Two stories in the media have caught my eye today. Firstly, the Sudanese lady, Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag has thankfully been able to leave Sudan. Meriam, who was raised by her mother as a nominal christian was caught in an impossible situation when she was sentenced to death for adultery, despite having been legally married to her husband. According to the religious court in Sudan, because her father was a Muslim then she also was a Muslim (whether she liked it or not) and therefore could not be married to a Christian man. An ‘Alice in Wonderland’ situation that we find difficult to comprehend in the West.
The second story relates to members of the Syriac Church in the Iraqi city of Mosul who, it is reported, have been given a stark choice by the ISIS militants. Their statement reads, “We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.” Unsurprisingly most have elected to flee.
In both cases there is an assumption that conversion can be achieved on pain of death. Of course organised Christianity over the centuries has not been immune from this fiction. From Charlemagne’s forcible conversion of the Saxons and the crusades of the Middle-Ages to more recent abuses of Native American children in mission run schools, there has been a myth perpetuated that ‘conversion’ by whatever means can somehow result in legitimate adherents.
This is not in the Bible. The whole principle of Christianity is one of faith in Jesus Christ. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”, Paul told the Philippian jailor. Faith is a matter of the will. Am I willing to accept Christ? He said, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” But he also said of the city of Jerusalem, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” To come to Him we must want to do so. It may be possible to force someone to follow a system of religion against their will, there are sadly too many examples of that. But a change of the heart requires a change of the will and that cannot be achieved by coercion.