Categories
Americas Christianity Today Published Articles

Interview: To Elect Trump, Evangelicals Could Find Common Cause with Muslims

By Alisdare Hickson (link)

In a tightly contested presidential race, might Muslims swing the US election?

Referencing the release of President Donald Trump’s tax returns in Tuesday’s debate, former vice president’s Joe Biden’s “inshallah” [Arabic for “if God wills”] may have been a nod to the strong support he receives from this community.

But according to data from the fifth annual American Muslim Poll, Muslims make up only 1 percent of the American population, only 74 percent are eligible to vote, and only 57 percent are registered.

Why then do they occupy such an outsized space in the mind of many American evangelicals? And what should evangelicals better understand about the American Muslim community and their political preferences? CT spoke with Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), which commissioned the poll.

The level of support for President Trump has doubled among Muslims, from 13 percent in 2018 and 16 percent in 2019 to 30 percent in 2020. How to you interpret this finding? We are still trying to understand it ourselves. One thing is…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on October 1, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Can ‘Abraham’ Bring Peace to the Middle East?

In forging the first Arab-Israeli peace deal since 1994, President Donald Trump paid homage to a patriarch.

He named the historic normalization the “Abraham Accord.”

The familiar Bible character “is referred to as ‘Abraham’ in the Christian faith, ‘Ibrahim’ in the Muslim faith, and ‘Avraham’ in the Jewish faith,” explained David Friedman, US ambassador to Israel.

“And no person better symbolizes the potential for unity, among all these three great faiths.”

In signing the accord, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) joined Egypt and Jordan as the only Arab nations to make peace with Israel. Telephone lines are already being connected between the Gulf nation and the Jewish state, with preparations underway to exchange embassies.

It may open a new era. Fellow Gulf nations Bahrain and Oman signaled their support, while Saudi Arabia did not oppose it.

“This is a once-in-a-generation diplomatic achievement, but I predict it will be the first, not the last,” said Johnnie Moore, an evangelical leader engaged in behind-the-scenes advocacy. He and bestselling novelist Joel Rosenberg led an evangelical delegation to the UAE in October 2018 (as well as two delegations to Saudi Arabia), and Moore has personally visited three more times.

“The Abraham Accord,” he said, “will prove to be the moment when the grievances of the past no longer overpowered the promises of the future in the Middle East.” A hero of faith to both Christians and Jews, ‘Ibrahim’ is already a central figure in the UAE. The nation…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 17, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Current Events

Will International Religious Freedom Survive the Trump Administration?

On June 2, as protests over the death of George Floyd raged across the United States, President Donald Trump elevated the stature of religious freedom within the State Department.

“Religious freedom for all people worldwide is a foreign policy priority,” read the executive order (EO) he signed, “and the United States will respect and vigorously promote this freedom.”

It received almost no media attention.

The provisions—long called for by many advocates of international religious freedom (IRF)—could overhaul a US foreign policy that has historically sidelined support for America’s “first freedom.”

That is, if the order survives a potential Joe Biden administration.

It is common for a new president to reverse EOs issued by their predecessor. In his eight years in office, President Obama issued 30 to amend or rescind Bush-era policies. In his first year in office, Trump issued 17 directed at Obama-era policies.

While IRF has typically enjoyed bipartisan support, current political polarization leaves few sacred cows.

Trump signed the EO after a visit to the Pope John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC. It was previously scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of the Polish-born pope’s 1979 return to his home nation, which set off a political and spiritual revolution that defied the Soviet Union and eventually ended the Cold War.

However, Washington’s Catholic archbishop called it “baffling and reprehensible” the facility would allow itself to be manipulated one day after Trump lifted a Bible in front of St. John’s Anglican Church across from the White House in the wake of the aggressive dispersal of protesters opposing police brutality and racial injustice.

The president’s gesture risked corroborating critics who argue that Trump’s religious freedom policies are a nod only to evangelical Christians concerned for fellow believers.

But while the Bible photo op divided evangelicals, should Trump’s IRF credentials definitively tilt the scale come elections in November?

“President Trump’s executive order will make the commitment to international religious freedom more robust,” said former congressman Frank Wolf, arguing the Trump administration has been markedly stronger on the issue than those of either party.

“If you care about religious freedom…

This article was first published at Christianity Today on June 30, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Current Events

13 Christian Takes on Trump’s Peace Plan for Israel and Palestine

Trump Peace Plan

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on January 28, 2020.

After three years of anticipation—and dread—President Trump announced the launch of his “Deal of the Century” to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side, he outlined details for a proposal that would recognize a Palestinian state following extensive land swaps and security arrangements.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was not present, having broken off communication with the White House following several US decisions deemed biased toward Israel.

