Commentary
By Greg Williams 1-31-2018

Can I care about preserving your rights and respecting your culture’s dignity if I think you’re going to hell?

Dr. Matthew Kaemingk, an ethicist at Fuller Seminary, asks this question as an exclusivist Christian for other exclusivist Christians — that is, people who worry that by not accepting Jesus as his personal savior, their Muslim neighbor is going to hell — in his new book Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear. Though others are welcome to listen in to his answer, he writes specifically to people who are concerned their Muslim neighbor is going to hell.

Fundamentally, Kaemingk says, the answer is yes: Pluralism is valuable because Jesus is the sovereign lord of everything — all places, people, religions, and cultures. We are hospitable, Kaemingk notes, because God was fundamentally hospitable to us. (Jesus healed the ear of a man who was unjustly arresting him and taking him to be murdered.) That kind of radical hospitality should drive our large-scale politics, but also our local action and our modest daily life with one another. At Jesus’ return, at the end of history, God’s rule will be fully manifest. Until then, counsels Kaemingk, we need to accept and value people for their difference.

The book is an excellent adaptation of a particular Reformed political theology to the particular problem of pluralism: How we can live together with respect in light of huge differences, without downplaying the difference or allowing it to destroy us?

In Christian Hospitality, he establishes a robust vision of pluralism that falls somewhere between Mecca and Amsterdam: the archetypes of “Muslim other” and “liberal state.” Kaemingk attempts to model a third way of engagement — not a nationalist vow to “build a high wall,” nor a multiculturalist call to “make an open door,” but a pluralist hospitality, to “set a welcoming table.”

This approach to pluralism would enable people of all ideologies and religions to flourish in their own contexts: as Muslim, Christian, atheist, or Jew.

We should critique books for what they say, not what they leave unsaid, but in our American present context, I’m concerned that Kaemingk doesn’t write sufficiently about race.

The Reformed community and thinkers on which he bases much of his argument (Abraham Kuyper, most notably) have a poor track record when it comes to race. Kuyper’s neo-reformed political and social movement in the Netherlands was an ideological inspiration for Apartheid in South Africa, and the man himself was demonstrably racist. This doesn’t wholly invalidate Kaemingk’s text, but as Kuyper's ideas are such a major element of Kaemingk’s argument, it is worth exploring.

Kaemingk says multiple times that the multiculturalist “open door” policy doesn’t actually work, but his description of why merely seems to rest on people applying it poorly. A true welcome doesn’t force people to integrate into a society without securing their buy-in — nor does it require citizens to not veil themselves, as has happened in his example multiculturalist state of the Netherlands. That is covert hegemony, which a vibrant multiculturalism would oppose.

So I wonder why Kaemingk feels so strongly that he must seek a third way. In most ways, the pluralism he espouses seems to simply be a form of appropriately-understood multiculturalism.

Nevertheless, Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear lays out a creative solution to the difficult questions of how we can best love and welcome others as Christ would. I pray that his words bear fruit.

Greg Williams is communications director at an advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. He tweets @gwilliamsster and blogs at fourthconfession.

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