“Christianity Close to Extinction in the Middle East”

It seems de rigueur for the press to make us miserable around Christmas. The Christmas day front-page headline for my hometown paper, The Baltimore Sun, read “Joy of the Season Overshadowed.” The article then proceeded to discuss the killing of elementary school students in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 16 as opposed to reminding us of the birth of our Savior on Dec. 25. While the Newtown massacre is tragic and senseless, and should never be forgotten, one wonders if our culture needs to constantly wallow in its own mire. Can’t the day of Jesus’ birth be an opportunity for joy, beauty, and celebration?

In a similar depressing vein, I came across an article published online just two days before Christmas in the British Newspaper, “The Telegraph.” The title was: “Christianity Close to Extinction in the Middle East?”

In its own words, “the study warns that Christians suffer greater hostility across the world than any other religious group. And it claims politicians have been ‘blind’ to the extent of violence faced by Christians in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.”

The report can be summarized with these 6 disturbing conclusions: (1) the persecution of Christians is at its worst in nine countries – Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, China, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Burma; (2) the most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam; (3) Christians are targeted for persecution more than any other body of believers; (4) persecution of Christians is generally ignored by most governments; (5) between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left the region or been killed in the past century; (6) and, finally, “There is now a serious risk that Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands”. (By “heartlands”, this article is referring to the Middle East.)

What are we to make of this dismal study? If you find yourself disheartened by such reports, perhaps you may be encouraged by my following 3 observations:

(1) This study ignores the reality that persecution has never been shown to have the power to squelch the spread of the Gospel and the growth of the Church. In fact, to the contrary, the missiologist’s creed comes from Tertullian’s words in the 2nd century AD: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Or as a more recent thinker has said: ” If one were to search the annals of the history of missions, he would find that rarely, if ever, has the gospel spread to an unreached people group when it had not first been planted and watered by the blood of the saints.”

(2) Evangelical Christianity in the 21st century continues to be the fastest growing religion in the world. Though many studies claim that Islam is growing faster than any other religion, those studies fail to distinguish between the decline of nominal Christianity and the incredible growth in evangelical Christianity. Further, whereas Islam’s growth is predicated upon having many children and the intimidation of potential proselytes, the expansion of the Christian evangelical community is happening (a) in the face of persecution, (b) by proclamation of the Gospel and conviction of the Holy Spirit, (c) through deeds of mercy such as feeding the hungry, building hospitals, and digging wells.

(3) Patrick Johnstone has methodically, systematically, and conclusively catalogued the 21st century growth and spread of Christianity (in Asia, Latin America, and Africa) and the decline of the Church (in Europe, North America, and the Pacific). In his fabulous book “The Future of the Global Church” (2011), Johnstone gives clear evidence that Christianity will not be disappearing from the Middle East any time soon, suggesting that perhaps we should be more concerned with the extinction of Christianity from North America and Western Europe than we should from the Middle East!

Johnstone alleges that “the spread of Syrian and Persian Orthodox Christianity across much of western, central, and even eastern Asia is one of the most remarkable and little known episodes in church history” (102).

Further, due to the fact that the Telegraph article is focused on the geographical decline of Christianity, it necessarily fails to account for the ethnic growth of the Gospel beyond geographic borders. In other words, the phenomenal immigration and emigration patterns that we now see in the world are reshaping how the Gospel is spreading.

Though there are serious issues to be addressed in the growth of the Gospel in the geographic Middle East, there is much to be excited about in the spread of the Good News among Middle Eastern ethnic groups that have immigrated into parts of the world where the Gospel is available. In much of the free world, former residents of the Middle East are now coming to faith and indigenous ethnic Middle Eastern faith communities are thriving in North America and Europe (even as indigenous white, western, Caucasian churches are declining in North American and Europe).