Abbas immediately rejected the plan, which Palestinians had long declared “dead on arrival.”

But Netanyahu’s acceptance was enthusiastic, declaring himself willing to begin negotiations with the Palestinians on such terms. A day earlier, Netanyahu’s challenger Benny Gantz also signaled his party’s agreement with Trump’s proposal.

With three Arab states lacking a peace treaty with Israel in attendance—Oman, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates—Trump hopes there will be a regional push to implement his plan.

And with $50 billion promised as investment for the nascent Palestinian state, the president believes all the necessary pieces are in place.

“All previous generations from Lyndon Johnson tried and bitterly failed,” Trump said. “But I was not elected to do small things, or shy away from big problems.”

It only required he approach peace in a “fundamentally different” manner…

 

Following a summary the article includes the perspective of

  • Joel Rosenberg, co-founder of the Alliance for the Peace of Jerusalem
  • Salim Munayer, head of the Jerusalem-based Musalaha reconciliation ministry
  • Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist and secretary of the Jordan Evangelical Council in Amman
  • Hanna Massad, a Palestinian pastor who led Gaza Baptist Church for 12 years and returns regularly
  • Gerald McDermott, Anglican Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School who recently wrote The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land
  • Yohanna Katanacho, a Palestinian pastor and academic dean at Nazareth Evangelical College
  • Lisa Loden, the Messianic Jewish co-chair of the Lausanne Initiative for Reconciliation in Israel–Palestine
  • Joel Chernoff, general secretary of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America
  • Martin Accad, chief academic officer at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut
  • John Hagee, the founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel
  • Todd Deatherage, cofounder and executive director of Telos Group, which seeks to build a “pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace movement”
  • Wissam al-Saliby, the Geneva-based advocacy officer for the World Evangelical Alliance
  • Ibrahim Nseir, Syrian pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Aleppo

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

Categories
Current Events

Syrian Christians to US: ‘Don’t Abandon Us Now’

Kurds Syria USA
Image: Chris McGrath / Getty Images; The Kurdish-led and American-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) announced the defeat of the Islamic State in at a ceremony in Baghouz in March.

This article was first published by Christianity Today on October 8.

Not long after the defeat of the Islamic State in the area, Syrian Christians warn that US military withdrawal from the Kurdish-controlled region, announced yesterday by President Donald Trump, will expose them to danger.

“The expected military invasion [by Turkey] and the possible confrontation with the Kurds might oblige Christians of the region to leave,” said Joseph Kassab, president of the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon. “This means one more tragedy to the Christian presence in Syria.”

Seeking to honor his campaign promises to extract America from “endless war,” Trump yielded to Turkey’s demand to establish a “safe zone” along its southern border with Syria. Since August, the United States and Turkey administered a joint buffer zone patrol in the Kurdish-majority area.

Turkey’s objectives are two-fold. First, to resettle up to 2 million Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey. Second, to clear the border of Kurdish fighters linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), deemed a terrorist entity by both Ankara and Washington. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had threatened to establish a 20-mile corridor unilaterally, frustrated by US cooperation with Kurdish fighters belonging to the PKK.

The Kurdish-controlled area of northeast Syria stretches 300 miles from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border. Approximately 750,000 people live there, including estimates of between 40,000 and 100,000 Christians.

Over 700,000 Christians have fled Syria since 2011. And while some warn of further displacement, others fear a greater threat.

“Turkey aims to kill and destroy us and to finish the genocide against our people,” said a statement issued by…

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

Categories
Current Events

In UN Speech, Trump Announces New Religious Freedom Initiatives

Trump United Nations
UN Photo/Manuel Elias Secretary-General António Guterres and Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, attend the Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom briefing. (23 September 2019)

This article was first published at Christianity Today on September 23.

Speaking before the United Nations today, President Trump praised the country’s religious freedom record and cited figures that suggest the rest of the world has much work to do, as he announced new funding to protect religious sites as well as business partnerships to fuel the cause.

“Our nation was founded on the idea that our rights do not come from government, but from God,” said Trump. “Regrettably, the freedom enjoyed in America is rare in the world.”

Trump said he had asked Vice President Mike Pence to double-check the figure of 80 percent of the world’s population living in areas that restrict religious freedom. According to Pew Research, 83 percent of the population lives in places with “high” or “very high” restrictions, mostly targeting religious minorities.

“Today, with one clear voice, the US calls on the nations of the world to end religious persecution,” Trump said.

Pence stated that Trump was the first world leader to chair a meeting on religious freedom at the United Nations.

