Church asylum and the vocation of the church in a post ecclesiastical society

It is not yet correct to refer to our society as post ecclesiastical, but secularisation proceeds rapidly (SCP, December 19th 2018). Those who do believe are a motley assembly. What should the attitude of the church be in this post christian, nearly post ecclesiastical and multi- religious context?

The Bethel Chapel in The Hague offered church asylum tot he Armenian family of Tamrazyan for some months. A non-stop church service prevented the deportation of this family who have exhausted all procedures. In this way the church has contributed to a political switch in thinking about a pardon rule for children (a rule allowing children who had been in this country for minimal five years to be exempt from deportation). I consider this switch as an answer to prayer. So now we can look back with an eye to the future. For, in the presented church asylum many aspects join that are relevant for the question of this article.

Church asylum in the Bethel Chapel (The Hague). What should the attitude of the church be in this post christian, nearly post ecclesiastical and multi- religious context? (Photo Maarten Boersema)

Religious freedom.
The discussion about church asylum was rather docile. Bible texts like Romans 13 and Matthew 25 were mentioned. There was the question to which extent you can use a non-stop church service for charity. This, then, is about the government, the church and their relation. But, now consider the entire discussion in the context of just mentioned social developments. I did this in the Dutch daily Nederlands Dagblad (December 14th  2018) by means of a mind experiment: suppose a mosque would render church asylum, what would happen? The reactions would be different from the situation of a church doing this, because church asylum in a mosque would enflame all sorts of anti- islam feelings. What this mind experiment makes clear is that there are other questions at stake than those which play a prominent role in the church asylum case. How does the church raise a (protest) voice in a society that is nearly post ecclesiastical and in majority not religious? Does the church want to make use of a right belonging to a dominant position from the past? Do not you implicitly confirm what many Dutch people think: the church is an institute of the past – a time during which mosques and other religious institutions were hardly or even not at all in view? Would not the offered church asylum come down like a boomerang on the believers themselves? This makes me think of discussions about the privileged position of believers in a secular society. Today freedom of religion is not mentioned when the Dutch identity is dealt with (Dutch daily Trouw, Januari 16th 2019).

The church holds mercy and justice in the highest regard. She cannot remain silent in cases of injustice. She cannot close her doors when alarm cries sound. I admire the attitude of the Katwijk church who initially rendered church asylum. In addition, it is important that the church continues to focus on the context in which she lives and that she shows in her protest whose property she is. Sometimes christians seem to suffer from a calimero complex (a well-known saying in our country): because you are a small group you feel not taken seriously. And in order to stand out in a small and also multy-coloured company, you have to do flashy things. In this context I think of new mega-churches in the Dutch Bible Belt. Or of a vicar who sues the state for not fulfilling asylum commitments. Or the Nashville Statement. The church asylum with non-stop church service belongs to this list. There is even a risk that the church doing so, acts according tot he standard in which you should be relevant and distinctive. But the church is Jesus’s property. She is the only one on earth who need not prove herself.

When I look at this from some distance, I remember the discussion about the legitimacy of christian politican parties (2012). The reproach then was that those parties were the calimero. For, from the position of being a minority, those parties again and again opposed to secularisation. Today this discussion has fallen silent. But even more the tables have turned. You can see this in the case of the pardon rule for children which is the underlying problem of the church asylum. A political majority decided not to widen the pardon (2017). Behind this decision there is a complex question: the fiercely held discussion in civil society about migration and our Dutch identity. The CDA (Christian Democrats) declared not to get their fingers burnt on the matter of children pardon, fearing right-wing parties. And CU (Christian Union) has agreed to the coalition agreement of ministry ‘Rutte III’ after a lot of haggling. This situation lasted from 2017 up to January 2019, when the system for children pardon was abandoned, caused by a CDA switch.

My point is this: with church asylum (2018) the church  filled the gap of the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the Christian Union (CU). Reconstructions show that the church asylum contributed to the CDA switch and it also shows to what extend church and politics are entwined in these matters. (NRC Handelsblad, January 20th and Trouw, January 23rd). And this happens while today christians are just learning to acknowledge that the church is no political party and the other way round (“Long live our christian culture”, Manifest 2017). Using a non-stop church service as a sort of filibuster boosts the idea that church asylum has a political character.

The almost post ecclesiastical society calls the church back to her basics. The church exists through and because of her Lord. Her first weapon is not earthly political power (John 18 verse 36). The church lives on and through prayer. As it is, Jesus is judge and saviour in cases of mercy and righteousness. The church can even stand injustice and suffering in Jesus’s name. All these things can extensively be found in the apostolic letters of especially Paul and Peter. The church then was often in more trouble than the church in the Netherlands today.

This is not all. Deeds will always be the result (James). The church opens her doors on an emergency call. Your christian conscience is stronger than the government’s order. It cannot be ruled out that tensions will arise in this matter. The church will have to descide what is wise in each separate situation. And added to this, in a multi- religious setting the church always searches as much cooperation as possible with (non) religiously motivated Dutchmen. Fortunately this also happened in the case of pardon for children.

Finally, especially the church asylum made clear what the church looks like, today. The ministers in the non-stop service and other involved believers have varied backgrounds. This ranges from Roman Catholic, PKN (protestant church of the Netherlands) via all sorts of reformed and evangelical denominations to Remonstrants.

How encouraging. Christians are a minority. We are almost post ecclesiastical. So what? We are the Lord’s many- coloured church. This makes it worth while. The church is moving the right way.

Dordrecht February 5 2019

See also Suppose a mosque would render church asylum. A mind experiment.

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