Is Christianity Close to Extinction in the Middle East? Perhaps we may respond with an allusion to Mark Twain. On 4 May 1907, when people lost track of a yacht he was travelling on, the New York Times published an article saying he might have been lost at sea. In fact, the yacht had been held up by fog, and Twain had disembarked. Twain read the article, and cleared up the story by declaring: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Early reports of the extinction of Christianity in the Middle East may, likewise, have been greatly exaggerated. There is much more to the missiology of this issue than The Telegraph is able to consider or address. Take heart!

Dave Shive

Falling apart?

There are a number of resources out there that folks in my business tend to go to for wisdom on a regular basis; websites, video blogs, conferences, twitter feeds, bloggers, etc.  Basically, if you were to summarize their logic it would go something like this;

1. Things are falling apart.
2. We are saying this because we are not getting the results we desire or even what we used to get.
3. The answer to this is we need to be flexible, empower gen X’ers and put the vision above commitment to the organization.

Is this the best way forward?  I wonder.  It is interesting to think of organizations that were at the top of their game just a few years ago and are now becoming irrelevant.  Blackberry maker Research in Motion comes to mind.  Is the explanation for their decline because they didn’t do the things on the above list?

I just wonder.  We are living in a time when the Christian world is changing very dramatically.  I served on the board of a small Christian school for a number of years.  I recently heard they closed.  I am good friends with a guy who had to close his church.  The statistics on church closures are frightening.

As pastors wrestle with the questions about what causes change in a person, I wrestle with what causes change in an organization?  Can it really change and if so, what causes this?  My very unscientific conclusions aren’t very encouraging, but I do think we need to grapple with them.  Often people describe an organization as having a culture.  As anyone who has studied foreign cultures knows, adjusting to a new culture is quite difficult.  I was talking to someone who has been living in the US for over six years after moving here from Asia.  It is still quite difficult for her.  A friend who moved to Asia from the US describes the first year in the new culture as being the same as the year of mourning she had after her mother’s death.  The advantage that these two people had was, they were forced to make this change due to a location change.  Organizations don’t have this added benefit.  The building, the people, the language… it all remains the same.  The only thing different is that someone said we were going to do things differently.

My partner and I went through a strategic planning exercise with a church and thought we had developed some fairly specific guidelines for future missions support opportunities.  I was shocked to hear their rationale for another cause they decided to support that met none of these guidelines.  Yes, culture does not change easily.  So, what do we do?  (You are not going to like this)

1. Start with the idea that it is best that we just let the thing die.  I am not kidding about this. Sometimes the best thing to do is stop and hope that something better rises from the ashes.
2. OK, now we have everyone’s attention.  So is there enough desire in the room to make the changes necessary to make the organization successful in the future?  Are we willing to start with a blank piece of paper with very few non-negotiables.  In other words, are we all willing to resign?
3. Enter a time of prayer and discernment, as a community to see what the next direction may be.  It could be that the best thing is to keep things as they are and let the slow process of decline continue but manage it in a way that honors God.  I really mean that.  Move to smaller offices.  Let people go. Try and focus on a few things to do well rather than doing a lot. etc.
4. If the decision is made to continue, be willing to be ruthless and experience the same dissonance that my two friends did when they entered new cultures.  Think about the vision in the morning when you wake up, when you eat your lunch, when you plan your day, when you go out for coffee, when you go to bed, when you get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.  Keep it on the forefront of your mind.  Check out now and then, of course, but my point here is to make sure your daily activities (all of them) feed the vision.

Now, having said all of this, let me make one last comment that will completely undo, at least in some people’s minds, what I have written above.  Realize that, over the course of history, God has done some rather surprising things for reasons that He alone is aware of.  He has allowed perfectly good ministries to fail.  He has allowed cultures that, at least on the outside, seemed to reflect the kingdom of God, to slide into sin to the point that they entered a period of exile.  Is this where we are right now?  I don’t think so, but it is possible.  The steps I mentioned above had to do, mainly, with what we could do.  But realize God is going to do what He is going to do.  The best thing we can do is believe this, live this and, as Job says, “though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him.”  Like Job, we may be surprised by the ultimate outcome.

