The Plight of the Christian Minorities in the Middle East – Shame on World Christianity
For some strange reason, Christians in the Middle East are not getting the attention and the protection that they deserve. This is an old and very long story and ironically the so-called Arabic spring has made things much worse. People are killed and churches are burnt. The desperation is such that these minority Christians are tempted to side with strong armed men for protection. Just think of it, the new pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, Tawadros II, found it decent and appropriate to stand next to military leader al-Sisi (on the other side was el-Tayeb of the al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo) when he declared the Muslim Brotherhood illegal and that its democratically elected President Morsi had been overthrown as he and the party were a threat to the nation (See Time, April 21 – 2014).
Any decent person would have big problems with recent developments in Egypt and yet, we are facing an existential dilemma of all democracy. The nature of democracy is such that you may vote democracy out of existence (in a particular country). Therefore, military or other powers feel now and then called to stage a coup in order to safeguard just democracy. How absurd. Exactly this scenario we have seen in Algeria and now also in Egypt. The Coptic pope may get protection in the short term, but in the long term not.
If you are a minority you are tempted to think in terms of being a minority for ever. But the history of Egypt can talk about a majority church (for example in the 4th century) and why could that not happen again? It may be better to work towards an open and democratic society for any Christian group, in the long run, for all parties.
And the number of Christians are shrinking all the time, be it Egypt, Syria or Iraq. A census in 1914 could tell that about a quarter of the population of the Middle East were Christians. Today one could count on about 5% only. Of the total eight million that you find there today, more than half could be found in exile within the next couple of years (Time).
It is not unreasonable that Christians in this region should have the right to worship and also to propagate their faith, i.e. tell everyone that cares to listen, what Christian faith is all about. There has been talk about Euroislam as a possible new departure where Muslims in Europe would stand up for human rights and democracy. Will this happen? And let’s be fair, just as Muslims in Europe must enjoy their rights to religion and to make their religion known, so Christians in the Middle East must have a right to the same. Anything else would be hypocrisy. And there is some hypocrisy around. One gets the sense that people are uneasy about the whole issue, they rather not talk about it. Nobody, in the politically correct Sweden for example, would like to give the impression that they favour Christianity instead of Islam. So they hold their peace. But for how long?
There are two instances in Sweden that smell hypocritical. First, last year in October there was a manifestation in Stockholm organized by the Christian Council in solidarity with religious minorities (in the Middle East). Unbelievable. Even though there are other minorities there, there is general agreement that the Christians are the ones that are in real danger. But one could not say the word “Christian”. Secondly, in the politically impotent Church Assembly of Church of Sweden (see my blog on party politics in the Church of Sweden), motions were made regarding the need to show solidarity with the Christian minorities in the Middle East, but these were rejected. Instead, support was given to the document Kairos Palestine, a document drawn up by Christian Palestinians claiming their right of a decent existence alongside the Israelis. Only in a party political church set-up could this happen. Those who sided with the Palestinians must have felt that it would be inappropriate to give support to Christians as a group. The party political agenda would immediately stereotype the discussion. It is absurd because in actual fact both these issues go together. The future of Palestinians has a lot to do with giving rights to minorities in the region. In addition, many in the Palestinian leadership are themselves Christian.
But unfortunately it is not only in churches with ages old establishment allegiances, like in Sweden, where the support of Christians in the Middle East is weak.
To my consternation and disbelief I have come to realize, after many years in the ecumenical movement, that the very body for international solidarity, the World Council of Churches, has hesitated for decades to make the plight of the Christians in the Middle East their priority.
We could have done more, all of us, world-wide, to show support of these Christians. Many of them are very conservative, in all sorts of ways. But are they still not human beings, with a faith in Jesus Christ??
Jesus said: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25.40). This text is to be understood to mean my brother, my sister in need (hungry, sick, in prison etc.). But equally, it is also about my Christian brother and sister in need. And if we are not prepared to stand by those who share the most precious thing in life, our faith, with us, how on earth would we ever be believed when showing solidarity with anybody else?
Shame on the Christians world-wide who are not taking the plight of the Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East seriously!