I came away disappointed. Firstly, despite the stated goal to "help you value Muslim people more and to reach out with God's love and not react in fear," the majority of the conference was packed with fear-inducing content of the Islamic goal of world domination, only periodically broken up with what appeared to be solely obligatory, good-natured remarks about Muslims as people. Most of the content, like a typical hour of CNN -- shocking statements and global events that likely no one in the room would ever be in position to do anything about anyway -- simply causes people to respond emotionally yet remain frustrated bystanders. In his recent bestselling book, The Assault on Reason, Al Gore makes the point that fear is primarily an instinctual response. When we see something hurling towards us, we duck. In moments like that we don't have time to write a dissertation on the rationale for ducking or not ducking. Then a moment later we might realize that it was only a child's helium-filled balloon, causing us to feel a little silly. However, we shouldn't feel silly, because that is how we're wired to respond -- quickly without rationalization. That is how fear works, to sum up Al Gore, with the risk of oversimplification -- when we're afraid, we don't think. We don't rationalize well. We fail to see the whole picture. We take a defensive posture.
We see this in the life of Abraham. He is called out of his comfort zone by God in order to be a blessing to all peoples of the earth. However, being a blessing is not as easy as it looks, especially when you're a stranger in a strange land as Abraham becomes. Entering Egypt, he feels fearful for his wife and a threat to his own life. This causes him to lie as a means of self-protection. His fearful reaction causes a major shift in his impact. Instead of being a blessing, he become a curse. The story ends with the Egyptian Pharaoh paying him off to get rid of him and giving him a police escort out of the country. The first words of God's next appearance to Abraham (Genesis 17) begins with the words, "Abraham, stop being afraid." God assures Abraham that Sarah will bear him a child (if he would just stop giving her to other men). God also tells him that despite his descendants facing some difficult years in the future, Abraham himself would live to be an old man. "Abraham, stop being afraid." We cannot be a blessing to others while crouching in fear.
I believe that if we begin a presentation with all the reasons you should be afraid, very afraid, then there is a good chance that you've lost your audience. They become stranded in the state of fear, assuming a defensive stance, unable to see the big picture, not willing to rationalize and unwilling to take risks relationally.
Secondly, even though reference was made to the need for contextualization and the presenters' own cultural sensitivity in their varied experiences, I believe that the average attender left with very little information that will prove useful in their personal relationships with Muslims. It was a bit of a contradiction. On the one hand, they said it doesn't do any good to criticise Islamic teaching. On the other hand, that is all they did for two days.
Thirdly, they were speaking to the wrong audience. Probably 80% of those in attendance were over 55. (A problem, I will admit, the presenters had very little to do with) On the other hand, I don't have statistics on hand, but it wouldn't surprise me if 80% of the Muslims in New Zealand were under 30. I believe that it is the 18-30 year-olds who need to be having this discussion. As well, if the focus is not going to be on the relational sharing of the good news, but on the systemic (dark) realities and inherit intentions of global Islam and the immigrant Muslim community in Australia and NZ (my summary), then the conference was delivered to the wrong audience. The target audience should be community leaders or politicians, not average church-attending believers, aged 45-70. Again, they were given a bunch of fear-inducing information that they can do little about.
Content is important. Being informed makes you appear wiser than you are, or maybe it manifests your true wisdom. Even though it wasn't always what I wanted to hear, to be honest, I greatly appreciated the content Dr. Durie delivered about the systemic and theological challenges of a strong Islamic presence in our western societies. Nevertheless, my heart is also drawn to efforts like the Interfaith Youth Core that Dr. Eboo Patel started in Chicago. They desire to bring (young) people of various faiths together in community service, giving them a chance to show and tell each other about the best in their own faith tradition. Relationship is built around community service and the communitas that develops through serving together and discussing how faith motivates us to do such things for the common good.
I would love to gather Christian young people, aged 15-30, for a 'conversation' on how as followers of Jesus we can imagine relating to the Muslim community and individual Muslims. Is it possible to take initiative relationally? If we desire to 'proclaim' Jesus with our lives to our Muslim friends, what will it look like? What is the good news of Jesus to a Muslim? Knowing what we do about Islam, how do we live like Jesus anyway? What is the place of joint ventures, like IFYC? ...So many questions.
What do you think?