A Heart for Muslims: Temple Gairdner’s Legacy


Last week we took a respite from our series on the history of missions to discuss Donald Trump and his perceived manipulation of Christianity. This week, we return to our series once again, but this time we find ourselves in Cairo. In the wake of the horrific attacks in Brussels, and the resultant xenophobic rants regarding Muslims coming into this country, today’s blog seeks to focus on a missionary who served Muslim communities. William Henry Temple, or simply Temple, Gairdner (1873-1928) served for almost three decades in Cairo, Egypt (Tucker, 244).

Gairdner’s role as a missionary to Muslims was aided by his ability to learn very quickly, including learning Arabic “well enough to become involved in teaching in less than a year” (Tucker, 243). He also, along with his wife (they were married in 1902), used their musical talents to put on concerts to draw Christians and Muslims together (Tucker, 243). Importantly, Gairdner changed his tactics in ministering to Muslims in Cairo. He shifted from the typical missionary strategy of arguing the differences between Christianity and Islam to more calmly discussing the problems that Muslims had with Christian beliefs (Tucker, 244). He even sought to engage Muslims where they were.

Gairdner spent time trying to work with Coptic Christians in the area, but found few of them were very interested in helping out with the missionary work among Muslims (Tucker, 245). Gairdner’s publishing and his teaching left resources to his mission after his death in 1928 (Tucker, 245). Tucker also notes that Gairdner’s real legacy was the resulting increased desire for people to pick up his mantle of missionary work among Muslims, particularly in the Anglican Church (Tucker, 245).

Although Gairdner could be seen as successful in many ways, there were problems in the mission, notably a lack of helpers. This greatly hindered Gairdner’s publishing work, and even though he spent a year studying Islam with world-renowned experts, he was unable to really make an impact in the scholastic realm (Tucker, 244-45). Gairdner himself even lamented it, noting that he could have made a real contribution to the field. He also saw some of his fellow-Christians renounce their faith and convert to Islam (Tucker 243). So, while he did have some modest successes, one might say that he had just as many setbacks.

I want to point out that in today’s religio-political climate in the United States, we have a variety of opinions, especially with regard to Muslims. I think that Gairdner might assist us by his passion for working and engaging with the Muslim communities around us. As mentioned above, there have been a number of xenophobic responses to ISIS-claimed attacks around the world, most notably by Donald Trump. Trump has said several times that the United States should start banning all Muslims from coming to this country. Ted Cruz likewise has recently stated that Muslim communities around this country need to be monitored. I think such positions on Muslims would appall Muslim missionaries like Temple Gairdner. His methodology was to engage Muslims, not fear them. He even lamented the Coptic Christian Church near him for not doing more to minister to Muslims that were a part of their own communities.

Last night, while watching election coverage of “Western Tuesday” (yet another moniker assigned to a day when more than one state holds a primary), I heard several analysts talking about how each time there has been a ISIS-led terrorist attack around the world, Donald Trump gets a bump in the polls. I find such reactions by the American people alarming to say the least. Without getting too political (although I fear I may have already), I would say that we should be worried when we hear things like, “We have no choice but to ban all Muslims from entering this country,” from our presidential front-runners. I would also say that we should be shocked and appalled when such statements are met with exuberant applause by the masses.

Temple Gairdner took issue with the standard Christian missionary practice of his time, which was to fiercely debate Islam and Christianity. His approach sought to meet Muslims where they were and engage their beliefs. While I recognize that Gairdner’s methods were rooted in mission work and politicians like Trump and Cruz are focused on political strategy, I think Gairdner’s legacy still fits. His time in Cairo was not always happy and not always met with successes, but he nevertheless remained there until his death because he believed in the work he was doing. He believed in God’s call on his life. I would even contend that he had a heart for Muslims. I wish that our political climate, particularly political establishments that are aligned with a Christian majority, would share Gairdner’s sympathy and love for Muslims and eschew Trump’s xenophobia. After all, this country was founded on religious freedom, and I hate to break it to many people out there, but Islam is a religion.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts on these issues? Is today’s geopolitical climate too different from from Gairdner’s to make these assertions? Has ISIS changed the game permanently?

Midweek Medieval Blog: The Black Plague: How the Church Responds to Pandemics

While the Ebola pandemic unfortunately continues in Africa, many people in the USA see it as “contained.” I could write an entire blog about the panic of people here, the fight against Ebola in Africa, groups like Doctors without Borders, etc. I urge people to continue to pray for Africa and their battle with the disease. But for today’s blog post I wanted to examine a similar topic related to the Medieval Era: the Black Plague of the mid-1300s. Historians believe that the Plague killed between 30,000,000 and 40,000,000 people in Europe in three years (F. Donald Logan, A History of the The Church in the Middle Ages, 283). There are many sources which examine the Plague from a medical perspective, but I want to discuss the impact that the Plague had upon the Medieval Church.

