A group of academic Christians in the Middle East has thrown down the gauntlet: The local church, bound in fear to its minority mindset, needs to walk afresh in the Holy Spirit.
“We must tell the truth and call for freedom,” said Souraya Bechalany, coauthor of “We Choose Abundant Life,” a document released last September that makes 20 recommendations. “We are powerful in Jesus Christ, but too often we don’t believe it.”
Bechalany, a professor of theology and ecumenism at the University of St. Joseph in Lebanon, joined 14 other scholars across the region to challenge local Christians to give up their self-understanding of being a minority and to work for the rights of citizenship for all in a changing society.
Local clergy, they say, have instead often wedded themselves to the regimes.
Surveying experience from the Ottoman Empire onward, the document laments how many Christians have taken refuge in sectarianism, turning their vision inward toward survival.
Arab nationalism provided an escape, as Christians took leading roles in developing a common political discourse independent of religion. So did relationships with Western churches, as Catholics and Protestants pioneered modern education and built hospitals to serve society.
But as the region’s nation-states increasingly sacrificed democratic norms in favor of political stability—whether secular or Islamic—church leaders tended in one of two directions: Ally with the authorities, or plead to patrons in the West.
“If we continue in this direction,” said Gabriel Hachem, a Melkite Catholic priest and editor in chief of the French-language journal Proche Orient Chretien, “there is no future for us in the region.”
For now, the regimes are winning, as the challenge of ISIS and political Islam have pushed Christians to support the pillars of authority in alliances of minorities. But in doing so, they sided against human rights and dignity. This is inherently unstable, Hachem said, and Christians suffer also.
Their rate of emigration is rapidly increasing. The ecumenical Abundant Life is the product of a three-year consultation involving…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on February 23, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.