Tell me if I am crazy here!

There is no such thing as “foreign” missions…

I recently suggested that the term “missions” had become a dirty world in the evangelical lexicon and that perhaps we need to have some creative “wordsmithing” to come up with something better. In attempt to explain myself, let me go a little further…

When I first went into fulltime missions mobilization over three years ago, it was tough to explain to people what I would be doing. I mean, I wasn’t even sure what I would be doing, so how could I describe it to someone else?

Anyway, as I would begin to try to explain my new ministry, some would try to assist by helpfully inquiring, “Oh…well…will you be involved in ‘foreign’ missions?”

While I appreciated the attempt to help me bring some order to my chaotic answer, I found that this question actually serve to add a layer of confusion to an already misunderstood topic.

The term “foreign missions” was originally a good way to describe missions activity as it was in previous generations before the acceleration of global emigration and immigration. It is also a verbal relic from an era when the western church was still unaware of the kind of information that Ralph Winter dumped on us in 1974. It was almost 40 years ago that Winter alerted us to the reality that the Great Commission is not strictly about saving individuals, nor is it about sending missionaries to countries (geo-political entities). At that time Winter prophetically (in the sense of forth-telling and fore-telling) laid out for the western church the true status of the unreached peoples of the world.

Speaking of missions as “foreign” or “local” in the 21st century merely reinforces the now-outdated thinking that locality and geography are primary factors in carrying out God’s mission.

When I was young, we used to thinking of “going somewhere else” to be a missionary. The reality is much different in that that there is no longer a specific and exclusive “somewhere else” where the unreached are located.

From Gen. 12:3 to Mt. 28:19-20 to Rev. 5:9 and 7:9, the Bible couches God’s passion in terms of the ethne (groups identified by ethnic, cultural, and linguistic characteristics), and not primarily in terms of reaching individuals or by reaching people geographically.

As Dave Imboden states, “The Joshua Project (joshuaproject.net) lists over 160 ethnolinguistic people groups considered ‘Least Reached’ who now call the U.S. home” (Mission Frontiers, 34:6, Nov/Dec 2012, p. 20).

Because of this, as long as we think in terms of “foreign” and “domestic” missions when we think of reaching the world with the Good News, our churches will never be able to develop an effective strategy for fulfilling the Great Commission. Sadly, we will miss the presence of desperately needy “unreached people groups” in our own back yard and other “Christianized” parts of the world.

So, not only do we have a problematic noun – “missions” – to describe God’s passion that all peoples might know his Son, but we complicate the development of an effective strategy to carry out the work assigned to the church when we use an outdated adjective – “foreign” – to describe it.

Stay tuned to www.unmissions.net for more thoughts on this critical topic… — Dave Shive

Missions is a dirty word…

My thesis that missions has become a dirty word in the evangelical lexicon is, in my opinion, now beyond dispute. It’s perhaps time to discover a new word to articulate what God is doing in the world in making his Son famous.

Support for my thesis comes from various missiologists, but is also anecdotal. Larry Sharp writes in the Evangelical Mission Quarterly on the topic of “Why I am not a missionary” and pleads, “Please don’t introduce me as a missionary…” (Though his reasoning differs somewhat from the point I am making here, it is nevertheless appropriate to reference his observation.)

In the International Review of Mission (1987), Klauspeter Blaser asks the question, “Should we stop using the term mission?”

I also have anecdotal evidence. A couple of years ago, I was asked to speak at a missions conference at an evangelical church. My answer was, “Yes, if you do not call it a missions conference” (I was motivated by a growing conviction that nothing can kill a missions conference faster than calling it a missions conference!). We agreed to call it something else (a worship theme, as I recall) with the understanding that I would still speak on missions.

