A little while ago I had an opportunity to dialogue with Rev. Safwat al-Bayyadi, who is the President of the Protestant Churches of Egypt. My summary of this conversation has been published on Arab West Reports, which you can access by clicking here.
As I remarked once before, it is a great benefit of my work that I get to meet such influential people. Rev. al-Bayyadi was able to provide me with a bird’s-eye perspective on Christianity in Egypt, encompassing all but especially from a Protestant perspective. While the title for the reverend is correct – President of the Protestant Churches of Egypt – it is interesting to note that generally speaking the Protestant churches here all go by the name of ‘Evangelical’. I haven’t yet asked enough questions to know why, but it may be that within Egypt ‘Protestant’ could seem like a foreign entity, brought from the West, and therefore suspect, while ‘Evangelical’ is more of Biblical terminology. Though this decision was made long ago, in recent years the ‘Evangelical’ title may result in negative association with the Bush administration and the general support the American Evangelical Christian community gives to foreign policy in Iraq and Israel.
If only from a small outsider’s perspective, I would note that in calling their denomination ‘Evangelical’, Egyptian Protestants may have done themselves a disservice. While the motivation I have briefly come in contact with is laudable, it may have unfortunate consequences. In America, ‘Evangelical’ is an adjective, describing a certain understanding of Christianity. While my rendering here is off-the-cuff, it generally refers to an understanding that is centered on the Bible above tradition, focused on a personal expression of faith, and accepts the necessity of communication of the Gospel message. Thus in America while ‘Evangelical’ is generally understood to be Protestant but not mainline, and has also acquired conservative political associations, in terms of the definition given it is not unusual to find evangelical Catholics, Orthodox, or otherwise. I wonder if in naming themselves ‘Evangelical’ Egyptian Protestants may unwittingly limit the description of the definition from being applied also to the larger Orthodox community. Like I said, I haven’t explored this much yet, but I wonder.
In any case, though Protestant and Orthodox relations here seem mainly positive, there have been recent examples of accusations thrown cross-denominationally. Specifically, at times Orthodox leadership sees Protestants as ‘sheep stealers’, conducting organized efforts to ‘turn Egypt Protestant’ by winning over the youth. You can read a press review on this topic by clicking here.
On the other hand, in my personal interactions with individual Orthodox Egyptians, almost everyone has expressed appreciation for the Protestant Church here. While they hold to their distinctive doctrines, they commend the Protestants for their skills in Bible memorization, vibrant sermons, praise music, and youth ministry. They emphasize that there is only one faith, shared by all denominations, though particular understandings of faith differ, and may reflect the truth closer or farther from correct Biblical understanding. Many families have members in each denomination, and many others worship in both churches. Julie has also found that Emma is not unique in attending the Sunday School sessions of both the local Protestant and Orthodox Church.
In any case, I am making comments that could be better developed into another post later. For now, please accept my encouragement to read what Rev. al-Bayyadi has to say about the vital task of peacemaking in Egypt. His perspective is both noteworthy and gained from personal experience. If you didn’t do so earlier, you can click here for the text.