It has to be recognised that some cultures are more hospitable to the Gospel than others, that Gospel possibilities spoken into them are more likely to resonate in some than others.
It is something I remember talking about at my interview for coming here.
The example was late Victorian and early twentieth century Anglo-Catholic mission in parts of the Pacific and in Japan (the latter including service by one of my father’s aunts, but that isn’t relevant).
The personnel, churchmanship and approach was roughly the same. But in one place the queues of those coming for Baptism sometimes spread towards the river down the whole side of a valley. In the other the impact was comparatively negligible.
And a (possibly superficial) explanation is that the communal assumptions of one culture and the ‘honour’ culture of the other was the most significant factor in the different levels of engagement and impact.
It seemed relevant at interview because it is worth exploring at least the possibilty that post-war cultural shifts in England are one factor in the decline of mainstream Christianity; we would simply expect the church to be smaller in the culture which has emerged. If so, some far from superficial analysis of this is urgently needed.
I’ve thought of all this again this month because of one hint given on the ‘faithful neighbours’ training all clergy new to the diocese of Leeds are asked to undertake to equip them for appropriate ministry in what are often multi-faith settings.
The hint was that conversion to Christianity from Shia Islam is a greater possibility than from Sunni Islam. It is certainly true that there are Anglican churches which find they need to read the Gospel in Farsi at services (that is, churches which have a significant number of members who originate in Iran), including one down the road from us in Keighley.
The tentative suggestion was that minority and frequently persecuted Shia may know more within themselves about ‘passion’, while the majority dominant Sunni may be more habituated to a triumphalist religious experience; in certain contexts the first might encounter the Gospel as speaking into their situation while the other might be much more likely to find it alien.
Meanwhile, a little ahead of myself, I’ve been looking for illustrations for Advent orders of service and have been touched by the grasped hand and held gaze in this encounter between young Mary pregnant with Jesus and her cousin older Elizabeth pregnant with John the Baptist (perhaps the moment John leapt in her womb at hearing Mary’s news) in a window at St Michael’s, Haworth.