Christianity is making a comeback in Europe – and it’s mostly thanks to Muslims, say experts in Islam and faith leaders.
A soaring number of Muslims, many of them refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, are converting to Christianity, breathing new life into Europe’s once floundering Christian churches. The Muslims are flocking to various Christian denominations, experts said, including becoming Protestants, evangelical or Catholic.
As many parts of Europe are becoming more secular and houses of worship are seeing congregants leave in droves, it is Muslim converts who are reviving struggling Christian churches.
"European churches have struggled for decades to share the gospel with modern secular Europeans,” Matthew Kaemingk, a professor at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Seattle, told Fox News. “They have found Muslim immigrants to be much more open to the message of Christianity."
Kaemingk, who has done research focused on Christian responses to Muslim immigration in the Netherlands, and has written a book titled “Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear” that will be published this fall, said secular Europeans rarely sense a deep need for the type of healing and salvation the church offers.
It's illegal in many Muslim countries to convert to another religion. It's safer to convert to Christianity in Europe.
“Europeans are wealthy, comfortable, healthy, and powerful,” Kaemingk said. “In short, they don't think they need God.”
But, he added, Muslim immigrants are quite the opposite – they are intensely spiritual. But they are leaving their own religion for a variety of reasons.
Some Muslim refugees settling in European counties may be converting on the assumption that their odds for obtaining political asylum will improve if they are Christian, according to the Guardian. Others may have had an earlier interest in converting but were unable to do so while they lived in the Middle East, where conversions are often prohibited and could make the family a target. Some jihadist groups, including ISIS, target Christians for murder in such countries as Syria and Iraq.
Others are turning to Christianity to assimilate in their new country.
“The average Muslim newcomer in Europe experiences a tremendous amount of societal pressure. They experience racism, poverty, exclusion, discrimination, language and cultural barriers, and a deep sense of displacement,” Kaemingk said. “Their sense of homelessness is not only geographical, it is spiritual. Churches who offer these Muslims real and meaningful hospitality are seeing some surprising results."
Germany received nearly 900,000 asylum seekers in 2016; the majority was from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, according to published reports. Churches in Berlin and Hamburg were faced with so many asylum seekers wanting to convert that they held baptisms in municipal swimming pools.
The increasing number of asylum seekers in Germany prompted the nation’s evangelical church leaders to issue a handbook on baptizing the converts, reported The Independent.
“In recent years, asylum seekers - either alone or as a family - have increasingly turned to the Christian faith and asked church communities whether they could be baptized,” the handbook’s introduction said. “This is a special challenge, not only for asylum seekers, but also for parish priests, parishioners and parishes, who guide those being baptized for many hours, sensitively and responsibly.”
In Austria, the Catholic Church received some 300 applications for adult baptism in the first three months of 2016, and nearly three-quarters of those are refugees converting from Islam, the Guardian reported. An Iranian man told the Guardian that he moved to Austria because he tried to convert in his homeland but was frequently harassed for doing so.
The man said that one time, as he left a Bible class in Iran, he and others who had been in his study group were attacked. The refugee, identified only as “Johannes,” said that conversion is so frowned-upon in his homeland that only his sister knows about his decision to become a Christian.
“A religion that began with violence cannot lead people to freedom and love,” Johannes said, explaining his disillusionment with Islam. “Jesus Christ said ‘those who use the sword will die by the sword’. This really changed my mind.”
Kamal Nawash, the former legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and current president of the Free Muslims Coalition, told Fox News that those who convert likely were not deeply devout Muslims to begin with.
“Someone who is really orthodox won’t do it,” Nawash said. “And others have come from countries where religion and state are not separated, like it is here in the United States, and where religion is imposed. Sometimes when people leave that place, and meet people who invite them to their church, they think ‘I’m happy here, why don’t I become a Christian?’”
All told, Nawash said, the conversions are not likely to make much difference in the Muslim population in general.
“We’re still,” he said, “talking about very small numbers.”