This is something of a companion piece to my post this morning about Pope Francis and welcoming refugees. An article appeared a couple days ago on Crux about Muslim refugees converting to Christianity. I post this since I first saw it on a Facebook feed from one of my friends. The people commenting on the article seemed initially horrified by it. (I went back to check the discussion and check on what was said, but could not find it: curse you, the ephemeral nature of social media!)
I think the situation is complicated and worth discussing. However, I lack the time and energy to write a coherent post about it as I am working on something else. So let me give a few quotes and ask: what are your thoughts? Good? Bad? Or more complicated than a simply binary? (Julia, that goes out to you, destroyer of all false or facile dichotomies!)
I will just throw out a teaser, a thought that came to me that I would like to explore. It seems to me that ultimately, conversion is a deeply personal act, an “I-Thou” exchange between the convert and God. But we cannot ignore that this occurs in a social context: to convert is to join a community and become one with it. So is a conversion that seeks membership in a community a bad thing, or simply a first step in a longer process?
Zonoobi, a carpenter from the Iranian city of Shiraz, arrived in Germany with his wife and two children five months ago. He is one of hundreds of mostly Iranian and Afghan asylum seekers who have converted to Christianity at the evangelical Trinity Church in a leafy Berlin neighborhood. [Here “evangelical” refers to the “Evangelische Kirche,” the Lutheran Church of Germany, and not to an “evangelical church” as commonly understood here in the US. This is confirmed by a photo in another version of this article.]…
Like Zonoobi, most [converts] say true belief prompted their embrace of Christianity. But there’s no overlooking the fact that the decision will also greatly boost their chances of winning asylum by allowing them to claim they would face persecution if sent home….
Other Christian communities across Germany, among them Lutheran churches in Hannover and the Rhineland, have also reported growing numbers of Iranians converting to Christendom. There are no exact numbers on how many Muslims have converted in Germany in recent years — and they are a tiny minority compared to the country’s overall 4 million Muslims. But at least for Berlin, [Trinity pastor] Martens describes the number of conversions as nothing short of a “miracle.”