Statement at the International Council of Higher Education, Singapore

Here is my statement given on behalf of the board of Martin Bucer European Seminary and Research Institutes and on behalf of the World Evangelical Fellowship at the symposium of the International Council of Higher Education in Singapore.

Conversions from one world view to the other, from one religion to the other, and from one lifestyle to the other take place more often today than ever before, whether expressed in absolute numbers or as a percentage.

We have to accept that worldwide developments do not make things easier. Globalization leads to an ever growing number of encounters with and confrontations between religions, world views, education levels, etc. These take place at the individual level but lead all the way up to world politics. These encounters and confrontations may be peaceful and fruitful, or they may be senseless or harming.

A higher percentage of the world population than ever before changes their religious affiliation every year. There are three major reasons for this.

1. Children today often have different professions, life styles and musical interests than their parents, and they often move to totally different places or countries. The result is that many children feel less and less obliged to follow the traditions of their forefathers. A growing number of orphans or displaced people do not even have a chance to get to know their parents’ culture and home. In Western countries parents tend to finance their children’s education even if they do not like the professions their children choose. And what starts out in the West makes inroads into one country and culture after the other.

Religion is no exception and can hardly be made into the only exception. In the Western world, it is simply normal that children change their religious and political orientations. In other regions of the world, this phenomenon is statistically on the rise and often encounters cultures which are totally unprepared. The result is that this phenomenon is experienced as a shock.

2. At least in theory, Globalisation, including radio, TV and the internet, confronts every adherent of a specific religion and all the thousands of other religions in the world as well. This is in sharp contrast to 100 years ago, when the vast majority of the world’s population never got into contact with the message of another religion or another denomination during their whole lifetime!

At the same time, the number of interreligious marriages is growing – to take just one typical area of change. This is due to the fact that, on average, young people get to know many more possible partners than a generation ago. Among these possible partners are more representatives of other religions than ever before. In Germany, marriages between Catholics and free church-evangelicals have become common, even though it is still something pastors on both sides do not like at all. As a consequence, a Catholic priest and a Baptist pastor, who otherwise would ignore each other, have to meet on behalf of a couple.

3. The modern relationship between parents, children, and globalization was supplemented by the growing number of democratic states in the 20th century. In a democracy there is religious freedom and religious pluralism. That normally helps small religious communities with no political influence more than the predominant religions. In pre-democratic times, the latter could often rely on the help of politics and civil society for at least subtle pressure on the entire culture to remain associated with the religion one was born into. Latin America is a typical inner-Christian example, where the long standing dominance of the Catholic faith – both in numbers and political influence – has been giving way to a growing group of Protestant churches and different sects and cults,  especially in free countries.

By the way, in order to stir up some discussion with my Catholic friends: When the Pope blamed Evangelicals for stealing millions of sheep in Latin America, I had two questions: 1. Is there someone who really can control what Brazilians, for example, do? As you probably know, it is not American Evangelicals who evangelize in Brazil. Rather, it is Brazilian Evangelicals. And even if the Pope has problems with Latin American bishops, how should an Evangelical body really tell Brazilians to stop preaching? 2. Is it really a major danger that Latin America will one day become Evangelical? Is it not a greater danger that Latin America could become non-Christian? In Spain the Catholic Church loses 2.7% of its members each year, mostly to atheism and non-religion – there are less than half a million Evangelicals in Spain. What if for 20 years all those leaving the Catholic Church would have become Evangelical? These remarks are, as I said, only to be viewed as a starting point for discussion.

Especially in democracies, many young people choose their favourite religion as they choose their favourite music or cell phone provider. They have no grasp of the major impact this has on society, culture, and tradition. In Eastern Europe many churches and religious groups have been increasingly experiencing this since 1989, and for many it has come like a thief in the night.

Often when a country becomes democratic or extends rights of religious liberty, crypto-religionists will show up. When the emperor allowed Protestantism in Catholic Austria in the 18th century, thousands of crypto-Protestants suddenly showed up and demanded their own public services. On the other side, in totalitarian countries one often finds many crypto-religionists. Thus, in Islamic countries like Egypt there are many secret Christians, and in Shi’ite Iran there are many crypto-Sunnis. And even in India, there are large numbers of crypto-Christians believed to be among the officially Hindu Dalits.

The human rights revolution, in conjunction with the protection of religious freedom, has brought about a religious balkanization and a growing war for souls. Attempts are often made to stop this with all kinds of anti-conversion laws – but with no real results.

Every religious community needs conviction or some sort of pressure and coercion in order to retain its adherents. Everyone who has children knows that. Either one communicates convictions as to why people should remain with their religion, or one has some sort of societal pressure that ensures that these people will not want to change or cannot change.  You can observe this in traditional religions as well as in highly industrialized, secular societies. An unalterable, stable, and unified religious culture is only possible by coercion. If the next generation does not have the possibility of making its own decisions about what it will believe, that in itself is a case where human rights have been violated.

Global and integrated Learning is the best Education in this Situation

What does this have to do with education? Young men and women are looking for new options on the global market like never before. Convinced Christians should offer these young people an integrated world view without any coercion, but rather one with many good arguments.

Today we have the opportunity for teachers in India to teach young people in Austria, for Chinese schools to educate Africans, and for assembling the best teachers and examples from all continents to provide a Christian education. That is not limited to education in purely spiritual questions. Rather, it covers everything in our globalized world.

There are young people who are bound to switch their world view and way of life away from what their parents thought and lived, including those coming from Christian families. We have the chance to present them with good educational opportunities on a scale we never thought of only a few decades ago. Let’s use the chance as long it is there – who knows how the world will look in 20 years!


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