Belgium is on pace to become the first European country to officially (and indirectly) ban the essence of conservative Islamic female identity: the Burka, according to this article in the UK’s Daily Mail.

Of course, the legislation is not worded to single out Muslims nor even the Burka. Instead, strategically, the legislation is directed toward clothing or accessories which, “covers all or most of the face’ in any public place.”

Instances of this nature raise serious questions over religious liberty and national identity; particularly when appeals to the former usurp the absolute necessity of the latter. Indeed, some may say that the ultimate failure of pluralism is its tendency to erode any lasting national identity.

How are Christians to respond to this legislation when, in an albeit different sort-of-way, we’re arguing for religious liberty on issues of marriage and the sanctity of life? As a signer of the Manhattan Declaration, Christians like myself have resolutely confirmed that we will not submit to laws which violate our consciences. Don’t Muslims deserve the same in a “Golden Rule” manner? What separates Christians in the West and in American from Muslims in the East has been the inseparable link between Christianity and Democracy. While the two should not be seen as equivalent, Christianity has fostered a strong belief in the primacy and inherent-worth of the individual which only strengthened the cause for truths which are “self-evident”  and stamped upon all mankind.

Back to the issue of the burka and national identity.

The latent issue residing beneath the surface for Europe, as I believe it has been all along, is the tension between religious identity and its breeding capacity for democracy. The influx of Muslims, some of whom are extremists, is causing an unstable mixture of resurgent Islamic identity in an increasingly Euro-phobic culture collapsing in on itself. It has been famously stated that civilizations do not die from murder, but from suicide. I couldn’t agree more. In Europe’s situation, it is the slow and steady decline of Democracy which will spell its demise.

As a Baptist, I am a proud accomodationist when it comes to allowing mulitple voices in the public square. The tensions, however, are manifold. On one had, cultural relativism is to be despised and neglected. On the other, bigoted claims which cast dispersion on the inherent worth of individuals—like Muslims—is likewise detrimental. Yet, as one of my professors has argued this semester in a class on Christianity and Culture, accomodationism implies the ability for there to be rigorous and robust debate. Indeed, sewn into the fabric of the constitution and democracy is the right to offend people, if necessary. That premised, I’ll admit, I would really prefer for there not to be burkas present throughout our culture. There’s a sense in which national identity requires at least a minimum of expected assimilation. The individual behind the burka is not participating in a Western society which prizes openness and freedom. This is not an, “Assimilate or die!” attitude as much as it is a clarion call to recognize that cultures take on their own identities…and that’s an absolute wonderful reality; one core essence of human existence is to participate and contribute meaningfully to one’s surroundings. This simply is not possible when different conceptions of “meaningful” are on the chopping block.

It’s not the burka itself which is off-puting, but the lurking conclusions present behind the fabric: Totalitarianism.

Democracy, stridently stated, is my preference. And where cultural practices are in place which either implicitly or explicitly reduce an individual’s right to (virtuous) self-expression, I would prefer not to participate in said culture. I’m not one to baptize America in a cloak of divine exceptionalism, but as far as achieving freedom and protection under the law is concerned, America is one exceptional place.

Now, for the audacious part: Burkas are evidence of a non-assimilating mindset, a mindset which often appears mysognistic and anti-Democratic and thus, incompatible with the values of the West. I have tremendous love and respect for Muslims—Jesus commands it. It’s Islam which is threatening.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Posted by Andrew Walker

Andrew T. Walker is an Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.


  1. Andrew,
    I find it ironic that you say that the introduction of a new religion to Belgium is contributing to the “slow and steady decline of democracy” in the country. I think I understand this in a different way. As a diverse group of people begin to make lives for themsleves, the Belgian govt. is reacting by eliminating rights upon which they would not normally infringe. There is no surer sign of the decline of democracy than a government who begins to take away rights from its people, any of its people, with no pretense of providing service or protection in return. Thus, Muslim immigrants are the victims in the decline of democracy; they are not the agents of that demise.