A month later the pastor of the church e-mailed me to say that he had received significant feedback after the conference that confirmed my original suspicion that using the term “missions” to describe the conference would keep people away, rather than attract them.

Yes, missions has become an abused, misunderstood, and even unpleasant word in the lexicon of the evangelical.

In addition, I have been accumulating multiple layers of biblical support for my thesis for quite awhile. And I have concluded that it is unfortunate that (a) we have to use a word not even found in the Bible as a noun substitute for the cosmic work of God to make his Son famous; and (b) the word that we have chosen cannot come close to conveying the grand nuances of God’s work in the world; and (c) this word (missions) is widely misunderstood and carries so many negative connotations for so many believers that the waters are hopelessly muddled by its use.

Perhaps the English language is too limited to contain one single word to do the job. I don’t know. But I do know that Joe Steinitz and I work across the northeast US with good evangelical churches where the word missions is bandied about with little or no comprehension of the grand scope of God’s intention to fill the whole world with his Son’s glory.

Stay tuned to www.unmissions.net for more on this topic`… — Dave Shive

An Audience of One

During the recent assault of Hurricane Sandy, late-night talk show audiences in New York City were sent home to “be safe.” However, the hosts of the shows were determined that the “the show must go on.”

How do comedians, accustomed to audiences laughing uproariously at their every line, perform when the seats are empty and only their bandleader is applauding…an audience of one?

Letterman and Fallon handled it professionally, but it was a bewildering experience. The laughter and audience feedback was missing, and it all seemed so…lame. And perhaps this illustrates the challenge of operating solely for an audience of one.

Many years ago I was challenged to consider the question, “Who is my audience?” For whom am I doing the things I do? Whose approval do I want and need?

There are many ways to answer this. Politicians sniff the air to see where the polls are blowing so they can be elected. Pop culture celebrities tilt toward whatever direction will best increase their popularity. Marlene Dietrich reportedly recorded audiences applauding her performances to replay at home. We common folks blow our own trumpets on Facebook.

But there is another option: to view God as my audience, the One for whose pleasure I live and breathe and have my existence. When God is my audience, I am on stage and God alone is sitting in the gallery. My sole purpose is His pleasure, His applause.

Since birth, our selfish natures have reminded us that we are the center of our own universe and all others exist to serve us.

That’s the worldview I was destined for until the truth of the Good News of Jesus radically altered my heart in the fall of 1964. As a college freshman reading Scripture, I was given a vision of Someone whose presence would change my life of quiet ego-centrism into one of purpose, usefulness, and vitality that could extend beyond my own orbit.

Though my life is not impressive by the standards of our culture, it fills me with joy to think that I have spent over a half century engaged in the greatest venture happening on the planet, learning to enjoy God and journey with him through life. And the amazing thing is, as my Audience, He is applauding!

As you do the things to which you have been called this day, whether they are hum-drum and banal or challenging and exciting, consider an experiment: try taking this 24-hour period to focus all of your energies on one thing: the applause of the Master. – Dave Shive

I really didn’t expect the wedding to be so worshipful…

Yesterday Kathy and I participated in a wedding that proved to be a great worship experience. We had not expected it to be such a spiritually rich time. From the incredible mastery of the organist to the string octet to a choir full of fabulous voices, we were treated to a rare event.

Early in the service, the congregation sang “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation”. This song has some awesome lyrics, especially in the hymnal we sang from. I wish I had copied those words down. Kathy and I have sung this hymn countless times in the past, and so we have many of the verses of that hymn memorized, but these were new verses we had never sung before. Here’s one of the old familiar verses —

“Praise to the Lord, who over all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires ever have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?”

I had just returned from 5 busy days of ministry in Rhode Island. Two weeks prior to that, I had been in New Hampshire for 4 wonderful days of teaching. Those two trips, plus many other activities in our region, had me pretty worn out. I had gotten up at 4 am on Sunday to get to the Providence airport to fly out at 6 am. I was exhausted physically when I got home and felt ill-prepared for an afternoon wedding.