Seeking international consensus on religious freedom, he called out Iran, Iraq, China, Venezuela, and Nicaragua for their violations and mentioned the terrorist tragedies that struck down Jews in Pittsburgh, Muslims in New Zealand, and Christians in Sri Lanka.

Under Trump’s leadership, Pence said, the United States passed the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Act to protect religious minorities in the Middle East, and the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Fund dispersed 435 rapid response grants since 2018, aiding 2,000 victims of persecution. A year ago, the Trump administration doubled its funding for Christians and religious minorities returning to Iraq.

“As President, protecting religious freedom is one of my highest priorities, and always has been,” said Trump, who today pledged an additional $25 million to protect religious sites and relics around the world that are under threat. He urged the global community join in “measures to prevent the intentional destruction of religious sites and relics,” including attacks on houses of worship…

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

Categories
Current Events

Will Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ on Israel-Palestine Please Evangelicals?

Trump Deal Century Israel Palestine Evangelical
Image: Illustration by Rick Szuecs / Source image: Senior Airman Delano Scott / JBA via CT

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on April 12, 2019.

When it comes to Israel, nearly all evangelicals hold dear the biblical maxim: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

But what does it mean after a fiercely contested election?

President Donald Trump will soon propose his vision of practical exegesis.

Two years in the making, Trump’s “Deal of the Century” is slated to be released soon, now that Israel has reelected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His Likud party secured a virtual tie with challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, but Bibi’s right-wing coalition will push him over the top.

Neither leading candidate made the peace process with Palestinians a major plank of their campaign as the entire Israeli electorate has shifted to the right, emphasizing security over negotiation.

Other American presidents have tried and failed to advance official US policy of a two-state solution. But while Trump has brought a new energy—and unpredictability—to forge an elusive peace between Israelis and Palestinians, he may face two very skeptical partners.

Even so, Trump has shaken the system.

Last year in May, he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem.

In February, he stopped US funding to Palestinian aid programs.

Last month, he recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

And more than any president prior, he has courted evangelical opinion. LifeWay Research shows that 67 percent of American adults with evangelical beliefs have positive perceptions toward Israel, with 80 percent believing Abraham’s covenant is for all time.

But while analysts have panned Trump’s decisions as decidedly one-sided against the Palestinians, he has dangled his own deal-making reputation as—at times—a warning to the Israelis.

“Israel will have to pay a higher price,” he said after ordering the embassy’s relocation, for the Palestinians “will get something very good, because it’s their turn next.”

What does Trump expect? And will it cost him his carefully cultivated evangelical support?

Details of his plan have not been publicly released, but in February US officials Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt toured Arab capitals seeking support.

A month later Greenblatt, Trump’s chief legal officer and special representative for international negotiations, checked in with US evangelicals in a special meeting at the White House.

Axios reported that several “raised concerns.”

CT surveyed 11 evangelical leaders—7 from the US and 4 from the Middle East—to take their pulse on expectations and gauge their red lines.

“Don’t divide Jerusalem, It would disappoint me if that was President Trump’s decision,” said…

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

Related: The attempt to bring Judeo-Christian politics to Israel

Categories
Current Events

Will Trump’s Turkey Sanctions Help Andrew Brunson More Than They Hurt Turkish Christians?

This article excerpt was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 16.

Trump Erdogan Brunson
Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

… But some analysts say high-level pressure may do more harm than good, for both Brunson and Turkey (and Europe). And Americans who serve the gospel overseas often have dual sympathies, pained by the resultant suffering of the local citizens they serve.

“I would love to have US advocacy for my release,” said one American who previously worked in Turkey, “even though as a Christian I could stay [in jail] as long as I needed to.”

But wishing to stay anonymous so that he can return to Turkey, his reasoning is almost the reverse of expectations.

“Politically, being detained creates a negative image of Turkey in the US,” he said. “I would want to get out as quickly as possible to continue to advocate for that part of the world, helping them see the Turkey I love.”

And this Turkey is suffering, said a Turkish evangelical involved in ministry for over a decade, who also requested anonymity to discuss politics.

“Economic disaster!” he said of the currency devaluation. “Our people are already poor, but now the crisis deepens.”

Erdoğan has engaged President Trump’s rhetoric tit-for-tat, accusing him of an “evangelical, Zionist” mentality. But worries over Erdoğan’s economic policies and his control over Turkey’s central bank have resulted in a near 50-percent decline in the lira this year, as inflation has soared.

As Trump celebrated, Erdogan cried conspiracy.

And Turkey’s minorities unexpectedly asserted they were just fine.

