Holy Land Christians Tell NCC Delegation They Long for Western Christians' Solidarity
NCC General Secretary
A few days into our National Council of Churches USA Delegation visit to the Middle East, in meetings with Christians and Muslims in Lebanon and Egypt, we already have heard repeatedly that Christians in the Holy Land need and long for the moral support of Christians in the West.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the center of the problems facing Christians in the Middle East. As the conflict continues to be seen in terms of Jews and Muslims, indigenous Christians, with very long histories in the region, are neglected.
One reason for the NCC delegation visit is to demonstrate solidarity with Christians in the Middle East, as they continue to be disproportionately affected by the ongoing violence in the Middle East. Certainly the ongoing instability and violence affect all people here. But the effect on the Christian community is a growing diminishment of Christian presence in the region.
Christians here feel that, if there is no peace, there will be no place for them here in the future. There is a lament that the United States does not care about Christians in the region, and the evidence pointed to is the neglect of historic Christian communities in Iraq as the violence continues there.
Christians, because of their natural ties to the West, find it easier than others to emigrate to the West. The violence and related instability are the main cause for emigration. Because their numbers are smaller than those of the Jewish and Muslim communities, this emigration affects the Christian community the most. There is no future seen for young people, and thus they seek their futures elsewhere.
Christians in the region see U.S. policy as the main reason for Islamic extremism. In the past, Christians and Muslims here lived peaceably side-by-side. Increasing tension between Christians and Muslims here is the direct result of the perception that Christians here think like Christian fundamentalists in the West, who support U.S. policy based on their own Christian Zionist theology and on their view that traditional Christian communities are negligible at best and targets of conversion at worst. The NCC delegation is striving to give an alternative picture of Christianity, and to strengthen a legitimate Christian witness together with our brothers and sisters in the region.
While Christians in the Middle East are part of the same Arab family as Muslims, they are increasingly confused with fundamentalist Christians in the West. The Christians here have difficulty in convincing their Muslim neighbors - who traditionally have been friends - that Christians aren't with the West as a dominating power, and conversely that their concern for peace, and for things such as human rights, is meant for all people of the region. While many Islamic leaders know this, there is a feeling among Christians here that these Islamic leaders can do more to voice this fact to their followers.
One message of the NCC delegation is to voice Christian concern for all people of the region - Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Though the Middle East’s Christian community is small, and despite years of repeated disappointments, there remains a hope that peace among Muslims, Jews and Christians will one day be a reality. Christians here all want peace. All see it as up to the United States.
The NCC delegation is exploring the opportunity for peace that now exists with the change of Palestinian leadership, the seeming willingness by the Israeli Government to take constructive action, and the second Bush term. Christians here state that real peace needs to be home grown, and not just the signing of treaties. For this to be nurtured among the people, real change needs to take place. Christians in the region are a presence of moderation. If Christians disappear from the Middle East, a moderating presence will also disappear. Christian leaders here see their churches as bridge-builders. They seek to facilitate peace for all, so that all may live in peace together.