Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Christians Leave the Middle East

« A cross is decorated with lights as Orthodox Christians in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil commemorate the Elevation of the Holy Cross on September 13.
(SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)
Christianity is on the retreat across the Middle East, according to a recent report in Britain’s Independent. And it is not just war-torn Iraq that they are leaving—the numbers of Christians throughout the region are rapidly decreasing. 

“Across the Middle East, it is the same story of despairing—sometimes frightened—Christian minorities, and of an exodus that reaches almost biblical proportions,” writes the Independent’s Robert Fisk. “Almost half of Iraq’s Christians have fled their country since the first Gulf War in 1991, most of them after the 2004 invasion … and stand now at 550,000, scarcely 3 percent of the population. More than half of Lebanon’s Christians now live outside their country. Once a majority, the nation’s 1.5 million Christians, most of them Maronite Catholics, comprise perhaps 35 percent of the Lebanese. Egypt’s Coptic Christians—there are at most around 8 million—now represent less than 10 percent of the population.” 

Earlier this month, Lebanese journalist Fady Noun wrote, “The whole region has become to some extent inhospitable for Christians.”
It is not just that the local population is leaving, though. “This is, however, not so much a flight of fear, more a chronicle of a death foretold,” writes Fisk. “Christians are being outbred by the majority Muslim populations in their countries and they are almost hopelessly divided. In Jerusalem, there are 13 different Christian churches and three patriarchs. A Muslim holds the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to prevent Armenian and Orthodox priests fighting each other at Easter.” 

Noun blames many of Christianity’s problems in the Middle East on its division and egoism. 

The 6 percent of Jordanians that are Christian do receive some protection, but throughout the rest of the region they are persecuted. A U.S. State Department report published last Wednesday warned that Saudi Arabia has no religious freedom, and that government officials “continued to raid private non-Muslim religious gatherings.” 

Last Tuesday, Egyptian officials announced that Muslims set fire to 10 houses belonging to Christians because of rumors that a Christian had had an affair with a Muslim girl. 

In order to confront the problem in the region, the Roman Catholic Church held a synod last month to discuss Christianity in the Middle East. This synod made headlines as Greek-Melchite Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros said in a news conference that the promises to the Jews were “nullified by Christ” and that “The concept of the Promised Land cannot be used as a base for the justification of the return of Jews to Israel.” 

However, Muslims didn’t get away scot-free. “Let’s stop saying there is no problem with Muslims; this isn’t true,” said an anonymous prelate quoted in the synod’s working papers. “The problem doesn’t only come from fundamentalists, but from constitutions. In all the countries of the region except Lebanon, Christians are second-class citizens.” 

By mistreating Christians, the Middle Eastern mobs and governments are putting themselves in a dangerous position. Violence against Christian residents and pilgrims was one of the causes of the First Crusade (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 4; Frank K. Flinn, J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedia of Catholicism). 

Anti-Islam sentiment is already growing in Europe. The Vatican’s biggest challenge lies in fighting secularism and resurrecting its power over Europe. It needs to first change the constitutions of Europe. But once that is done, the Middle East’s are next. 

World events are building to a final crusade. Once the Vatican has gathered in her daughter churches and taken the helm of Europe, armies will once again march on Jerusalem under the banner of the cross. Stories of Christian persecution will be used to fan the flames of hatred and blood-lust, just like they did a thousand years ago.