I was supposed to give a 10-minute homily at the wedding and had worked hard to get my thoughts down to 10 minutes. I usually preach and teach with few notes, except when I have to get the message down to 10 minutes. I tucked my notes into my coat pocket and we headed for the wedding. When we arrived at the church, I reached into my coat pocket for my notes and they were nowhere to be found (I’m still looking for those notes!).

As I waited for the wedding ceremony to begin, I feverishly began to scratch out some homily notes on the back of the wedding program. And then the opening hymn had me fighting back tears. Weariness evaporated and anxiety over my missing notes seemed silly.

“Praise to the Lord, who, when tempests their warfare are waging,
Who, when the elements madly around thee are raging,
Biddeth them cease, turneth their fury to peace,
Whirlwinds and waters assuaging.”

Serving the Lord in missions can be an exhausting, frustrating experience when worship is lost. I sense the need to encourage you today to be a person of worship who does not allow circumstances in life to distract you from giving our God the worship he deserves. – Dave Shive

If I Was Just Hired to Be a Missions Director at a Church…

Missions Leadership in churches often changes, whether it’s the missions pastor or the group of faithful volunteers that keep it going, change is inevitable.  So I got to thinking, what are the best resources for getting replacements started in this new role?

My guess is, those of you who have been around awhile can guess my first recommendation; the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course.  Now I realize that the course is not offered everywhere at all times, but if there is anyway you could take this class, you have to do it.  There is a lot of reading but it is worth every moment you spend on it.

What about books?  Usually folks don’t have a ton of time to read a lot of books, so I’ll keep the list short.  I’m a big fan of  When Helping Hurts and it talks about a whole lot more than avoiding the pitfalls of dependency.  Loving the Church, Blessing the Nations is a great missions book but from the perspective of the local church.  Of course, The Global Missions Handbook is a one-stop shop for folks who are going overseas and what the steps are, so a missions director needs to know this information.  Piper’s Let The Nations Be Glad has been a classic for a long time, though I do like a little ditty that is a bit on the simpler side called 2020 Vision though I have never heard anyone else recommend it besides me (which probably tells you something about me).

What about news?  There are lots of resources out there.  Brigada is something you must subscribe to.  About every week you get an update of coming events, new things happening in missions, and lots of other helpful information.   I also subscribe to Evangelical Missions Quarterly which will really keep you informed as to the latest in thinking in missions.

What about organizations to join?  I would definitely hook up with MissioNexus.  They serve both churches as well as mission agencies as well.  They also do occasional conferences that are worth attending.

How about web-sites?  I hesitate to start writing here as this is a daunting list.  I will just say go to Links to Cool Places button at UnMissions.net and hang out there for a bit.  Its a dizzying list of different websites.  I do like the LearnCareGo site as a first stop though it can be dizzying as well.  Go to a coffee shop, bring your internet device of choice and just cruise around it for awhile, bookmarking the places that you want to explore further. Also, spend a bit of time at Catalyst Services.  They have some great articles.

Speaking of coffee, I would then Contact Dave and / or Contact Joe  and grab a cup of coffee.  That may be of dubious benefit, but we do offer comic relief.  Seriously, we will pray for you and are happy to do a free consult of what you presently have in place and talk about possibilities for what might be next.

Is there any resource out there that you feel would qualify for “The five things a missions director shouldn’t leave behind if going to a desert island?  Let us know.

Replacement Referees and The Ministry of the Gospel – Dave Shive

If you were not aware of the full-blown controversy that raged over the National Football League’s use of replacement officials this season, you may also not know that Calvin Coolidge is no longer president, the tsars no longer rule Russia, and there are more than three channels available on TV.

Due to a management-union spat, NFL referees were replaced with college officials who did the best job they could, but ended up making really bad calls in nearly every game.

