A Gordian Knot

February 2010

Dear Friends,

     It would be difficult for us to ignore the worldwide phenomenon of Islam, even if we tried. The subject is pasted in the news quite regularly. Take, for example, the recent fuss over the ban against using the name Allah by any non-Muslim in Malaysia. Although the official law states that one can be imprisoned for using this nomenclature, which many Christians use to speak of the biblical God, it is almost never applied. Still, that there should be such a law at all is striking.

     Last fall the highly democratic nation of Switzerland voted decisively against constructing Minarets in Swiss towns. What was the reason? According to the Swiss government the decision was not “a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture.” Nevertheless, this vote must have come from somewhere. Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, Switzerland’s prominent minister of justice, has declared that this vote reflects a fear among the Swiss of Islamic fundamentalism.

     The French have similar issues with Islam. President Nicholas Sarkozy recently has called for a national debate about the subject. The result was a vitriolic discussion of the nature of French identity as opposed to “foreign” concepts. Are all criticisms of the Islamic presence in France xenophobic? French identity is historically defined as “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité,” the three virtues of the Revolution of 1789. On the surface, such an ideology would seem entirely secular, and hostile to any religion. Yet a cherished virtue in this “lay” state is the freedom for religion. So, how can France be both “un pays d’accueil” (a welcoming country), which has to include Muslims, and stay truly secular? It’s a Gordian knot.

There are very good answers to this dilemma. Consider the “Kuyperian” outlook espoused by the Reformed Seminary in Aix-en- Provence. Deep religious differences may be held in a society which is mixed. Muslims, secularists, Catholics, Huguenots, and newer mix-and- match beliefs such as New Age, all may coexist, on condition that government exercises its proper role. The state cannot impose any sort of confessional uniformity on a country. Yet it can, and must, promote discussions on how to live together with deep differences. What are the rules? They are the standards of justice given in God’s Word and complemented through his common grace. Even though governments may not acknowledge such a source, yet it is real. God appoints magistrates to reward the good and punish evil (Romans 13:1-7). For modern France this is not an abstract question. It is urgent. Could this be the window we have been waiting for, so that the voice of biblical religion can cut the Gordian knot?

Very Truly yours,

William Edgar, President