“Statements alleging and/or alluding to oppression are completely untrue,” stated 18 Christian and Jewish leaders, headlined by Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. “Many grievances experienced in the past have been resolved.”

Many religious freedom analysts view the statement as evidence of the opposite: that minorities in Turkey are manipulated by the government in order to counter American claims of persecution. Many grievances continue.

And the above-mentioned Turkish ministry leader fears the worst.

“The response of the US is putting Turkish Christians in danger. People take it as a reason to attack us, and Christophobia is growing,” he said.

“Probably Brother Andrew will be released. But we’ll stay here and face all the effects after him…”

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

Categories
Current Events

Christ at the Checkpoint in the Age of Trump

 

ALcheckpoint3
Checkpoint between Israel and Palestine; credit: Andrew Larson

This article was first published May 25 at Christianity Today.

Fares Abraham grew up in the West Bank village of Beit Sahour, where tradition says the angels sang “Peace on Earth” to the startled shepherds. But his clearest memory is of his mother shot in the back by an Israeli soldier as she shuffled him and the neighborhood kids into her house during the first intifada.

Now in his mid-30s, the Liberty University graduate created Levant Ministries five years ago to mobilize Arab youth to fulfill the Great Commission.

And when he comes back home, he is at peace with his upbringing.

“When I was young, I asked myself if I should join the resistance or be a bystander,” he said to the 500 attendees—including 150 local Palestinian Christians—gathered in Bethlehem from 24 countries at the fourth biennial Christ at the Checkpoint (CATC) conference in 2016.

“But now I can go up to a checkpoint, look a soldier in the eye, and say, ‘I forgive you and love you in the name of Jesus.’”

Working also with global partners, Abraham believes the younger generations are pro-peace, becoming increasingly pro-justice the more their lives are transformed by the gospel.

It is a message communicated at CATC, though its anti-Christian Zionism is often criticized as anti-Israel…

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

CATC audience
Audience at CATC opening in 2016; credit: Andrew Larson

 

Categories
Current Events

Friends of Zion’s Christians?

Friends of Zion's Christians
Christian pilgrims carry palm branches during the Palm Sunday procession on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. UPI/Debbie Hill

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on December 15, 2017.

American evangelicals rediscovered their brethren in the Middle East in recent years. The promise of the Arab Spring, followed by the threat of ISIS. Beheadings and other martyrdoms, followed by forgiveness.

Many decided we must become better friends, and work harder for the persecuted church’s flourishing in the land of its birth.

However, President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is putting that new friendship to the test, as Middle East Christian leaders have almost unanimously rallied against the decision.

Trump’s decision would “increase hatred, conflict, violence and suffering,” said the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem in a statement in advance of his anticipated announcement.

The Coptic Orthodox Church warned of “dangerous consequences.” The head of Egypt’s Protestant community said it was “against justice” and “not helpful.”

But the strongest testimony may have come from Jordan, where the national evangelical council pleaded against “uncalculated risks” that “may well expose Christians in this region to uncontrollable dangers.

Despite these dire cries, many conservative US evangelicals rejoiced in Trump’s announcement…

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

 

Categories
Current Events

The Piece of Jerusalem: Middle East Christians Explain Trump’s Embassy Gambit

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on December 5.

Israel Embassy Jerusalem
The United States embassy currently located in Tel Aviv may be moved to Jerusalem. (Image: Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images, via the LA Times.)

President Donald Trump is expected tomorrow to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Doing so would fulfill a campaign promise. It would upend decades of American foreign policy.

And it would simultaneously encourage and unnerve the Christians of the Middle East.

“I am obviously pleased, as an Israeli,” said David Friedman, a professor at the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute and former dean of King of Kings College in Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, de facto, concretely. Our government sits there. So why should President Trump continue ignoring reality?”

But 65 miles north in Arab-majority Nazareth, another Christian educator has a dramatically different response.

“It is a bad idea,” said Botrus Mansour, a Baptist elder and co-chair of the Lausanne Initiative for Reconciliation between Israel and Palestine. “It will increase resentment and possibly spark unnecessary violence, making peace harder to obtain.

“America will lose any remaining legitimacy it had as a fair broker.”

Israel occupied Arab East Jerusalem in 1967, and passed a law in 1980 declaring the city its eternal, united, and undivided capital. The United Nations declared the act null and void, by a unanimous resolution in which the United States abstained.

Palestine also desires Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. So American policy has been…

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

Categories
Current Events

Christians Could Return to the Middle East, Thanks to Trump (Deportations)

Iraq Trump Deportation

This article was originally published in the October print edition of Christianity Today, co-authored with Griffin Jackson.