True, the pros (the regular officials) make mistakes. But the number and kind of errors happening with the replacement officials was unprecedented. And the fans were outraged.

Even as I agonized over the poor calls on the gridiron, I also can identify with the replacement referees and commiserate with their impossible task. The speed and complexity of professional football makes quality officiating a daunting, if not impossible, task.

Imagine trying to do a job for which you feel ill-equipped and poorly-prepared while everybody around you is screaming their displeasure at your performance. This is what the replacement officials experienced….or what many pastors regularly suffer…or what missionaries, teachers, youth workers and average Christians often experience.

I recall early in my ministry as an assistant pastor a young couple came to me after church one Sunday and said they wanted to talk to me. They pulled out a list of sixteen items that I was doing wrong. I wish I had that list today.

Oh, if only they knew! Their issues were minor; I can do much worse than anything on their list. And over the ensuing thirty plus years, my errors in ministry could have filled a large notebook.

As I write these words, I am in New Hampshire for five days of teaching and preaching on the advance of the Gospel throughout the world. I am fully capable of inflicting havoc on the body of Christ were it not for God’s grace and power in my life. And when I do inflict havoc, as I have been known to do, I rely on God’s grace and power to protect from harm those to whom I minister.

And so I approach this ministry with a sense of inadequacy and lack, fully aware of the daunting task that confronts a bumbler such as myself. The spread of the fame of Jesus’ name is enormous, complex, and challenging. And it often seems that there are many others who can do a better job of it than I can.

We live in a day when, because of social media and technology, some Christians have “celebrity” status. They are household names, write popular books, have radio and TV programs, and hold conferences. It’s very tempting for the rest of us “ordinary” Jesus-followers to feel like they are the A-team and we are the “replacements.” They can do the work of the Great Commission flawlessly, effortlessly, and with style. We bumble and fumble and stutter and fall in our desperate attempts to serve Jesus.

The Apostle Paul understood this dilemma. He mentions “…we are fools for Christ’s sake…we are weak…we are without honor…we have become the scum of the world, the dregs of all things…” (I Corinthians 4:10, 13).

Does that sound at all like you? If so, take heart! Church history is replete with examples of people who have stumbled repeatedly in their pursuit of obedience to the Great Commission. The stories of William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, Adoniram Judson, and a host of others are full of blunders, miscues, weakness, sickness, poverty. The amazing thing is that the Gospel goes forward on the shoulders of people just like you and me.

“The Ayatollah Khomeini has turned out to be one of modern Christianity’s greatest missionaries”

the title for this blog is taken from the July/August 2012 issue of Christianity Today, p. 47

With the certainty of an Israel-led attack on Iran this October, the question confronting evangelicals in America is: “How does an American evangelical view this significant event?”

Though opinions on this attack are complicated and varied, I want to suggest three views that are important.

First, there are those Americans (with a large number of evangelicals thrown in) who can’t wait for this to happen. To this group, the assault is viewed as a proper response to Iranian anti-Semitic, inflammatory statements that describe Israel as “a cancer on humanity” that must be erased from the planet. These individuals respond to Ahmadinejad’s or Khomeini’s vitriol by describing Islam as a “cancer” and, viewing Iran as a threat to American security and considering Israel to be God’s chosen people to always be defended, they long to see justice done.

The second group would be at the other end of the spectrum. These would be concerned by the political, environmental, and sociological implications of such a an attack. Right now, though Middle Eastern problems are unresolved, at least we have a “comfortable” understanding of how things stand in the Middle East. With this coming assault on Iran, all the cards in the deck are going to be thrown high into the air and where they land no one knows. But everyone is sure the resulting landscape in the Middle East will not be pretty. (Members of the first group may also be found in this group.)

Third, there are evangelical Americans who attempt to evaluate everything in terms of the Great Commission. While having political opinions, loyalties to America, a love for Israel, and a fundamental disagreement with Islam, this group nevertheless desires to prioritize the advance of the Gospel above personal ideology or emotional attachments.

