I’m really not in a position to comment authoritatively because of my extreme ignorance about central European history. But am in the city of Eger in Hungary for the European Leaders Forum – a fantastic event, on which more in a future post – and have had the chance to wander around this wonderful Baroque city a bit. The period for which this city is perhaps most renowned in Hungarian minds is the Ottoman occupation in the second half of the sixteenth century. Suleiman the Magnificent (right) had started his expansion into Europe in 1520 and by 1552 was knocking on Eger’s door. The story of the courageous resistance that his forces met at Eger has passed into legend – with the Hungarian Istvan Dobo holding out for 39 days of bloody and terrifying fighting – culminating in a full Turkish withdrawal.
However in 1596, under the decidedly unpleasant Sultan Mehmed III, the city finally fell to the Turks and this resulted in nearly 80 years of Turkish rule. So every now and then, in this impressively Baroque and extravagantly Roman Catholic city, you turn a corner to find a relic of its Muslim past. The famous Minaret (left) is the tallest in Hungary and the northern-most in Europe. It looks precarious and unsteady – despite the fact that it is 400 years old and tourists can still climb its 97 steps. But it stands as a helpful reminder of the shifting sands of European history – and the simple fact that political power imposes worldview changes as much as (if not more so) than simply following the winds of shifting worldviews. 20th century history is a sufficient evidence of that – with the drastic and often violent impositions of Fascism, Nazism, Communism and (dare I say it) Capitalism. Of course, before that Christianity itself was all too often imposed by force, so Christians can’t exactly throw stones on that front.
But i have to say that there is a fundamental difference between the means by which Christian growth is mandated in the New Testament and the foundations of Islam. For it would be impossible to justify any notion of forced conversions from the New Testament (eg Paul in 2 Corinthians4 is radical in his denunciation of any form of deception, coercion or dishonesty in preaching). Whereas early Islamic growth was brought about by Muhammad leading an overpowering military force on the resistant city of Mecca. It is totally inconceivable that Jesus would ever even have considered such a tactic.
The thing is there are secularist forces at work challenging both Islam’s and Christianity’s right even to exist and speak in Europe. They are following the same old pattern – with a significant number using political means to impose (ironic, isn’t it?!) libertarian ideology. This is frightening – but not in the end surprising, nor omnipotent (as the fluidity of European history illustrates). But it presents Christians with a huge challenge. We must hold our nerve and resolutely follow Paul’s example today and avoid responding in kind (despite so many media distortions, untruths and misrepresentations of Christians). As we find ourselves increasingly marginalised in Europe – we MUST avoid any underhand, deceptive or coercive means by which to present to cause of Christ. More on this to come!