    Let’s remember the answer Christ gave when a man like us asked who exactly qualified as his neighbor.

    Love you man, hope things are well.


  2. Andrew Walker April 2, 2010 at 6:10 am


    I agree with your comments, aside from adding that this issue is wrought will tremendous grey areas. In one sense, I am completely unsympathetic with Democratic governments taking away religious identity markers; on the other hand, I’m still sympathetic with governments who want to retain not only a national identity, but legal jurisdiction. There are sections of Paris, to my understanding, that French police and governance have de facto turned over to Islamic law choosing simply to avoid the overlap. This is simply incompatible for democratic societies built upon the Rule of Law. For me, the issue still boils down to a willingness to assimilate, peacefully and whether assimilation, as I noted, determines the “breeding capacity for democracy.” At the end of the day, however unpopular it is to say, I am not convinced that Islamic law entails democracy; in fact, I think it entails the opposite.

    I agree about Jesus determining who our neighbor is to be, but I think one response I have to that scenario is to ask whether loving one’s unlikely neighbor means accepting him carte blanche for whatever he/she is. I tried to make this distinction in my post, highlighting that one can love the individual, and not agree with what he or she stands for. Jesus, I’m sure, commands us all to love Muslims unequivocally; yet, I don’t assume this this means that Jesus desires for Muslims to stay, well, Muslim.

    You are an enlightened liberal and I’m glad for it!

    Great to hear from you,


  3. Hi Andrew,

    I wasn’t aware that you signed the Manhattan Declaration (did you actually sign it, or do you just agree with it?), although I guess I’m not surprised given the broad brush strokes which pour from your pen.

    Did you ever post anything on your reasons for doing so?

    Have you ever attempted a response to the concerns put forward by John MacArthur ( or R.C. Sproul? (

    There’s much to discuss on the validity of co-opting the definition of the gospel in order to protect the right to proclaim it. What do you think?


  4. Andrew Walker April 2, 2010 at 4:55 pm


    I signed the document because I believe that “Christians” can work together more than they can apart. Each respective tradition can offer their own set of anathemas like MacArthur and Sproul. I have little sympathy for the likes of MacArthur, who I contend is a fundamentalist in the worst sense of the word.

    One can stand from a distance and offer a so-called “purity movement” around the gospel, in the mean time, infants’ limbs are being torn apart by a suction device.

    We all tend to be our own self-described martyrs, don’t we?


  5. Andrew,

    I appreciate the clarity with which you broadcast.

    Refusing to compromise the gospel does not equal supporting abortion. It means putting the purity of the gospel FIRST and everything else of this world, including the most heinous things second.

    Consider the view from Satan’s perspective (do you believe that he is a literal spirit being and the chief enemy of God?): Which would he rather do – quiet the preaching of the biblical gospel or see unborn babies live?

    If a baby lives to be a man and never hears, let alone surrenders to, the biblical gospel, has he lived at all?

    Satan understands all to well the truth of THE ENEMY’S words in Mark 8:36-37:
    “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

    Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

    The prince of this world has no qualms about surrendering temporary gains in order to strengthen his efforts to silence the most “pro-life” message in the universe (John 11:25).

    Perhaps you would care to evaluate the anti-abortion teaching of John MacArthur (

    Here’s a telling quote from Dr. John Pilkey of Master’s College:

    “The phrase “Pro Choice” (which is what the Pro abortionists use) strikes me as one of the most depraved, apocalyptically wicked, rhetorical facts in the history of western civilization in the Christian era. The phrase means “Pro Sin” or “Free to Chose Sin.” The phrase would actually be less dreadful if it were “Pro Abortion” because that would confine it to the sphere of a particular moral problem, but by turning it to what seems a euphemism, the “Pro Choice” people have rung the final rhetorical “death knell” to the entire Democratic experiment.”

