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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Exodus, Judges, or Nehemiah: Lebanon’s Evangelicals Assess Surprising Election Victory

Image: Marwan Tahtah / Getty Images

On the eve of Lebanon’s parliamentary elections last weekend, Resurrection Church of Beirut (RCB) called for a prayer meeting. The short meditation focused on Psalm 147: heal the brokenhearted and sustain the humble—but cast the wicked to the ground.

Mired in economic crisis, many Lebanese blame a corrupt political class.

Three years ago, a massive popular uprising shouted “all of them means all of them” against the traditional sectarian parties. But within a few months, protests fizzled as COVID-19, the Beirut port explosion, and a World Bank-labeled “deliberate” financial depression drove many to despair.

For many, emigration seemed the only answer.

Hikmat Kashouh called out to God.

“Confuse many in the election booths, and encourage others,” prayed the RCB pastor. “Cause them to vote for those you desire.”

One of Lebanon’s largest evangelical churches, only 35 members from the main Baabda campus prayed along with him. The turnout mirrored that of the nation, which initially reported that participation dropped to 4 in 10 eligible voters. Very few expected significant movement in the political map.

“For three years we have cried out to God, reflecting his love as we ministered to everyone regardless of religion,” said Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development, also known as the Baptist Society. “And then at the fourth watch of the night, when everyone was losing hope, God said, ‘I am still here.’” Most evangelicals, he said, supported…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on May 19, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Split the Cedars of Lebanon: Evangelicals Balance Prayer, Protest, and Politics in Ongoing Uprising

Lebanon protests
(via Shahen Books)

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on November 8.

At first, it was two high school girls.

The education minister in Lebanon had just canceled classes nationwide due to an explosion of popular anger at proposed taxes. Public squares in Beirut and other cities swelled with demonstrations. The two students asked Steve White, principal of the Lebanese Evangelical School (LES), if he would join them and protest too.

White, a Lebanese citizen since 2013, became principal in 2000, succeeding his English father who’d held the post since 1968. Founded by a British missionary in 1860, LES preaches the gospel clearly and is one of the top schools in Lebanon. But it bucks the sectarian trend of community enclaves as 85 percent of its students are Muslim—most coming from the Shiite community. Discussion about religion and politics is forbidden.

The protests began October 17. At the height of student interest, White arranged four school buses for a unique civic education. Though he knows his students well, he couldn’t tell their breakdown by sect: Sunni, Shia, or Christian.

Which fit perfectly with the protests.

“I got excited because it was not religious,” said White. “It was nonsectarian: all of Lebanon together, no flags, no parties, they were cursing everybody.”

White did not approve of the cursing. But he did of the “everybody.” The slogan adopted by protesters: “All of them means all of them.” It targeted the leaders of Lebanon’s multiple religion-based political parties, accusing them all of corruption.

Transparency International ranked Lebanon No. 138 out of 180 in its 2018 corruption perception index, listed from clean to corrupt.

Traditionally viewed as the guardians of each sect’s interests, Lebanese political parties would regularly voice vague charges of corruption against unnamed colleagues. But unlike previous protest movements, which carried the banners of each party, this one hoisted only the Lebanese national flag with its distinguishing cedar tree.

Accordingly, White forbade students from bringing the flag of LES.

Whether inspired, sympathetic, or threatened, political leaders had little choice but to express solidarity.

According to the World Bank, one-quarter of Lebanon’s population lives in poverty. Citizens pay exorbitant fees for privately generated electricity, as the tiny Arab nation of 6 million on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea has the fourth-worst public provision in the world. Smaller than Connecticut, public debt is 150 percent of GDP. Prior to the protests, strikes threatened to cripple bread and gasoline services, as the US dollars needed to import materials dried up from the market.

People started to fear economic collapse.

In order to unlock millions of dollars of promised international investments, the government announced new taxes—including upon WhatsApp, a popular free messaging service— to lower the deficit. An austerity budget loomed, with some effort at reforms it was long unwilling to tackle. Sectarian political squabbling had prevented an agreed-upon national budget for the prior 12 years.

The subsequent protests caught the government off guard. Promising a solution in three days, officials hastily agreed to cancel tax increases, fix the electricity sector, slash their own salaries, pass laws to fight corruption, and impose a one-time tax on lucrative banks in order to balance the budget.

It wasn’t enough.

“We’ve had the same names and parties for 30 years. Why should we give them another chance?” said Nadim Costa, head of the Near East Organization, an evangelical ministry serving the poor, marginalized, and displaced across the Arab world.

“There is a spiritual dimension to what is going on…”

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