Book Review: Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration
“Make America Great Again” Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, so familiar to us now, is a battlecry of hope for some Americans, while for others it is a sinister harbinger of a less inclusive era. In the year since President Trump’s inauguration, countless opinions have been written to dissect his policies and measure his motives. And while it is still only possible for God to reveal what lies in a man’s heart, 2017 has shown us that many Americans are nostalgic for a time in our country’s past when they believe things were simpler. A time when globalization had not yet required us to live alongside people of other religions and cultures. A time when upholding your own values also meant upholding nearly everyone else’s.
Whether you too feel this same nostalgia, or are opposed to its very basis, Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear by Matthew Kaemingk is a book you need to read. Kaemingk uses his experience in The Netherlands, and their response to Muslim immigration over the last 50 years as the backdrop for his presentation of “Christian pluralism.” With the help of late 19th century theologian Abraham Kuyper, he describes Christian pluralism as “a state and society in which all worldviews [can] publically flourish and advocate for their own unique visions for the common good” (82).
As Western countries, including the United States, have grown more and more liberal, Kaemingk notes that Christians have usually responded in one of four ways. Some have assimilated and conceded their unique convictions to the liberal consensus. Others have adopted moderation, holding onto some of their convictions while modifying others. Still others have retreated from the public square and established cloistered Christian communities. Finally, some have chosen to respond to increasing liberalism with retribution, hoping to restore their country by reinstating a Christian hegemony. To both Kaemingk and Kuyper, none of these four responses is adequate, so they present Christian pluralism as a fifth alternative.
Faithful Christians, Kaemingk argues, need not concede the bold public expression of their faith, or their conviction that believing in Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. However, as citizens of a secular nation, Kaemingk posits that Christians do have to seek justice and equity for others who would also like to bring their beliefs into the public square. Trump’s presidency has pulled back a curtain from American evangelicalism and revealed a disconcerting desire to not only make America great again, but to make Christianity great again too. Throughout his book Kaemingk reminds us that any desire to restore America as a Christian nation is “a blasphemous attempt by the church to claim Christ’s authority for itself” (104).
Kaemingk’s position certainly sounds bold, especially when one considers the prevailing rhetoric of our time. Yet even in his enthusiasm for radical hospitality and freedom for American Muslims (and others) to live out their faith in the public square, he remains balanced. He explains how Christian pluralism, rather than seeking to abolish law and order and throw wide the doors of welcome, would actually fall apart without meaningful boundaries. Biblical hospitality means extending love and welcome to strangers. If all distinctions between citizens and immigrants, the native and the newcomer were to be erased, hospitality would become meaningless.
The first two-thirds of the book are spent learning from The Netherland’s response to Muslim immigration, and then unpacking this robust Christian pluralism with the help of Kuyper and other theologians. But in the final sections of the book, Kaemingk explores what it might look like for Christians today to grow a practice of just, hospitable pluralism. He discusses the importance of weaving pluralism into our worship, through lament and liturgy, and he presents the importance of “micro-practices” - ordinary ways that we can extend welcome to others on a daily basis.
In a time when opinions on immigration appear to be limited, either to the left-wing extreme of uncritical multiculturalism, or to the right-wing extreme of intolerant nationalism, Kaemingk’s book comes as a refreshing wind of encouragement to Christians whose hearts ache for something more. As I read, I found myself cheering at times, and tearing up at others, so grateful to know that I was not alone in my longing for American Christians to more fully and faithfully image the justice and hospitality of Christ in our multicultural society.
For those Christians who find a slogan like “make America great again” deeply disturbing, I hope this book will encourage and equip you to appropriately lead the church in a renewal of biblical justice and hospitality in the public square. And for those Christians who pine for a time when living in our country didn’t seem to be so complicated, I pray that this book will soften your heart toward the strangers who live among you and increase your confidence in the God who alone is sovereign over the future of America.