“Dhimmitude” is a word coined from the Arabic “dhimma” which is a technical term in Islam referring to a “protective contract” between the Muslim rulers of an Islamic state and the conquered non-Muslim peoples now living in Islamic lands. Of all conquered peoples, only a subset qualify as dhimmis — those who were monotheists (e.g., Jews and Christians) and who refuse to become Muslim by belief. Other disbelievers, whether polytheists, agnostics or atheists, have no such option: they must convert to Islam or be put to death.
Muslim historians point to the existence of dhimmis in Islamic lands as a sign of Islam’s native tolerance. (Of course, they say very little about the intolerance of beheading those who don’t qualify for dhimmitude). Nevertheless, the historians say, the dhimmis are a “protected class” in Muslim societies. They are not citizens with rights equal to Muslim men; nor are their rights equal even with those of Muslim women. They are in effect third-class non-citizens of the land. But they are guaranteed protection against loss of possessions or life. This sounds very laudable, until one asks, “Protection from whom?” The answer is, “Protection from Muslims and the Islamic state.” That is, as long as dhimmis obey the rules set out for them, show themselves submissive to Muslim domination and pay their annual “protection money” (known in the Qur’an and Muslim world as “jizya” (see Qur’an 9:29), they are guaranteed protection from those ruling over them. This is all very reminiscent of stories of neighborhoods without any significant problems until the Mafia moves in, and its enforcers come to the neighborhood shops and tell the owners that they are there to guarantee the store’s safety, and simply need to collect some “protection money” from their new clients. “Why? We haven’t had any problems. Who do we need to be protected from?” The answer: “From those who might bust up your store, or set it on fire, or break your knee caps.” Who would do such a thing?” “You don’t want to know. Just pay us, and we won’t be back for any unpleasant visit….”
The dhimmi in Muslim lands quickly learn how to be subservient, because to step out of line is to lose “protection,” i.e., to face the forces of jihad and become targets of death. Here are some of the typical rules under which religious minorities must live in dhimmi-enforcing countries:
- pay the annual jizya (an excessive tax often collected during an official occasion involving rituals of public humiliation)
- must wear special clothing (often demeaning in appearance) in order to distinguish dhimmis from Muslims
- may fix houses of worship that are in disrepair, but may not expand them; no new churches, temples or synagogues may be built
- such houses of worship may not have features exceeding the height of the nearest mosque
- public display of crosses on the exterior of churches or homes is forbidden
- no public processions, no public singing/chanting, no bell-ringing for religious holidays
- worship may only happen within private houses or houses of worship — may not be so loud as to be audible outside the walls
- private prayer and reading of Scripture may not be done out loud if in the possible hearing of a Muslim
- may not engage in evangelism or proselytizing
- may convert to Islam (if not against the financial interests of the Islamic state), but a Muslim may never convert from Islam
- if riding, must dismount from donkey (dhimmis may not own horses or camels) when approached by a Muslim on foot
- must pass by Muslims on their left (the side of dishonor)
- must give right of way to Muslims
- must give food and shelter to Muslims when asked
- may not print, display or distribute religious material publicly
- dhimmi men may not marry Muslim women, but Muslim men may marry dhimmi women
- may not hold a job in private or governmental sectors having authority over Muslim employees or citizens
- may not own weapons for self-defense, nor join the national army except in times of national emergency, at which time they are viewed as mercenaries until threat is over
- may not testify in a court of law against a Muslim; testimony may be accepted only in cases involving other dhimmis
- must obey entirety of Shari’a law, except where personal, religious allowances are permitted
- must not criticize Muhammad, the Qur’an, Allah or Shari’a, under penalty of death
It doesn’t take much imagination to understand why the indigenous dhimmi populations in Muslim-conquered countries have dwindled through emigration over the centuries, nor why those dhimmis who have chosen to stay in place tend to display docile, even servile behavior toward their “masters.” Some even develop sycophantic tendencies, praising their Muslim dominators and assuring the outside world as to how happy they are living in such a tolerant environment, much like those with “Stockholm Syndrome” praised their kidnappers in public statements, showing solidarity with the aims of their captors.