When Haitham Jazrawi started working at Kirkuk Presbyterian Church in Iraq in 1991, there were 72 families. Today, there are still 72 families—but only two of the originals remain. During his 26-year tenure as caretaker and then pastor, Jazrawi has seen a turnover of more than 300 families due to emigration.

Such an outward flow has been the norm in churches across the Middle East. In Iraq and Syria, countries ravaged by years of war and the terror of the Islamic State, roughly two-thirds of Christians have fled.

Among Jazrawi’s congregants, 50 percent are internally displaced from elsewhere in Iraq. “They come as refugees from inside our country,” said the Kirkuk pastor, “from the Nineveh Valley, from Nineveh, from other villages and cities.”

Soon, they may also come from outside of Iraq. With the Trump administration threatening to deport more than 1,400 Iraqis, hundreds of whom are Christians, a rare irony may present itself: the forced movement of Christians into the Middle East.

This summer, hundreds of Iraqis were behind bars in holding centers around the United States, slated for deportation to Iraq. The majority were Christians, and most were rounded up in Detroit in a massive June raid executed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“Not only would they be breaking up families that have been here for decades,” said Nathan Kalasho, a local advocate for the detainees, “but they would be sending an already targeted minority to a country that no longer welcomes them…”

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

Categories
Current Events

What Trump’s Evangelical Advisors Took Out of Egypt

Egypt Evangelical Delegation 2
Image: A. Larry Ross US evangelicals meet with Egypt’s grand mufti.

This article was first published at Christianity Today on November 14, 2017.

Jim Garlow walked cautiously through the cavernous halls of Egypt’s Ministry of Islamic Endowments. He prayed: Why am I here, God? What do you want me to see?

The pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego was part of a 12-member delegation of American evangelicals. Their mission: To offer friendship to the president of Egypt.

But as largely a Who’s Who of Christian Zionists and otherwise pro-Israel pastors and ministry leaders, the mission could easily go awry in a majority-Muslim nation where even the Coptic Orthodox Church still officially bans pilgrimage to neighboring Jerusalem.

Mike Evans, founder of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center in Jerusalem, is a lifelong friend of Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu. Mario Bramnick, senior pastor of New Wine Ministries Church in Florida, is president of the Latino Coalition for Israel. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, leads tours to Israel. They were assembled by Joel Rosenberg, a Jewish Christian with dual US and Israeli citizenship and author of the fictional The Last Jihad series.

But Rosenberg had recently made a new friend, giving him confidence that this visit might be God’s will.

Last year in March, he spent five days in Jordan as a guest of King Abdullah, who had just read his book. Intrigued after noticing himself as a named character in Rosenberg’s latest series on the ISIS threat, the Muslim ruler wanted to know more. (Rosenberg assured Abdullah that his character didn’t die in the series, which the king went on to finish reading.)

Not long thereafter, God placed on Rosenberg’s heart a different Middle East leader: President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt.

Invited as 1 of 60 Middle East experts to a forum held during Sisi’s state visit to President Donald Trump in April, Rosenberg walked up and boldly introduced himself.

“I’m Jewish,” he told CT. “I’ve got some chutzpah.”

Rosenberg thanked Sisi for rescuing Egypt and its Christians from the Muslim Brotherhood. He commended the president for reaching out to Jews and to Roman Catholics.

“But there is one group I don’t see: evangelicals,” he told Sisi. “It’s not your fault; probably we haven’t asked. But would you like us to bring a delegation of leaders to come and visit you?”

Seven months later, Garlow was in Cairo.

“Each step of the way I learned so much,” he said. “There were insights I had never known…”

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

Egypt Evangelical Delegation
Press el-Sisi: Egyptian President el-Sisi (front center) receives a first-ever delegation of American Evangelical leaders in the Presidential Palace after a frank and transparent dialogue about challenges in the region and opportunities for cooperation.

Categories
Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Trump Trial

Flag Cross Quran

God,

They started out friendly. Probably they still are. But the American president played an unexpected wild card, with developments still uncertain.

The US cut its military aid.

Trump has repeatedly praised Sisi, who has returned the admiration. But even so his administration followed an Obama pattern in holding back some aid pending better progress in human rights and democracy.

One reason: The controversial NGO law. Sources said they were told by Egypt it would not pass.

God, international relations are built on interests, but also through relationship. Strengthen communication between the two leaders.

Did Egypt promise and not deliver? Did she deceive to begin with? Or is it an erroneous report?

Let there be clarity in the relationship, God. Let Egypt know exactly what the US requires, and act accordingly.

No games. No guessing.

But also no free ride. Help Egypt judge the demands of her sovereignty. If accepting aid, in exchange for what? Is it a price worth paying?

