Listening to Christians from other contexts: Part 2

posted in: Book Reviews, Tony Thompson 0

In my previous blog I shared insights from a book written by Arab Christians with contributions from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine amongst others. Their reflections on the church in the Middle East and the Western church was challenging and stimulating. In some cases, shocking. I would recommend you read the book. 

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The perspective of Palestinian Christians is revealing and challenging. E.g. 

There is some religious persecution. On 6 October 2007 Rami Ayyad was murdered, martyred, in the Gaza Strip. This is very rare, as are other forms of bodily harm. The number of Christian Palestinians – including some of my own friends and neighbours – murdered by the Israeli Defence Forces far exceeds the tiny number of Christians killed by religious extremists. My main argument here is that Christian and Muslim Palestinians suffer together under an unjust military occupation. Returning briefly to religious persecution, there is societal discrimination and pressure. Some Muslims have told Christians to leave on the grounds that the land should belong to Muslims. Other Muslims accuse Christians of not suffering under the occupation. We, Palestinian Christians, reject both charges and the ideology behind them. 

The perspective of those from the Middle East on suffering and persecution is very different from that of the West as well, e.g. 

On 15 February 2015 a video was released online showing the murder by members of ISIS of twenty Egyptian Christian labourers and a Ghanaian in Libya. The graphic video is thought to be the only one ever made of an actual martyrdom. The victims refused to denounce their faith and were, therefore, brutally executed. Their story became a great source of encouragement to Egyptian Christians to believe that this centuries- old understanding of martyrdom was still relevant for the twenty- first century. Instead of frightening or intimidating Egyptian Christians– as ISIS had intended– this video was the source of a real revival of true commitment to Christ among millions in Egypt. 

A major topic raised by most of the contributors is the problem of emigration. 

I frequently observe symptoms of this among Christian leaders as they make decisions, putting security and safety for their families on a par with God’s calling on their lives. 

One of the problems is that we are inclined to discern God’s will for our lives based on open doors and closed doors, or green lights and red lights. This type of thinking assumes that we are to enter every open door and stay away from every closed door. Conversely, this assumes that we are never called to persevere even in the face of closed doors, or to resist some open doors. I find this type of thinking very troubling, and the outcome damaging to the church. …………It is the leaders who have access to open doors, much more than the rest of their community. Should this always translate into leaders leaving because they encounter open doors, while their congregations stay and become shepherd-less because they face closed doors? 

What I firmly believe is that many, though not all, of those who emigrate to the West have a harder time as believers than they would have had if they had stayed in Egypt. 

Interestingly many of the writers advocate multi-ethnic churches, either in the Middle East itself or in the West where people emigrate to.

The multi-ethnic church continues to be God’s hands to help the poor, challenge oppressive powers, fight discrimination and spread the comfort of God to the ends of the earth. We are a sign of hope. 

I have expressed to all congregations that we need to be working together more deeply, for two reasons. First, in heaven we will all be together, so we probably should start now. Second, in ten years the children in all these groups will feel Canadian and start to pull away from fully identifying with their country of origin. Therefore, we should help the children worship together, as part of a broader, diverse community. 

The message that the Arab Christians want their Western readers to hear is summarised at the end of the book.

One message from the Middle Eastern church to those of us who are members of the Western church is that those who attempt to “protect” them from outside the region are causing as much harm as those in the region who are attempting to oppress them. This is a strong statement. The perception that people need protection from outside distances them and makes them vulnerable within the countries of which they are a part: societies that they are endeavouring to influence. 

 

A second message to Western Christians is not to encourage Middle Eastern church leaders to emigrate. Stop offering them jobs in the West. ……..The only people who want to see all Christians leave are some of the violent jihadists. Everyone else, including some we might term as Islamists, desires their continued presence. They recognize that it is Christians who are the leaven that permeates the whole of society. 

And I leave the final word with a Syrian Christians. Solutions that work in the West rarely work here.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

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