With this in mind, as I watch what is going on in the Presbyterian Church USA, my former denomination, I can’t help but see some parallels in how the denominational power structure is treating those under its sway. Much as with the Muslim governors holding all the cards in relation to the dhimmis, so the liberal PCUSA leadership, flush with authoritative decisions over the evangelicals within its ranks, is flexing its muscles to push for even more liberal policies to redefine Christianity into something completely unrecognizable to the founders of the Reformation like Luther and Calvin, while at the same time making it harder and harder for long-suffering evangelical congregations, who now wish only to leave peaceably, to do just that.
Yes, the rule book says, congregations have the right to leave, but only if they are properly dismissed by the denominational authority over them, their presbytery. Every presbytery has been passively “urged” by the national leadership to come up with “gracious dismissal policies” that they follow for any all churches under their purview who wish to leave. Some presbyteries have, others haven’t. Congregations are to negotiate with their presbyteries as to what “gracious dismissal” looks like. But “negotiation” implies that both parties have equal footing, and this is of course not the case. The denomination sets all the rules. It whines plaintively that the rule book, the Book of Order, has this unfortunate statement in it (“Gee, we wish it wasn’t there, but heck, we’re bound by it since it is…”) known as the “Property Trust Clause,” which declares that any and all property, real and otherwise, which a local congregation owns, it really doesn’t own. In reality, it is just a steward of all this wealth, which its members have given over generations, and it holds it all in trust.
Well, that’s a very biblical teaching. All that we have does not in the end belong to us — we are stewards in service to the true owner. And that true owner is, of course, Jesus Christ. No, wait! That’s not right. That’s not what the property trust clause of the Book of Order of the PCUSA says. All that congregations have is held in trust for “the use and benefit of the PCUSA.” So if you are a congregation wanting to leave the PCUSA, you are stealing from the denomination if you think you can just leave with your property. You must negotiate.
Of course, a gracious presbytery could easily say to you, “We’re sorry you feel God is calling you to relocate to a different wing of His Church universal, but we understand your position, and as Christian brothers and sisters, we want to bless you in your witness for God. So therefore, we will release you together with your property, with no strings attached. You need not pay us anything.”
No, wait. That once was possible, but now those who hold all the cards have ruled through the PCUSA’s highest court (GAPJC) that a presbytery must take into account the financial worth of a local congregation and “…duly consider the economic interests of the PC(USA).” After all, the court ruled, presbyteries have a fiduciary duty to extract their pound of flesh from fellow Christians over whom they hold all the power. “Gosh, if it were up to us, we’d let you go scot free, but, (cue the violins), we are under orders to put the screws to you so we have money to pass up the line to our corporate Shylock.”
Besides, the denomination is telling evangelicals that they are really, really, really valued in the PCUSA. “We don’t want you to go. We are stronger for having your voice at the table in our big tent community. Having said that, please don’t speak against our agenda. We want to pass our pro-gay, pro-amoral inclusion-driven, pro-liberal social action, pro-lowest common denominator world religion policies that we can, so please show up when we pass these new rulings, smile and nod, and make sure to bring your wallets. We love you evangelicals!”
Like many indigenous dhimmis who reluctantly fled their homelands due to relentless Islamic oppression, many evangelicals after decades of trying to bring sanity back to the PCUSA have finally packed up with sadness and left their denominational homeland, often at great personal and congregational cost. Others have opted to remain in PCUSA dhimmi status. Some of these, unlike true Muslim dhimmis, remain with hopes that they may be able to overturn to oppressive system and bring it into line with God’s will. May the Lord reward their efforts. But others, evangelicals and conservatives, even some moderates, remain because they have decided that maybe the life of dhimmitude isn’t really so bad. Sure we have to make huge concessions, and we are not happy with the denominational proclamations made in our name, but on the whole, the cost of confronting the liberal powers that be would be too expensive, enervating, and emotional to contemplate. “We’ll leave well enough alone, and grin and bear it.” And then there are the small numbers of evangelicals serving as water-carriers for the post-Christian liberal trend-setters of the denomination. These Stockholm Syndrome “faithful Presbyterians” speak of the wonderful things the denomination is doing, the great prospects for the future, the exciting social justice changes making the lives of those on the margins so much better. “It’s still a great denomination to be in, and we’re on the forefront of a new thing that God is doing in these days!”
The PCUSA, of course, can’t use the threat of death to keep dhimmis in line, as does Islam. But it can tell them to empty their pockets and leave behind all their belongings before they cross the border into freedom. Plunder “for the use and benefit of the PCUSA. It seems that those in denominational authority have mastered that strategy! Presbyterian dhimmitude — who would have thought it possible?!