    But, think, man, think. If you sell out the gospel, nothing is left worth fighting for. And lest we succumb to the idea that the gospel won’t having breathing room if we lose the liberties of western civilization, remember that the loss of pleasant freedoms was precisely the thing that first drove the gospel west – check out the first word of Acts 8:4.

    If we’re going to have anything that lasts, we need to ditch the “movements” (ECT et al. included) and focus on the “purity”. (1 Cor. 3:11-18)


  6. Andrew Walker April 4, 2010 at 7:02 am


    You are well-argued, well-spoken, and very logical. You make a great case for your position. But, I learned something in college that I think appropriate to share here: One can be logical and be well-argued but still not be persuasive. As much as I appreciate your position, I am not persuaded a) that you’re totally and impartially correct and b) that I’m wrong so as to be considered in sin. I think your biblical grounding is wonderful, but I am still not convinced that this is an issue that should segment evangelicalism. I still hold that the Manhattan Declaration, while having a theological basis, is not a theological document.

    I also should add that I do not believe that condemnation of the Manhattan Declaration means implicit support for abortion. Dr. MacArthur is absolutely correct on his pro-choice views.

    I think the most important element in this discussion is the viability of publicly-constructed evangelical statements that have absolutely no binding rule or authority over its signers. To my knowledge, the document does not come with any vested ecclesial authority, but from individuals. There is no formal pronouncement on this document from the Roman Catholic Church. And while I disagree with Roman Catholicism vehemently, I cannot presume to believe that every Catholic is unsaved by simply being in the Roman Catholic Church. I hope that makes sense. As a Christian, I do not believe the “Church” has the ability to make detailed political suggestions, but individual Christians can.


  7. Andrew,

    Let me answer briefly according to the paragraphs of your reply.

    True persuasion is a subtle thing is it not? Two thoughts come to mind as I read your post – One, ultimately only the Holy Spirit can effect genuine persuasion regarding the Absolute Truth of the Living Logos and His words. All I can do is proclaim it. I do try to be well-argued, well-spoken, and very logical, because that is all that I can do, particularly from afar (more on that in a moment).

    Your words remind me of the Athenian response in the second half of Acts 17:32 where the wise and prudent Greeks (1 Cor. 1:19,22) said, “nice argument, good presentation, but we’re not persuaded.”

    The arresting difference between you and the Greeks is that you would be the first to profess that the Holy Spirit has a legitimate claim to your life and a foothold to your soul. In addition, you are a bonifide student of the completed revelation of God. Luke 12:48 remains a binding pronouncement from the God-man.

    Secondly, one element of effective persuasion is utterly lacking from my argument – personal presence.

    Our disagreement over the essential character of the gospel remains an academic exercise until we see with our own eyes and touch with our own hands the fruit of one another’s convictions and feel the glorious weight of a transformed life.

    If you’re game, I’d like to try to meet you this summer. I’m going to be driving across the country twice this summer, once by a high route and once by a low route. You’re e-mail’s not online, but Matt can connect us if you’re interested.

    I’ll close by commenting on your remark:
    “the most important element in this discussion is the viability of publicly-constructed evangelical statements that have absolutely no binding rule or authority over its signers. To my knowledge, the document does not come with any vested ecclesial authority, but from individuals.”

    You’re right, and that’s why this document is so rashly dangerous. Publicly constructed “what have yous” never have and never will bind ANYTHING of eternal value. What matters is individual, personal response and obedience to the biblical gospel of Christ, and that is exactly the level at which The Manhattan Declaration facilitates the obscuring of First Order Truth for the sake of Second Order Application.


  8. So, a burqa is a symbol of totalitarianism, which is bad.

    You believe that you (or people with power, who think like you) should be able to interpret the cultural symbols of the citizens of your country, and then decide whether or not those symbols are permissible or not in the country.

    Is there another definition of totalitarianism different from than that?


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *