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Pleasant Recognition

evangelical-press-association

Many thanks to you who have read my thoughts over the years, either here at A Sense of Belonging or at the various sites that have published my articles.

I’m pleased to relate that others have found the work valuable, too.

This year my article for Christianity Today on the Coptic martyrs of Libya won third place in the category of ‘Higher Goals: International Religious Persecution’, from the Evangelical Press Association.

Altogether Christianity Today took home 45 awards from the EPA.

My reporting for CT was also honored as a finalist in the ‘Newspaper, Magazine, and Multimedia’ category of the Religion News Association.

I didn’t win, but it was still nice to be recognized.

Many thanks to editors for their patience and development. And thanks to God, certainly, for the privilege of this life.

It’s starting to feel a bit like the Oscars, so best to stop now. But thanks again to you, and I pray the information has helped you know a little more about the world, and help you do a little more good in service to it.

 

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Current Events

Top 10 Persecution Stories at CT

Many thanks to readers who have followed my articles at Christianity Today. CT just published a year-end summary of the ten most read stories about the persecuted church, and I am pleased to report my articles placed at numbers 1, 3, 6, and 10.

That the articles needed to be written in the first place involves little of pleasure, but I am glad that in most there have been moments of grace amid the suffering.

1) How Libya’s Martyrs Are Witnessing to Egypt

Murders spark largest outreach ever amid new freedoms and new threats.

3) Forgiving ISIS: Christian ‘Resistance’ Videos Go Viral in Arab World

Ten-year-old girl from Mosul becomes Christian broadcaster SAT-7’s most-watched interview ever.

6) Libya’s 21 Christian Martyrs: ‘With Their Blood, They Are Unifying Egypt’

As Coptic Christians mourn ISIS beheadings, they praise the response of their government and Muslim neighbors.

10) Why Christians Are Fleeing One of Africa’s Oldest and Largest Christian Homelands

Beyond the search for a better life, evangelicals and Orthodox in Ethiopia increasingly share even more.

And this story came in at #16 of the 20 most read ‘Gleanings‘, subtitled ‘important developments in the church and the world’.

16) More Martyrs: ISIS Executes Dozens of Ethiopian Christians in Libya

Propaganda video released the same day Justin Welby arrives in Cairo to honor the previous 21 victims.

For what it is worth, none of the articles made the overall top 20 most read list, which was dominated by US domestic trends, though some with international aspects.

As for this list, in general I do not like the word ‘persecution’ or a focus thereupon. Though these articles certainly qualify, the word risks setting Christians into an ‘us versus them’ mentality that risks violation of many Gospel principles. The struggle, says the scripture, is not against flesh and blood.

But without doubt the next mentioned ‘principalities and powers’ have employed flesh and spilled blood. I am grateful to be in a position to help tell these stories, and pray they may result in greater love both for the church around the world, and those who stand against her.

Thanks for reading — and within your power — acting accordingly.

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Current Events Religion

The Inside Story: Christianity in the Gulf

List of Churches within the Evangelical Church of Abu Dhabi
List of Churches within the Evangelical Church of Abu Dhabi

Christianity Today recently interviewed me about my September article on the churches of the Persian/Arabian Gulf.

There are about 2.3 million Christians in the Arabian Peninsula—more than nearly 100 countries can claim. What does that look like on the ground? Christianity Today‘s Middle East correspondent Jayson Casper recently spoke with assistant editor Morgan Lee on his fascinating story on why Christianity is surging in the heart of Islam. In the interview, Casper explains why Gulf States want churches, how globalization affects religious freedom in the region, and what most surprises him about the region’s Christianity.

As judged by the Facebook shares (over 6,000), this story surprised many of our readers. To what extent did you “stumble” on this story?

The story was suggested by CT’s News Editor Jeremy Weber, but I was eager to take it on. I was aware that there were churches in the region for a long time, but always curious about what local Christianity looked like.

Would the number of churches come as a surprise to those who live in the Gulf?

As far as the Gulf is concerned, the presence of churches is well known. If one is nonreligious, they would not necessarily be spotted, but anyone looking can find them easily. Many churches have an active web presence.

Christian leaders in the United Arab Emirates, as well as a high ranking member of the royal family, told me the government wants to do all it can to facilitate the worship of Christian foreign workers. They value the wholeness the church can provide.

Otherwise they deal with the normal vices found in Western society but out of place in the Gulf, and on top of it suffer from loss of productivity when workers suffer loneliness and depression.

What was hard about doing the reporting for this piece?

Balancing the good news—foreign Christians have been largely welcome to the country—with the reality that this freedom does not extend to Gulf citizens. Overwhelmingly, Christian leaders wanted to accentuate their appreciation to the authorities.

But there was also a tenor among some — off the record — that a glowing portrayal would not be right. The focus of the story is to help correct the wide assumption among many Western Christians that the Islam of the Arabian Peninsula is intolerant to Christianity in general. But getting the right tone of ‘yes-but’ was not easy.

What did you find most surprising in your own reporting?

The physical size of the church buildings, how they are part of the landscape of the community and not hidden away as eyesores. There is money in the Gulf, so everything is big. But while I knew that Christianity existed within a level of tolerance, I had no idea about the level of normalcy these buildings imply. (See pictures here.)

What’s something you wish you could have included in the final draft that didn’t make its way in?

There were several charming stories of interactions normal Christians had with their neighbors. A Sunday School teacher. A military instructor. An IT manager. Each one came for a job, but was living their Christian life—and often speaking of it—in winsome ways.

I also heard about churches organizing service trips into the migrant labor camps, and some of the difficulties experienced by the majority Asian population. Not all of these stories made it into the article, but they served to confirm what leading sources conveyed.

In the article you write, “Thanks also to global capitalism, that freedom is not going away.” To what extent do you think this freedom will expand?

It is difficult to say. Because the nations of the Gulf are so young and their economies are expanding so rapidly, many sources told me that the authorities sort of make it up as they go along.

Concerning the churches, this means there is often no set of regulations that can be followed in a clear cut manner. So much depends upon decisions of higher-ups that come through relationship more than bureaucracy. They prefer to deal with a head of denomination and let them regulate affairs internally. So one measure of expanding freedom can be seen if this freedom simply gets written down into law.

Another measure of freedom, perhaps, exists in comparison between the Gulf States and Europe, both of which have received many migrants over the past decades. Europe has extended citizen rights to many, while the Gulf does not. Will the Gulf ever offer a similar opportunity? If so, can they accept Christians as citizens as opposed to guest workers?

Globalization and multicultural realities often produce a liberalizing effect, even as they can spark backlash. Over time will these realities fundamentally change Gulf attitudes? It is a fascinating possibility to observe.

[Note: Both Bahrain and Kuwait have a tiny number of Christian citizens originally from other Arab countries.]

In the article you write “that Gulf churches exist at all stems from relationships, not economics or law.” Who are those relationships open to? In other words, is it only between Arab men and Western white men? Or are these accessible regardless of ethnic background or gender?

In the article, that sentence meant the origin and continuance of the churches is due to the very specific relationship between Christian leaders and the ruling authorities. In terms of relations between guest workers and Gulf citizens, I think the general culture does not facilitate mixing.

In many settings the migrant workers are the majority, and many citizens do not work except in management at the level of “boss.” This would include the vast sector of domestic labor, which I did not sufficiently encounter. Non-Western migrants also complained about a level of hierarchy, with increasing discrimination felt by the darker of skin and the lower of economic level.

In your observation, how has the Western Protestant church been affected by Gulf State culture?

Most leaders celebrated a far greater level of diversity than would be experienced by most Christians in America. They would say that our congregation is a ‘taste of heaven’ as they listed the number of nationalities and languages worshiping together. This is certainly part of Gulf culture stemming from economic realities—not necessarily the Arab Muslim culture they maintain among themselves, though in some settings it is also seen here.

Morgan Lee is assistant editor of Christianity Today.

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Current Events Religion

Why Egypt’s Christian Families are Paying Ransom

Coptic Ransom

From my recent article at Christianity Today, published online on January 8, 2014, and in the Jan/Feb print edition:

In 2011, Nadia Makram, 13, was walking home from church near her working-class Cairo neighborhood when she vanished.

Her mother, Martha, went to the police, who refused to file a report. Soon after, Martha received a call demanding $15,000. She went back to the police, who registered a complaint but noted only Nadia’s disappearance.

When the police did nothing, Martha gathered money from family and friends and traveled to a village 65 miles south.

Martha met Nadia’s 48-year-old kidnapper in the home of the local mayor. After she handed over the money, the men showed her what they called a “marriage certificate.” Nadia, they said, had converted to Islam and married her abductor. Martha left empty-handed—an increasingly common story among Coptic Christians. Abductions have increased sharply in the past few months.

The article deals with grassroots efforts to uncover these cases, some of the details in paying ransoms, theological reflection from an Egyptian seminary professor who’s relative was a victim, and budding hopes that a new government ministry might partially solve this issue.

Please click here to read the rest of the article at Christianity Today. (photo credit: AP/Thomas Hartwell)

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Current Events

Churches Gain, Islamists Lose in Latest Draft of Egypt’s Constitution

Morsi and Bakhomious

From my recent article in Christianity Today, published December 10, 2013:

Egyptian Christians will soon have a law to regulate church building. But this is only one achievement celebrated by Copts in the revised national charter scrubbed of most of its Islamist tinge.

“Christians have freedom of belief and practice,” said Safwat al-Baiady, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt and a member of the constitutional committee. “And for the first time in the history of Egypt’s constitutions, building churches becomes a right.”

Article 235 of the new draft constitution addressed this longstanding complaint, where permission to build or repair required presidential and security authorization.

Egypt’s constitution of 2012, written by an Islamist majority under the now-deposed president Mohamed Morsi, also provided for many personal and religious freedoms. But that text included clauses of limitation “according to shari’ah law.”

Please click here to read how limitations on freedom were removed – or not – from the constitution, at Christianity Today.

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Current Events Jayson Religion

Remembering Egypt’s Maspero Massacre through its Most Prominent Martyr

Marry Daniel
Marry Daniel

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on October 9, 2013.

I never met Mina Daniel, but today many in Egypt consider him a hero and a martyr. Recently, I met his sister.

Two years ago this week, the 20-year-old Daniel was gunned down during a peaceful Coptic protest outside the Maspero state TV headquarters in downtown Cairo on October 9, 2011. More than 25 others died and scores were injured by military vehicles swerving through the crowded demonstration, or by local thugs who attacked the scattering remnants.

To this date, only a few low-level officers have been handed sentences, ranging from two to three years in prison.

Commemorating the massacre, Copts gathered in the Cave Church of Muqattam in the mountains outside Cairo, a scene of many interdenominational prayer services. Last year, on the first anniversary, thousands of Muslims and Christians marched together to Maspero from Shubra, a northern Cairo district with a high percentage of Coptic residents.

The religious unity of both events was just as Daniel would have wanted it.

“Mina didn’t care if you were a Mina [a typical Coptic name] or a Muhammad,” his sister Marry told me. “He dealt with everyone as created in the image of God.”

Please click here to read the rest of the article at Christianity Today.

 

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Current Events Religion

Egyptian Christians Killed After President’s Ouster

Copts Killed

From my article in Christianity Today, published July 9, describing both Christians and Muslims killed in a worrisome escalation of violence. But this excerpt concerns another matter for Christians in particular: Should they have joined the revolt in the first place, on Biblical grounds?

Bishop Mouneer also called the [military] action an answer to prayer, which raises certain theological questions. In Romans 13 Paul writes that Christians are to be subject to the governing authorities. Does Christian participation in a popular uprising strain this interpretation?

“The leader must support human rights,” said Bishop Marcos. “Because Morsi did not it was acceptable to work against him.”

A more nuanced position is articulated by Rev. Emad Mikhail, president of the Alexandria School of Theology.

“The Bible in the first century does not address the situation of free expression as we have in many places today,” he said. “There was no voting and no means to change the system except through violent action.

“If we vote out a president [as in modern elections] this is not understood to violate Romans 13. I consider peaceful demonstrations to be like a vote.”

Please click here to read the whole article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events Jayson Religion

Stop Murdering Terrorists

From Christianity Today, in an interview with Brother Andrew of Open Doors:

Not long ago of course Osama bin Laden was assassinated, and the whole world rejoiced. Thousands have died in drone assaults. What is your response to such killing?

I have been speaking in meetings in America, and part of my sermon was, “Have you prayed today for bin Laden?” People were rather shocked, and some people said, “I must confess. I have never prayed for bin Laden, but now I do it.”

Bin Laden was on my prayer list. I wanted to meet him. I wanted to tell him who is the real boss in the world. But then he was murdered, I call it. Murdered, because he didn’t shoot back. He had no resistance. That’s not warfare. And I have had too much of that. A good number of my own friends in Gaza have been assassinated. Liquidated they call it in their terminology. I call it murdered.

We must witness to people. And all the people that I now talk about in Gaza that were murdered were people that I met in their homes and I gave a Bible. I prayed with them.

The title of this post is taken from Christianity Today, and is the part of this interview the magazine chose to highlight.

Let us suppose there was certainty about the object of a drone attack being a self-confessed, proud, and practiced terrorist. The reality is that this certainty is often lacking, and many otherwise innocent people die in the process of targeting them. But let us suppose.

One of the tensions of Christianity – a very positive one – is that it encourages fidelity to both country and creator. As an American, a case can be made that drone killings are cheaper, more effective, and save more lives than traditional warfare. Certainly they keep the lives of our own soldiers from risk.

But as a Christian? The appeal to Genesis – he who sheds the blood of man, let his blood be shed – only applies if you give America jurisdiction over the rest of the world. That such a terrorist be killed may represent justice, but that anyone assume the right to kill him is another matter.

The words of Brother Andrew are poignant, because he is not just an armchair theorist. He has met with such people, and loved them. Perhaps this distracts him from the necessary cold-hearted calculation required of a nation.

But let it tug at the heart strings of Christians, who must be merciful, as God is merciful. Who must love their enemies, and do good to those who hate them. Who must from love keep no record of wrongs, refuse to delight in evil, and always protect, trust, hope, and persevere.

Dear Christian, dear citizen, live in this tension, but remain whole.

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Current Events Jayson

Egyptian Christians Face the Future Under New Islamist Law

Face the Future

From my new article on Christianity Today, published December 28, 2012:

Egyptian Christians spent this year’s Advent season awaiting more than the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Christmas Day dawned with Copts still processing the rushed passage of a new Islamist-backed constitution and its implications.

Days before voting began on the hastily completed charter—which, despite only 33 percent turnout and accusations of fraud, passed December 25 with 64 percent of the vote—more than 10,000 Christians gathered at an interdenominational prayer vigil in Cairo’s famous “Cave Church.”

Please click here and here for more information about this prayer gathering. But the article continues:

“Morsi has not kept his promises to be a president for all Egyptians when he had a chance to do so, and he is losing credibility,” said Ramez Atallah, president of the Bible Society of Egypt. “When the leader is not working for consensus, it makes it very hard for anyone else to do so.”

Yet Atallah still advises Christians to remain politically active while grounding their expectations in the necessary dual perspective of Christianity.

“We must be good citizens,” he said. “This panic is not justified in our faith, even if it may be justified in terms of politics.

And here is a section on liberal ‘hope’ for political reversal in the midst of anticipated economic difficulty:

But as liberals have consistently failed to win at the polls, some place a morose hope in Egypt’s expected financial difficulties to aid their parliamentary campaign.

“There is an economic disaster coming,” said Michael Nabil, an Egyptian accountant. Since the revolution, Egypt has lost more than half of its foreign currency reserve fighting inflation and devaluation. “This will affect the situation negatively for the Muslim Brotherhood and give the opposition more credibility,” he said.

I had hoped to write this week’s Friday Prayers for Egypt about the economy, but was unable to. Perhaps after the climax of the constitution nothing this week seemed so urgent for prayer. That is not true, of course, but like many in Egypt, I feel somewhat drained, and this week was a week of recovery. Western Christmas celebrations helped.

The main issue for the prayers would have been the feared coming economic collapse. It may well happen, but is also tinged with manipulative rumors that seem almost designed to produce a panic.

Finally, a quote on what seems a very proper perspective for Egyptian Christians:

“There is no connection to political stability and the success of the gospel,” said Atallah. “In fact, the opposite might be true: People depend more on God in difficult times.”Maybe God will use the Muslim Brotherhood to do his will in Egypt, even if we don’t want them to be in charge,” he said.

Please click here to read the entire article on Christianity Today.

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Current Events Jayson

What Egypt’s Christians Think of Hastily Completed Constitution

Christian Constitution

From my recent article on Christianity Today:

Addressing the nation in a televised interview Thursday, President Mohamed Morsi welcomed the sudden completion of Egypt’s draft constitution after months of gridlock.

Amid public outcry against his decision last week to grant himself immunity from judicial review, Morsi praised the constitution’s speedy completion as a necessary step in order to end the nation’s transition to democracy and reestablish separate executive, legislative, and judicial authority.

He also dismissed questions about the legitimacy of the document, especially given the withdrawal of Christian and many liberal members of the assembly drafting it.

“The withdrawal of the church from the constitutional assembly is nothing to worry about,” Morsi said. “It’s important to me that they be part of it, but not to worry.”

The article features the voice of Rev. Safwat el-Baiady, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt, one of the church’s official representatives who withdrew from the constitutional assembly. His perspective is given on the more controversial articles, including the role of sharia law, the Azhar, and society in determining both law and social morality.

Please click here to finish reading at Christianity Today.

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Current Events Jayson

Egypt Erupts Again: Christians Resist Muslim Brotherhood President’s Power Grab

Cross and Quran Held Aloft at Tahrir

From my new article on Christianity Today:

The recent deaths of two teenagers best communicate the situation in Egypt today.

Gaber Saleh, a 16-year-old revolutionary activist, was killed in confrontations with police in Tahrir Square last Sunday. That same day, Islam Massoud, a 15-year-old Muslim Brotherhood member, was killed in clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi in Damanhour, a city in the Nile Delta.

The deaths reveal a nation deeply divided by the decision of Morsi last week to appropriate all governing authority until a new Egyptian constitution is completed and a new parliament elected. Protests have broken out throughout the nation; Tahrir Square has once again filled to capacity. Many of Egypt’s judges have decried the attack on their independence, with the two highest appellate courts joining others in a nationwide strike.

The nation’s Christians are firmly in the opposition camp.

At least officially, Egypt’s Christians are not calling to depose Morsy:

“This is a national issue, not a Christian one,” says Safwat el-Baiady, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt and a former member of the constitutional assembly.

“As Christians, we are not calling for the downfall of the president. And we do not fight against the authorities. As a church, we ask only for a suitable constitution for Christians and Muslims.

“But normal people have the right to be in the squares.”

Some, if not many, might hope for it, but the outrage is directed primarily at his constitutional declaration. It has led a vice president to resign from his administration:

Morsi’s opposition is not just in the street. Samir Marcos, Morsi’s vice president for democratic transition and the most prominent Coptic member of his administration, has resigned.

“I refuse to remain [in my position],” he told the international Arab newspaper Asharq Alawsat, “in light of this presidential decision that is crippling to the democratic transition process … and which is contrary to what I am trying to achieve through my position.”

One idea floated now is that his powers could be submitted to a referendum, or yield to a referendum on a rushed constitution:

This might also create a scenario where a weary public votes “Yes” in the constitutional referendum to follow, simply to end the deadlock and restore stability. In the process, liberals and Christians fear, the public would accept a flawed and religiously tinted constitution.

Of course, either way the people vote, a deadlock might continue. The Muslim Brotherhood will hold a rally on Saturday to support the president, whereas they previously canceled a competing protest out of fear for “bloodshed.”

“In order to save Egypt from going back to square one—dropping into chaos and nearly civil war—we have to think of a compromise,” said Sidhom. “But I fail to see how or where.”

Please click here to read the whole article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events Jayson

Egyptian Churches Give Up on Helping Create New Constitution

From my new article on Christianity Today:

In another blow to Egypt’s democratic transition, representatives of the Muslim nation’s three main Christian bodies jointly decided to end their participation in writing a new constitution.

“The constitution … in its current form does not meet the desired national consensus and does not reflect the pluralistic identity of Egypt,” said Bishop Pachomious, acting patriarch for the Coptic Orthodox Church. The announcement was made one day before Pope Tawadros II assumed the papal throne of St. Mark, the gospel writer.

A primary complaint is over the role of shari’ah. Article Two of Egypt’s 1971 constitution, as well as the current draft of the new constitution, enshrines the “principles” of shari’ah to be the primary source of legislation. Pope Tawadros does not dispute the article as currently defined—including its designation of Islam as the religion of the state. But all churches reject its expansion.

“They left Article Two as is, but then added another article defining the principles of shari’ah.”

Please click here to continue reading at Christianity Today.

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Current Events Jayson

Can Egypt’s Christian Assistant President Get Democracy Back on Track?

Samir Marcos

Four and a half months into Mohamed Morsy’s presidency, much of Egypt’s democratic transition is still on hold. Parliament remains dissolved. A new constitution is still pending, beset by legal challenges. In this political limbo, Morsy has appropriated even more power than former dictator Hosni Mubarak enjoyed before the January 2011 revolution.

However, alongside Morsy in this limbo is Samir Marcos, a Coptic intellectual serving as assistant president for democratic transition.

This is the opening of my new article on Christianity Today, discussing if it was wise for him to join an Islamist administration, and, if he will have a real voice. Please click here for the full article, featuring diverse Coptic answers to these questions.

“We told him, ‘Accept the position and be involved in the administration, and we will be behind you and support you. But if you feel you are being marginalized and not listened to, resign and make this clear to everyone,'” said Gaziri.

Of course, others disagree.

“The Muslim Brotherhood’s reputation in the international community will improve with him there, but Copts will not gain anything,” said Mamdouh Nakhla, head of the Word Center for Human Rights. “It is very difficult to change the regime from the inside.”

But I appreciate this perspective:

“The most unwise thing to do would be to refuse working with the administration due to its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said. “Despite our different perspectives concerning the civil state, we must maintain at least the minimum of dialogue so that we can work together for the good of Egypt.”

It is well and good to play politics, and Christians, like all people, can disagree about how to play it properly. But at the end of the day, the defining criteria must be to do what is right, even if others will take advantage.

There are degrees of right and wrong, so one must be very careful before rejecting the political stance of another. For someone like Nakhla, who is convinced the Muslim Brotherhood is a hypocritical, power hungry organization, it can certainly be ‘right’ not to aid or abet them.

Still, for good or for ill, they are currently entrusted with running the state for the good of the country. Succeed or fail, all citizens must work for the same aim. I believe Marcos is doing well.

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Current Events Jayson

Tomorrow, God to Select the Next Coptic Orthodox Pope

From left: Bishop Tawadros, Fr. Raphael Ava Mina, Bishop Raphael

While Americans prepare to elect their next president on Tuesday, Egyptian Christians are leaving this Sunday’s choice for their highest leader up to a higher power: God.

On November 4, one of three final candidates will succeed Pope Shenouda III, the beloved “pope of the Bible” who died in March, as the 118th patriarch of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church. But in contrast to the “group consensus” method used to select Roman Catholic popes, the casting of lots will determine whether Bishop Raphael of Cairo, Bishop Tawadros of Beheira, or Father Raphael Ava Mina, a monk from the Monastery of St. Mina near Alexandria, becomes the next spiritual leader of Egypyt’s 8 million Orthodox Christians.

This excerpt is from my article describing the papal selection process for Christianity Today. Please click here for the article in full.

It is an exciting day for Coptic Christians; may God honor their faith and grant them wise leadership. Two other angles to note:

First, all observers declared the election process prior to the lot was very organized, clear, and transparent. A limited pool of around 2,400 electors brought the number of candidates from five to three, of whom the lot will fall on one.

Some remarked the church wanted to present a picture of democracy and order that has so far escaped the Egyptian transition. Yes, for both parliament and president, democracy has been present and the lines to vote have been orderly. Yet the church has bent over backwards to ensure its election majors on the key missing ingredient in Egypt: transparency.

Second, if indeed there is transparency in selecting one of these three names, it presents an unmistakable spiritual picture of leadership to Egypt. One liberally-minded Muslim friend questions the reality of the lot, saying there is no way any large institution can leave their top leadership position to chance. He believes Bishop Raphael will be chosen; tomorrow we will see.

I am not sure how to interpret this spiritual picture, if indeed the blindfolded child has three separate names from which to draw. Yet given the wrangling, ambition, and conspiracy that has surrounded the Egyptian presidential contest – with unmistakable religious overtones – the church is saying: We trust in God.

As always, statements must be modified. The church is not saying it is a model for the Egyptian state. On the contrary, if anything, it is a rebuke by contrast. As a church we can be clearly spiritual in our leadership selection, but we are all Christians. The state, as a mixed polity, should be clearly secular.

If this is the lesson offered by the church, it is received. But it is not received with full transparency. The final choice is for God, and the election from five to three was by an accredited election. But the movement of candidates from seventeen to five was not particularly transparent. Twelve candidates were removed by a committee, and among these were the most controversial and polarizing figures.

Of the five that remained, three were of a similar disposition, while two were monks who were largely unknown. Please read the article to learn a little more of this disposition, but if the election from five and the lot from three will result in a similar pope no matter the candidate, where is the transparency?

By and large, Copts are very happy with their choices, so there is no need to complain. Furthermore, the church is not a democracy and should not be held to the standards of modern revolutionary conventional wisdom.

But on what basis were other candidates removed? Perhaps, simply, spiritual wisdom? This is not the same as transparency, on which democracy rests. Democracy can be transparent yet produce an unwise choice. But spin this differently, and the question is necessary: Is an appeal to spiritual wisdom simply a justification for paternalistic arrogance?

Now extend this question to Egypt, as President Mubarak did: Is Egypt ready for democracy?

Countless non-Islamists might look at the results and wonder, for they dare not articulate contrary to holy democratic principle, ‘No’. Democracy demands faith in the people, who can be rather fickle and easily manipulated.

Meanwhile, countless Islamists recognize ‘faith in the people’ as idolatry. They demand the coming constitution state clearly that sovereignty belongs – not to the people as currently written – but to God.

In the above, three models are presented: the reception of a system from God, the full sovereignty of people, and the paternalism that allows choice along a spectrum. Where does wisdom lie?

As I stated, I am not sure how to interpret the lessons from the papal selection process to the Egyptian society at large. I sense, however, the observations are poignant. I only wish for their proper translation.

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Culture Jayson

Muslim Creativity Comes to Church in Alexandria

One of over 40 award winning pictures taken by Muslim photographers at a recent exhibition at an Alexandria cultural center. All photos were of some aspect of the historic church which hosts the center.

This article was first posted on Christianity Today on July 19, 2012.

Alexandria, Egypt, was once a lighthouse for Christianity, emanating from the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Now it is a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more conservative Salafi Muslims.

So a Christian opening a cultural center for Muslim and Christian artists in Alexandria—within the walls of an Anglican church—demonstrates a stroke of boldness in a city where some 23 Coptic Christians were killed in a church bombing on New Year’s Day 2011.

“For many Muslims,” says Nader Wanis, founder of the Corners for Creativity cultural center, “it was the first time in their life they [had] entered a church. They were astounded we let them in; then they go and invite others.”

Please click here to continue reading at Christianity Today.

 

This article was very fun to research and write; it was a nice break from politics and the challenge of understanding what is happening in Egypt.

This is Our City’ is a new feature of Christianity Today, highlighting Christians who are working not just for the good of their church or the good of their faith, but the good of the whole city. It focuses on six American locales – Portland, Richmond, Detroit, New York, Phoenix, and Palo Alto – and then a ‘7th City’ which can draw on good examples from anywhere.

So when I heard about this particular cultural center in Alexandria, I inquired if Christianity Today was interested in highlighting an international effort.

They were. Bangkok, Thailand was first to the pole, but I am glad to help Egypt get the silver medal.

 

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Current Events Jayson

What Egyptian Christians Think about their New Islamist President

Morsy celebrating victory

My article on Morsy’s victory was originally published at Christianity Today on June 25, 2012.

In the most democratic elections since 1952, the people of Egypt have freely chosen their leader. And for the first time in history, that leader is a native-born Islamist.

Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood captured 51 percent of the vote, narrowly defeating his rival Ahmed Shafik (widely perceived as the candidate of the former regime) who gathered 48 percent. Jubilant crowds in Tahrir Square celebrated into the night, though for diverse reasons.

Many rejoiced at the triumph of the candidate of Islam, one who had pledged to implement Shari’ah law. Others, nervous at the prospect of Muslim Brotherhood rule, nevertheless exulted in the triumph of the revolution, first deposing Mubarak and then defeating his former minister.

Some, though not likely in Tahrir, quietly exhaled at a democratic election and rotation of power, hopeful these gains will not be reversed.

Meanwhile, at a Christian retreat center outside of Cairo, a number of Coptic women shed tears of despair over their community’s future, as they huddled around a television and watched Morsy be proclaimed the winner.

Some of the men tried to find the positive…

Please click here to continue reading at Christianity Today

 

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Current Events Jayson

Write-Ups in the Run-Up to the Run-Off

Egyptians vote today, but I am having trouble deciding if I wish or am able to make a prediction (especially after the last disaster). I think probably I will, but my mind is still spinning from recent events, so in all likelihood I’ll wait until tomorrow and gauge the mood after day one.

In the meanwhile I can share with you some articles published elsewhere in advance of the run-off elections.

From Christianity Today: A primer explaining who the Copts are.

This weekend, Egypt will choose as its president either Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood or Ahmed Shafik of the former Hosni Mubarak regime. (That is, unless fallout from a high court’s invalidation yesterday of the nation’s parliament cancels the election.) Few Egyptians are excited about these choices—including many of the nation’s Copts.

But who are the Copts? Generally understood as “the Christians of Egypt,” Copts comprise Orthodox, evangelicals, and Catholics who total 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people. (Egypt also has a sizeable population of Christian refugees from Sudan.) Both the euphoria and disappointment of the Arab Spring have brought these branches of Christianity in Egypt closer together as a community.

However, defining the Copts concretely is more difficult, explains Mark Nygard, director of graduate studies at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (founded in 1863 by American Presbyterian missionaries).

“Copts are the historical Orthodox Church of Egypt. It is a fuzzy term, but strictly speaking it refers to those under the pope’s authority,” he said.

Click here to continue reading at Christianity Today.

From Christian Century: Asking if Copts did, and now will, vote for the old regime candidate.

Coptic Christians, who constitute about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, were in a unique position to influence the first round of the presidential elections on May 23–24, the first election ever in Egypt without a predetermined outcome. It appears that they sided primarily with a representative of the old regime.

The top two vote-getters were Ahmed Shafik, who was appointed prime minister by Hosni Mubarak in a last-ditch effort to save his position, and Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood. With Morsi and Shafik set to compete in a runoff election June 16–17, the election seems drawn as a competition between the old regime and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Morsi and Shafik each advanced with about 24 percent of the total, edging out Hamdeen Sabahi, who finished third. Sabahi is a long-standing opposition figure and a moderate socialist and Egyptian nationalist. As the centrist candidacies of Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Amr Moussa waned, Sabahi’s popularity exploded, especially among the youth, including many Copts. Fotouh is a former Brotherhood member who sought to be a bridge between Islamists and liberals. He attracted some Copts until receiving the endorsement of ultra-conservative Salafi groups, which scared many away. Moussa is a former foreign minister who fell out of favor with Mubarak, which increased his credibility. He attracted Copts who were sympathetic to the revolution but wary of drastic changes.

Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic newspaper Watani, estimated that about 60 percent of Christians voted for Shafik, 30 percent for Sabahi, and 10 percent for Moussa. As the votes were counted, one Sabahi campaign activist lashed out at Christians, claiming that they killed the revolution. He was quickly quieted down.

Yet is the charge true? Did Copts vote solidly for the most counterrevolutionary candidate? One must also ask: Did they feel the threat of the Brotherhood compelled them to make this decision?

For Sidhom, the choice has become clear. “The revolution is now in the hands of political Islam, and Copts must make a bitter choice to support the civil state. I expect Moussa’s supporters will easily shift to Shafik, but how will we be able to convince the youth, who were so dedicated to the revolution, to do so as well?”

Click here to continue reading at Christian Century.

Finally, for any Spanish speaking readers of this blog, please click here to access the Deia newspaper from Spain which is following the Coptic perspective on elections, and interviewed me in the process.

Best wishes and success to all Egyptians.

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Current Events Jayson

How MB-Evangelical Dialogue Began

On February 28, 2012 the leaders of the Evangelical Churches of Egypt met with the Muslim Brotherhood, and produced a document delineating the shared values of both organizations.

About a month ago I posted the text of this agreement online. Today, my article was published on Christianity Today, drawing out from leaders on both sides the substance of what exactly was agreed upon. Please click here to read it on their site.

Seventeen evangelical signatories are listed; perhaps the one most surprising comes at the very end.

Rev. Rifaat Fikry is the pastor of an evangelical church in Shubra, a densely populated suburb to the north of Cairo well known for its high concentration of Christian residents.

Rev. Fikry is well known for his strident anti-Islamist stance. In fact, it is this very posture which involved him in the dialogue in the first place.

President of the Evangelical Churches Rev. Safwat el-Bayadi and Vice-President Rev. Andrea Zaki first contemplated the quiet invitation of the Muslim Brotherhood, issued through Dr. Rafik Habib. Habib is a controversial figure in evangelical circles. He is the son of Rev. Samuel Habib, founder of the Coptic Organization for Social Services – one of the largest charity and development groups in the country.

He is also a vice-president in the Freedom and Justice Party, the political branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Coptic community of Egypt is very wary of Islamists, fearing an agenda they believe will result in their marginalization and loss of citizenship rights. Knowing full well the sentiment of their flock, Bayadi and Zaki turned to Fikry as the best exemplar and most informed of those who could express Coptic fears through an evangelical lens.

They asked him to write a letter to the Brotherhood detailing every concern, complaint, and consternation. After review, Bayadi and Zaki placed their names on the document, and sent it to the Brotherhood through Habib.

As the original author, it was only appropriate for Fikry to attend the subsequent meeting. He was especially interested to sit face to face with Brotherhood leaders, to ask them the questions at the heart of his opposition. During the sessions, he did so, with boldness.

In the end, Fikry was very pleased with the document. His main complaint lies in the Brotherhood’s rejection of referencing international treaties on human rights. MB leaders were concerned this could open the door to an acceptance of homosexuality, but Fikry argued nothing of the sort. His concern was for religious rights principally.

Even as the meeting ended, Fikry maintained an anti-Islamist stance. He was skeptical; after many months he finds confirmation that the Brotherhood simply used the evangelical churches for political gain.

But he is not regretful. Fikry is clear that he will sit for dialogue with anyone. The lasting value in the meeting comes not only from the agreed upon document, but also from the beginning of relationship. Though this has not continued in subsequent months, it still exists. If Islamists reach to power – a proposition Fikry finds very unlikely – these relationships could be invaluable. If not, they are valuable all the same.

They enable a man to say his piece, and to hear an answer directly.

As the evangelical churches and Muslim Brotherhood agreed, this is part and parcel of citizenship.

The only question, for Fikry especially, is of implementation. Even so, fear thereof should not preclude the effort.

On the contrary, such fear demands it.

Note: Christianity Today also published a feature text on Egypt and the responses of Christian leaders to the transition period. Please click here for access, and click here for the article on the MB-Evangelical agreement.

 

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Current Events Jayson

Christianity Today on Pope Shenouda

His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, Pope of the Co...

Just a short post today to direct to the article I contributed to Christianity Today on why the death of Pope Shenouda is also mourned by Egypt’s Protestants. If you click on the link above today you will see it highlighted as the lead story. Afterwards, please click here for the permanent link.

I hope the article will help the largely evangelical American audience better understand Coptic Christians, and the great affinity between the two communities. May they pray for the church here during this period of mourning, and for wisdom, in selecting a successor.

Here is the article opening:

Pope Shenouda, the controversial yet beloved head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, passed away on Saturday after 40 years of leading and reforming the ancient Christian sect. His death complicates the uncertain position of Orthodox believers—who represent 90 percent of Egyptian Christians—now that Islamists have surged to leadership following Egypt’s revolution last January.

Coptic Protestants respected and appreciated the pope.

“Shenouda was a pope of the Bible,” said Ramez Atallah, head of the Bible Society of Egypt. “We are the fifth-largest Bible society in the world because [he] created a hunger for the Scriptures among Copts.”

Safwat el-Baiady, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt, described Shenouda’s commitment to interdenominational understanding. “I have known him since before he was pope, and we served together on the Middle East Council of Churches. He would meet with us for hours and listen to our views.”

Please click here to continue reading at Christianity Today.