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“Evangelical churches with a large second generation immigrant population have been growing rapidly in ‘sensitive’ suburbs”

Matthieu Sanders, a pastor in Paris, analyses the background of the riots in France. “Pray that the French church would be equipped for effective witness and peacemaking in an often tense national climate”.

AUTOR 7/Joel_Forster PARIS 10 DE JULIO DE 2023 15:00 h
A woman in a neighbourhood of Paris, France. / Photo: [link]Mathias Reding[/link], Unsplash, CC0.

The riots that exploded in Paris and other cities of France at the end of June re-opened a long-standing debate.



What are the underlying issues that lead to such revolts in certain neighbourhoods? What could the authorities do better? Are there any possible solutions to avoid further clashes in the banlieues?



“People are quick to take to the streets, and the authorities are quick to react forcefully and sometimes excessively”, says Matthieu Sanders, the lead pastor of the Eglise évangélique baptiste de Paris-Centre (Central Paris Evangelical Baptist Church) in the 7th arrondissement of the capital city. He is also a part-time lecturer at the Nogent Bible Institute and the Faculté Libre de Théologie Evangélique, both institutions located in the Paris suburbs - although not in the areas which saw violence erupt.



“Evangelical churches, often with a large second or third-generation immigrant population, have been growing rapidly in ‘sensitive’ suburbs”, he told Evangelical Focus. This gives these Christian communities a chance to be “a unique witness because “they bring, whites, blacks, Arabs and Asians together in a way that very few institutions - even schools - are often unable”.



In this interview, Matthieu Sanders also shares prayer requests for France as a whole.





[photo_footer]Matthieu Sanders, Baptist pastor in Paris, France. [/photo_footer] 


Question. The whole world followed the violent incidents of last week in French cities. How do you feel about it?



Answer. I think the tragedy concerning Nahel had a major impact in France because it felt like the issue of police violence vis-a-vis minorities, which tends to be associated to the U.S., hit home this time. Tensions between police and youth in working-class suburbs is certainly not new, but rarely does it result in a fatality.



I feel that two things need to be said. First, the shooting was outrageous and needs to be denounced. Video footage clearly showed that the incident report filed by the involved officers was untruthful and that there was no direct danger to them. At the same time, it also needs to be said that police in France are exhausted after years of pressure, which has been fairly relentless since 2015: first the terrorist attacks, then the Yellow Vests protests, which went on for 2 years, then the protests against the pension reform, and now these suburban riots. The government is trying to walk a tightrope: they want to be sensitive to the problem of police violence and discrimination, but also supportive of the police force in general.



 



Q. As you mentioned, these are not the first such riots in Paris and other large cities. What context is important to understand this latest outburst?



A. There is a culture of protest and insurrection in France, dating back to the French Revolution. Most protests are peaceful, but violence is not uncommon. I would add that there is a culture of confrontation between police and protestors which seems to have escalated in recent years. The government - not just the current one but previous ones as well - tend to be heavy-handed, some would say repressive, in trying to maintain order.



[destacate]“It seems to me like a vicious circle. Negotiations tend to happen once the parties have clashed”[/destacate]It seems to me like a vicious circle. We do not have a strong culture of compromise and constant negotiation as in many other European countries. Negotiations tend to happen once the parties have clashed. This is true of labor disputes as well as protests. So people are quick to take to the streets, and the authorities are quick to react forcefully and sometimes excessively.


In the case of the latest riots, the ethnic/religious factor cannot be ignored, though it is taboo in France (where any ethnic or religious statistics are illegal). The riots erupted in areas largely populated by people of immigrant background. Most of the youth that were rioting are second, sometimes third generation, which points to a longstanding problem with integration.





[photo_footer] A boy checks his smartphone in a neighbourhood of Paris. / Photo: Simone Jo Moore, Unsplash, CC0. [/photo_footer] 


Q. Analysts outside France are saying your country is not finding solutions. What could be done to build a better next 20 years?



A. As a Christian, of course, I believe only the Gospel can bring deep healing to the wounds that have been festering for so long between segments of the population that seem irreconcilable.



From a policy standpoint, it seems like more efforts should be put in place to encourage integration of youth from working-class backgrounds, especially ethnic minorities. Of course, that is easy to say, and difficult to implement. In the 90s, a specific police force was created, called the police de proximité, which had a hybrid role of soft, preventive policing along with a role that resembled that of social workers. It was relatively successful by most accounts, and the later decision by then-interior minister (and future President) Nicolas Sarkozy to dismantle the force is seen by many, even on the right, to have been a serious mistake.



It seems like that kind of initiative - which of course is not incompatible with maintaining law and order as well - would be welcome in the current situation.



 



Q. Evangelical churches in France have many immigrants from other countries in their worship services, and involved as members. How are these Christian communities a model of integration and cross-ethnic relationships?



A. The church I serve is located in a more privileged area in central Paris. But Evangelical churches, often with a large second or third-generation immigrant population, have been growing rapidly in ‘sensitive’ surburbs. They often provide a unique witness in that they bring, to be clear, whites, blacks, Arabs and Asians together in a way that very few institutions - even schools - are often unable.



[destacate]“Evangelical churches are good examples of successful integration and collaboration between different social or ethnic groups”[/destacate]There are a lot of “ethnic churches” associated with a particular background, but, by and large, Evangelical churches are fairly good examples of successful integration and collaboration between different social/ethnic groups.



I believe there is a wide open door for ministry in those areas. It seems like Evangelical communities in those suburbs can even less than others afford to be strictly pietistic and “spiritual” in their approach. They need to be rooted in communities and involved in various kinds of holistic outreach. And they are usually doing just that.



 



Q. How can Christians in other parts of the world pray for France?



A. Pray for spiritual revival in our country. The evangelical movement has been growing fast in the last decades. Whether this growth will continue and even accelerate, or stall, is debatable, as there are some conflicting indicators to consider.



Pray also for solid Biblical and theological training and for many younger Christians to be involved in both full-time and lay ministries. There is widespread agreement on the fact that the number of well-trained leaders is not keeping up with church growth. Yet the lack of training has led, not least in the aforementioned suburbs, to the growing influence of poor teaching or downright heresies like the so-called prosperity Gospel.



Pray that the French church would grow in Gospel-centered maturity, and be equipped for effective witness and peacemakers in an often tense national climate.



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