultural gifts that the Holy Spirit gave them . . . While Christians and Muslims may very well disagree strong on moral and political issues, Christians can always know that deep down we all share a common creational order and that all of us are haunted by a common set of creational laws written deep within our hearts (156).
A Particular Savior and a Particular Hospitality
This Christ who is Lord of history is also a slave who died naked and alone. It is easy when speaking of politics to focus on the lofty ideas of theology or the mighty Lordship of Christ, yet Kaemingk insists that Christ’s Lordship was demonstrated through his service. His Kingship was tested in suffering. His robes of majesty were exchanged for a naked death on the cross. Therefore, as Christians, we too should seek justice for our neighbor as an act of service. This should be done not only through large policy, although that is necessary, but primarily through the sharing of food, conversation, and even sacrifice with our neighbors - all of them.
In fact, Kaemingk goes so far as to say that “Christian disciples must make hospitality, not justice, the primary frame through which they understand their public and political obligations” (186). We must accept this challenge to also adopt the language and practices of hospitality. For Kaemingk, the formation of the Christian community is absolutely essential for Christ-like engagement with our immigrant neighbors. Within our communities, a special attentiveness to worship is of the utmost importance. We can legislate, advocate, discuss and refine laws, but for the Christian, life begins and ends with worship. If our local experience of worship does not empower and encourage us to better love our neighbors, then we need to take a serious look at the quality and content of our worship.
Kaemingk ends the book with a strong image: a table. We talk so often of open doors or bigger walls - these are the confines of our ability to visualize immigration. Now, we need a new image to work with. The table, filled with diverse food and neighborly conversation, is just the image we need. Perhaps we can evoke the table as we enter into the many discussions we’ll be having this year surrounding immigration reform in America. My hope is that we can imagine sitting around a family table as we draft legislation to fix our broken immigration system. My hope is that when we advocate, we remember how Christ has shown infinite hospitality to us, and try in our own ways to do the same. My hope is that the table will not be just metaphorical - may we invite others into our spaces with graciousness, ruled not by fear, but by the love of Christ.
May we also discover, as one church in the Netherlands did, that we need to ask others to cook for us, too. We must allow ourselves to be humbly served at their table, with their food, in their way, to give them the gift of service as well. One member of that church summed it all up beautifully – “They don’t want to be served by a community, they want to be a part of a community” (251).
Read the book. Share a meal. Advocate alongside your neighbor.
Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear can be purchased from Hearts and Minds Books. Shared Justice readers receive 20 percent off the price—just mention CPJ at checkout.