Help her reach a place no aid is needed.

Develop Egypt in human rights and democracy, God. Develop also the American understanding.

Where there is a gap, narrow it.

Preserve friendly relations, God. In international relations, wild is risky. Put cards on the table, and play them well.

All is uncertain, but you know the way. Lead Egypt to the right and good.

Amen.

Categories
Current Events

Are American Evangelicals Not Political Enough?

Trump Team
(Photo: NBC News)

It is certain that President Trump is something different. Having campaigned as an anti-establishment figure, he behaves as neither a Democrat or a Republican, but independent of all.

Perhaps that is not a bad thing. He wanted to drain the swamp.

But this last week, having watched from afar the character of figures he draws to his team, I wonder: Where are the evangelicals?

(Note: the main individual in this saga has just resigned. Some say his sole purpose was to force out another figure. In any case, I hope the following thoughts are still pertinent and helpful.)

Polls show that white evangelical Christians are the constituency with his highest approval ratings. That’s fine, it is a holdover from the traditional support they have given the Republican Party.

Many evangelical leaders rallied around him before and after the inauguration. That’s fine, it is a privilege and responsibility to advise the president.

Some have questioned the wisdom and Biblical fidelity in wedding the religious identity to the political, and I am sympathetic.

Others posit that a political alliance does not mean all allies share conviction and morality, and I agree.

But for all the energy evangelical Christians have poured into right-wing politics, where are their political operatives, from which Trump might draw?

He has drawn some, certainly. Vice-President Mike Pence. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Evangelical-friendly Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. Perhaps there are others whose faith is not a key part of public profile, who quietly do their jobs.

But others, who are not quiet, seem far from evangelical propriety. Are there no better candidates?

Republicans complain that Trump is not accessing the institutional personnel of the party, of any stripe. And the president has a penchant for reality TV style engagement, something traditional evangelicals may be quite wary of joining, and ill-suited in aptitude.

Maybe evangelicals do populate the rolls of grassroots and upper level Republican party politics in proportionate numbers to their role in the tent.

But politics is hard work. Could it be that in the eight years of Obama many abandoned the effort and criticized only from outside the system?

It used to be that the Republican Party stood for a conservative social morality, limited government, an open economy, and a robust foreign policy. Evangelicals could easily identify with many aspects of this agenda, with respect for the religious left.

What does the Republican Party stand for now? Again, Trump is different.

So I do not wish to lay too much blame on evangelicals, and from Egypt I don’t know the lay of the land.

But while I advise no evangelical toward the Republican Party necessarily, nor even toward politics in general, I ask those inclined to redouble their efforts.

God has given believers much freedom in shaping their engagement with society. The number of God-honoring careers, political orientations, and policy options is nearly as diverse as his church worldwide.

But what he states as reality, which evangelicals must take as maxim, is that they are salt and light in a fallen world.

Better than draining the swamp, is to wade into it. Once there, sweeten.

Engage with the president, and pray for him. Join the alliances most suited to the common good. Be patient with the behavior of those made in God’s image, but not yet reflecting it.

Identify sin, wherever it is found. Take a stand on the issues with humble conviction. Cooperate as much as possible, compromising where appropriate.

In other words, be political.

Despite the common perception, perhaps American evangelicals are not political enough.

I am happy to hear from evangelical Republicans about the state of the faith within their party.

(But also: Consider this article on the Bible Study in the White House.) 

Categories
Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Aya, Easter

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Easter passed peacefully, but not Egypt. Though there were no troubles on the holiday, others sandwiched.

A few days earlier Copts praying in a village were pelted with stones, as police looked on. A few days later terrorism struck at St. Catherine’s Monastery in the southern Sinai, as police responded.

One officer died, a few others were injured.

God, protect the nation. Protect her churches. Protect her people. Protect her police.

The disturbing fact in the latest incident was the reach of ISIS to the south. Cells have perpetrated terrorism in various places on the mainland, but it was believed the group had no presence save northern Sinai.

So hem them in, God, and squeeze. Aid the security forces. Grant bravery, justice, and fidelity to law.

It was law also that settled justice for Aya Hegazi, a dual Egyptian-American citizen. After three brave years in pretrial detention, the court ruled against charges filed. She and her husbanded had opened a children’s center, and were accused of exploitation.

President Trump claimed intervention, and flew her home before meeting at the White House.

God, protect the judiciary. Protect its independence. Protect civil society. Protect its people.

If Aya was innocent, how many others? In a congested legal system give all their day in court, in fidelity to the constitution. As Egypt responds to the pressures against her, help her hold to the right and the true.