It is into this third group that I want to urge all evangelical Americans to take up membership.

In the West, we often have difficulty distinguishing our American priorities from the main concern of the advance of the kingdom of God. American evangelicals are disturbed about the “Islamization” of Europe and alarming statistics can be cited to justify this concern. But perhaps our anxieties would be relieved if we considered how the migration of unreached peoples to the west are putting them within easy reach of the Gospel.

God is at work! The data surfacing on the church in Iran suggests an explosive growth rate for the underground church in Iran. In spite of persecution, the Iranian church is growing. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and our concern should be for them, for their vitality and continued spread of the Gospel.

Meanwhile in Europe, a minimum of 500 Persians (Iranians are direct descendants of the Persians of the Bible and prefer to be called Persian) in Germany alone become Christians every year. And the number could be much, much higher…

May I suggest that we should spend less time breathing venom against Iran and Islam? Let us thank God for the spread of the Gospel among Persians. May we devote more energy toward aggressive intercession that God would steer the October attack for good for the spread of the Gospel within Iran and among Iranians around the world. – Dave Shive

Europe: Anti-Semitism and the Gospel – A 21st Century Missiological Conundrum

My recent missions trip to Europe was an eye-opener on many fronts…I noticed, for instance, that while most Americans that I talk with are disinterested in and woefully ignorant of European politics, many Europeans are fascinated by American politics and follow it religiously. Of course, European understanding of American politics is often muddled by the slanted sources of information made available through European news outlets.

I discovered many new and fascinating things about Europe during my trip. But out of all of the striking observations that could be made, none rise to the level of the realization that anti-Semitism is afoot.

In the 1930-1940s, Hitler’s Nazi genocidal policy focused on the undesirable in society: Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, the handicapped, Poles, Slavs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, dissenting clergy…and the list goes on. Today there is a resurgence of these classical anti-Semitic notions in the emergence of a European “neo-Nazi” movement that is frightening. Of particular interest to me, since I came to Europe in part to learn more about missions among east European gypsies, the 21st century version of this ultra-conservative European political movement is focused especially on Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals.

In a recent survey this year, when asked if violence against Jews is rooted in anti-Jewish or anti-Israel sentiment, 40% of Europeans responded that it was the result of anti-Jewish sentiment. In France, 45% of those surveyed held this view, up from 39% in a 2009 survey. 24% of the French population now holds anti-Semitic views, up from 20% in 2009.

This 2012 survey found particularly high levels of anti-Semitism in three nations: Hungary, Spain and Poland. There the numbers for anti-Semitic attitudes are literally off the charts and demand a serious response from political, civic and religious leaders.
• In Spain, where Jewish civic groups say Spaniards blame their economic woes on the country’s Jews, 72% of the population holds anti-Jewish views, compared with 64% in 2009.
• In Hungary, 63% of the population holds anti-Semitic views, up from 47% in 2009.
• In Poland, 48% show anti-Semitic attitudes, about the same as 2009.

Some European countries actually have recognized political parties that espouse neo-Nazi doctrines and have seated individuals from these parties in their government ruling bodies. For example, in Greece the “Golden Dawn” party has espoused neo-Nazi ideals and has used Nazi symbolism and has praised former Nazi figures. In a 2012 election, Golden Dawn received 7% of the popular vote and has seated 18 members in the Greek parliament.

So, while we Americans are mostly conscious of the economic perils assailing the European continent, there is an even more insidious movement stirring across the pond that should arouse our curiosity.

For missions, the questions are: How does this new move affect the advance of the kingdom of God in post-Christian Europe? What are the implications for missions of this anti-Semitic phenomenom? Is this new movement an opportunity for the spread of the Gospel or an obstacle? How do we pray for Europe? What new missiological strategies must emerge if the Gospel is to once again influence Europe?

Dave Shive, August 2012