Obviously, when 30-40% of the people in Europe die in a three year period, the church will be impacted. In fact, whole religious communities perished because their close proximity to one another in such closed-in buildings. The response of the church throughout Europe was varied. In many places, the clergy worked closely with the infected: caring for the sick, performing last rites, and even burying the dead. Other clergy fled to save themselves, often leaving people no one to whom to confess their sins. Some of these clergy advocated confessing sins to other laity as a substitute, and then if the infected survived, confessing sins to a parish priest later (Logan, 283).

Another negative response from the church was to make scapegoats of people groups. Some attacked Muslims, some attacked lepers as if they were responsible, but the most popular scapegoats were the Jews. France and Germany had many instances where Jews were burned alive inside wooden buildings, as Jews were accused of poisoning the water supply (Logan, 284).

One of the more interesting responses was penance in the form of flagellation. Many monks were seen walking into the streets without shirts and whipping each other as a form of retribution. They believed that whipping the flesh would curtail lusts and desires of the flesh, and possibly serve as penance for whatever had brought about the Plague. Pope Clement VI condemned the flagellation movement shortly thereafter, however (Logan, 285-86).

So, what does the Plague of the fourteenth century show us about the Medieval Church? Well, it shows the church’s humanity, both in the fearful fleeing of some clergy and the courageous work of others with the infected. It also shows its propensity to blame others, especially Jews (an issue which would unfortunately continue). Finally, the religious fanaticism in response to such an apocalyptic event also reveals a great deal about the Medieval Church and its fascination with atoning for whatever brought on the pandemic.

In the USA today, we encounter many shocking events, the recent Ebola scare being an obvious parallel. When a nurse flew from Dallas to Cleveland, we saw some of the aforementioned blaming arise. The whole nation was fearful of an outbreak, and people started buying Ebola-proof suits off of Ebay. Fear, blaming, and ostracizing should never be the response of the church to catastrophic events. Prayer, love, compassion, and even people going into harm’s way should characterize the church’s response. The benefit of modern technology allows such a response to be done carefully and in a well-informed manner.

What other parallels do you see today? How can the church respond to other pandemics like AIDS, malaria, and cholera?

Unbelievers in Anselm of Canterbury


Well, it’s been over a month since I last posted anything, but in that time I have been able to get some much needed reading in. I have recently read through Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo for the second time and was struck by a specific passage. While the work articulates many of the viewpoints voiced by unbelievers against Christians (usually articulated by Boso), most of the text is Anselm’s response and defense of Christian teachings. However, one of the descriptions of unbelievers sticks out in particular. I quote it below from A Scholastic Miscellany: Anselm to Ockham, ed. Eugene R. Fairweather (p. 104):

“The unbelievers, who laugh at our simplicity, charge that we do God injury and insult when we assert that he descended into the womb of a woman, that he was born of a woman, that he grew, nourished by milk and human foods, and -not to speak of many other things that seem inappropriate for God -that he bore weariness, hunger, thirst, blows, and a cross and death between the thieves” (Cur Deus Homo 1.3)

The reason that I wanted to blog about this is that the first line really stuck out to me: “The unbelievers, who laugh at our simplicity…” I find this to be the case largely today. Christians are mocked, scorned, and decried for their “simple-mindedness” and their continued “living in a pre-Enlightenment world.” Many of these arguments bother me greatly, as some of the most intelligent, analytical people I have ever met approach their faith from an intellectual angle. These people also have some of the strongest faiths I have ever encountered.

In today’s USA, there are numerous examples of Christians who are given a massive media outlet to espouse their positions on social issues (such as the Duck Dynasty controversy and the Chick-Fil-A fiasco). Often these individuals are painted as “typical small-minded Christians.” I really despise this term since these people actually don’t speak for most Christians, yet unbelievers often portray them as representing all Christians. I don’t wish to rehash the debates on these issues, I just find them worth mentioning here.

While one must be careful when reading Anselm’s depiction of unbelievers (in much the same way I oppose unbelievers’ portrayal of Christians today), I think there is some degree of applicability to today where unbelievers mock Christians for their simplicity. I welcome your thoughts on this matter. Do unbelievers unfairly characterize Christians? Are unbelievers unfairly characterized today? What about other religions? Do Christians fairly represent them in their discussions of other faiths? Atheists, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Hindus? I would unfortunately have to admit that the answer is probably no.

One last thing to ponder: Is simplicity a bad thing?