So steady her institutions, God, and strengthen. Aid the social entrepreneurs. Grant creativity, license, and fidelity to law.

Whether religion, state, or society, give stability and peace. Too many make trouble. Root out, vindicate.

Amen.

Categories
Current Events

Does Egypt Still Matter?

Egypt drawn on gray map.

As America under Trump re-determines its policies in the Middle East, the feelings of the region’s people matter very little. ‘Hearts and minds,’ sure, but cold-calculating interests generally rule geopolitical considerations.

All the same, I can imagine the Egyptian angst in reading this recommendation by the Hoover Institute for Washington to re-up its cooperation with Cairo. Most of the article is an essay in explanation of why Egypt no longer matters, at least in the manner it once did.

Does Egypt today still matter? Some in Washington have been arguing otherwise.

True, rights of passage through the Suez Canal are helpful and so are flights over Egyptian airspace, but the United States can survive without both. Egypt’s control of the Arab League is no longer as strong as in the past and in all cases the Arab League is irrelevant anyway.

Maintaining the peace treaty with Israel is in Egypt’s own interests and not dependent on U.S. support. Al Azhar holds no sway over the world’s Muslim population, and Egypt’s cultural decline leaves it with limited soft power capabilities over Arabic speaking peoples.

From Syria to Yemen and even in neighboring Libya, Egypt has lost its ability to impact its surroundings. Even regional allies are growing frustrated with Egypt and its president. Those in the Gulf dreaming of Egypt becoming a counterbalance to Iran are realizing the futility of their investments.

In all cases Egypt is increasingly deteriorating under the weight of its own troubles and Washington has no ability to change that.

So cut the cord? Absolutely not.

Is it time then for the United States to abandon Egypt? The answer is a resounding no.

It is precisely because of Egypt’s movement towards the regional abyss that the United States needs to reinvest in the American-Egyptian relationship. Egypt is no longer a regional player but rather a playing field where local, regional and international powers are in competition over the country’s future.

The country may no longer be a contestant for regional hegemony, but it is today the primary contested prize in a struggle over the region’s future. If the Westphalian order is to be defended in the Middle East amidst state collapse and the rise of Caliphate revivalist movements, this defense has to start with the most natural of the Arabic speaking states. With ninety two million people, a state collapse in Egypt would lead to a refugee crisis of historical proportions.

No one wants a Somalia on the Nile, a Libya on Israel’s borders, or a Syria in control of the Suez Canal, the United States least of all.

This would require a policy shift, oddly enough, away from the traditional cold-calculating interests of Camp David and the Suez Canal. Instead, the US must strengthen (read: prop up?) the state.

U.S. interests in Egypt are [in] … strengthening state institutions to make sure a regime collapse does not lead to a state collapse.

Instead of focusing on military cooperation, the United States needs to develop a new partnership with Egypt that addresses the growing terrorist threat in the country, the collapse of the rule of law, the failed economic policies, the educational vacuum, and the growing sectarian hatreds that threatens the fate of the Middle East’s largest Christian community.

If US banks can stomach a ‘too large to fail’ bailout strategy, why can’t Egypt? This is easy enough to imagine from an ocean away, but locally many liberal-leaning Egyptians feel US ‘assistance’ (read: interference) has been too much, not too little.

But at the same time, this type of Egyptian assesses the problem similarly. The state is weak, they say, the economy is faltering, and education is low on the totem pole of priorities. They imagine, perhaps rightly, that sectarian issues will dry up if these failings are addressed.

So calling it a ‘bailout’ likely isn’t right. It is a call to strengthen a weakened longstanding partner, in a manner that moves beyond one or two points of American national interest.

So how to cooperate? The article referenced is meant to persuade Americans, not Egyptians. But in Cairo the tone taken risks being tone-deaf to local pride, let alone a legacy of bilateral mistrust.

Perhaps Trump, with his shock-value strategy of resetting all relations, can change that. And as stated earlier ‘feelings’ don’t matter. That’s good, because Trump puts little stock in the value of tactful rhetoric.

Just don’t imagine Egypt will be happy about it. ‘You matter because you’re a headache’ is an insult not an encouragement. The author, who identifies himself as a ‘native son of the land’, can swallow it.

I suspect few other Egyptians can do so readily. If America wishes to pursue this policy, it calls for a task even greater than the discredited ‘nation-building’ efforts seen elsewhere.

It calls for culture-influencing. And that requires real mutuality and engagement, much of it without control. Culture requires freedom, and freedom requires trust.

Whether or not Egypt warrants these in US policy eyes is one thing. Whether or not Trump’s ‘America first’ can prioritize it is another.

