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The Role of History in Pastoral Care for Christians from a Muslim Background

Part 1 of 2

It happened twice, once in North Africa and once in Constantinople. I had been invited to give some lectures to congregations consisting mostly of Christians from a Muslim background (CMBs). As a professor I had a number of topics I could address, I explained to the pastors: biblical studies, spirituality, theology, and Church history. They knew their congregations, I reasoned, so they would know what topic would be most propitious. On both occasions they chose Church history, and local Church history at that.

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At first this struck me as a curious choice. I was previously professor of Church history (and theology) at a seminary in Nazareth, so I had no doubt that it was an important and interesting topic. I have also published a number of articles and chapters on the topic, though mostly with a focus on the history of Anglicanism in the Middle East.[1] But why delve into the topic with these CMBs?

It is common for apostates from Islam, and especially for converts to Christianity, to be construed as betraying their people. This reality comes across quite clearly in the many autobiographical books written by CMBs, that there was a genuine struggle for them in formulating and explaining that while they had left Islam, they were still loyal citizens of their nation. The intention of the two pastors in selecting Church history was, I suspect, to provide the CMBs with the historical resources whereby an intelligent and informed answer could be given to the question, “Why have you betrayed your people by leaving Islam.”

Both North Africa and Constantinople have vibrant and influential Christian roots. Both areas are today almost entirely Islamic. Furthermore, especially in the case of Turkey, the ethnicity of the people in the region has changed—there were no Turks in Constantinople in the first five centuries AD. Nonetheless, both groups of CMBs could now answer their inquisitive brother or antagonistic co-worker with an informed, “Actually, I have decided to return to the ancient religion of this land, the religion that was here before Islam.” Being informed of the history allows for the convert’s identity to have a historical rooting.

Now that historical rooting might be geographical, as in my examples, or it might be ethnic. An example of the later might be an Arab convert from some region with no history of Christianity at all. While their region might not have a history they can look back to for an anchor, there is no question that Arab Christianity does have a long and respected heritage.

[1] For example, the chapter on Anglican mission up to 1910 in the Oxford History of Anglicanism, Volume IV.

Part 2 of this article will be posted next Monday.

 

Rev. Dr. Duane Alexander Miller lives in Madrid with Sharon and their three children where they teach and minister at the Anglican Cathedral of the Redeemer. He is associate faculty at the Protestant Faculty of Theology at Madrid (UEBE). You can contact Duane here.