Egypt matters. So does every other nation and people. How any state relates to another is an indication of national character. Whatever policy chosen — and diplomats must be nimble — may both America and Egypt prove worthy.

Categories
Current Events

What Arab Church Leaders Think of Trump Prioritizing Persecuted Christian Refugees

qaraqosh-christians
Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters Preparation for Qaraqosh’s first Sunday mass since the Iraqi Christian town was recaptured from ISIS (October 30, 2016).

This article was first published at Christianity Today on January 30, 2017.

Married in December to a Syrian woman with American citizenship, Fadi Hallisso went to Beirut to apply for a green card.

A Syrian Christian, Hallisso has worked with refugees in Lebanon since 2012. Funded by different American agencies, he was no stranger to the US government. He even testified about the situation in Syria to the US State Department and to Harvard Divinity School.

But this week, Hallisso was told he was no longer welcome to apply. The new US administration said so.

“It is very humiliating to be put in the category of potential terrorist,” said Hallisso. “Just because I carry a certain passport.”

As more details of President Donald Trump’s new security policies emerge—including a promise to prioritize Christian refugees for resettlement in America—much appears lost in translation.

“This executive order has created a new atmosphere very hostile to people in the region,” said Chawkat Moucarry, World Vision’s director for interfaith relations—and Hallisso’s uncle. “Unwritten rules seem to be implemented as a result.”

Is Trump’s executive order on refugees a de facto “Muslim ban”? Is it not? Is it prudent? Is it overdue? As American Christians debate these questions from the small towns of Middle America to the nation’s major airports, so also Arab Christians are trying to figure out what is going on.

“I read the executive order,” said Adeeb Awad, chief editor of al-Nashra, the monthly magazine of the Presbyterian Synod of Syria and Lebanon. He remarked…

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

Categories
Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Trumping Protest

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Bless the president-to-be of the United States of America. May he govern wisely. May he engage Egypt well.

But though many are troubled in America at his arrival, many in Egypt welcome his opposition to the Brotherhood and his favor expressed toward Sisi.

And he comes at a moment when many in Egypt are troubled. An inflationary economy. A protest threatened.

A protest fizzled. A few answered mostly anonymous calls to fill the squares and overthrow the government. They were quickly subdued.

Among political forces only the Brotherhood endorsed the effort. The streets fell silent, save for the bustle of those who went about their business.

Issues remain, God, though an IMF cash infusion has been approved. May it begin to restore equilibrium, starting with those who need it most.

Until then, God, help many make due. Give them voice, that they might help shape policy.

And give wisdom to Trump, by whom so many in the world will now be affected. May America, and Egypt, to all be a blessing.

Amen.

 

Categories
Current Events

Trump, Clinton, and Egypt

Trump Egypt
(via http://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-ben-carson-pyramids-grain-2015-11)

We are often asked what Egyptians think about current American politics and the presidential race. Our answer tends to fall into these categories:

  • Many hate Hillary Clinton due to her support for the Brotherhood.
  • Many think it doesn’t matter because US foreign policy never changes.
  • Many see in Donald Trump an American version of Middle Eastern demagogues.

This al-Monitor article provides a nice first preview, focusing on the views of certain political and business elites. As such, our category three is missing. But it is often helpful, and at the least entertaining, to see how they see us.

Here are a few excerpts:

Trump’s position on the Brotherhood has led to some voicing their support for him in Egypt, most notably well-known billionaire businessman Naguib Sawiris. In June, Sawiris confirmed that he backs Trump because, in his view, Clinton supports the Brotherhood.

During an interview with Al-Monitor, former Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy responded to a question about which candidate would be better for achieving cooperation with Egypt by saying, “The rhetoric adopted by US presidential candidate Donald Trump vis-a-vis Islam and Muslims is unacceptable and greatly offensive. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton carefully chooses her words and is a ‘veteran politician,’ with all the positive and negative connotations associated with such a characterization.”

Former deputy Foreign Minister Gamal Bayoumi said, “In superpowers like the United States, the president operates according to general policies set by state institutions and forces that have influence in political life. While the president may play a role in changing the approach, the policies remain fixed.”

In statements to Egyptian daily El-Balad June 9, Cairo’s former Ambassador in Washington Abdel Raouf El Reedy said that, overall, Clinton would be the better president for Egypt, despite her having what he called some unfavorable positions on Egypt and the Arab world. He noted that Clinton’s policies on Egypt and the Arabs would be an extension of Obama’s current policies, while attempting to avoid a repeat of the current president’s mistakes.

More testimony is needed, but will any of these voices sway your vote?