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Why a Shiite Martyr’s Funeral Was Surprisingly Christian

From Lokman Slim’s funeral, at his family home.

A Protestant mother. A Shiite son. A plea for vengeance on his killers.

But unlike many responses to political martyrdoms in Lebanese history, she yields it to God.

Last month in the Hezbollah-controlled south of Lebanon, unknown gunmen shot Lokman Slim in the head. It was a targeted assassination of a man dedicated to the hope that his small Middle Eastern nation might overcome sectarian divisions.

He was his mother’s son.

“I will not go and kill them, but ask God to avenge him,” said the grieving 80-year-old, Selma Merchak. “This comes from my faith in God as the great authority.”

But her next response reflects the family’s—and Lebanon’s—complex religious identity.

“And as it says in Islam: Warn the killer he will be killed, though it tarries.”

Born in Egypt, Selma’s Protestant lineage traces back to her grandfather in Syria, who found Christ through the preaching of the first wave of Scottish missionaries to the Middle East. As a child, she attended the American School for Girls—now Ramses College—founded in 1908 by American Presbyterians.

The family attended Qasr el-Dobara Church, located in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. And Selma continued in the Protestant educational heritage, graduating with a degree in journalism from the American University in Cairo, which by then had become a secular institution.

The Merchak family mixed freely in an Egyptian upper class that was open to all religions, vacationing often in Lebanon’s mountains. But in the chaos of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalizing of the Suez Canal, in 1957 Newsweek relocated its regional headquarters to Beirut, and Selma went with it.

She reconnected with Muhsin Slim, her childhood friend from the family vacations. The Slims were an influential Shiite family known for its good relations with the Lebanese Christian elite. Muhsin’s father served as a member of parliament in the 1960s, and during the civil war advocated against the use of Lebanon as a staging ground for the Palestinian armed struggle against Israel.

Now a lawyer, Muhsin married Selma shortly after her arrival in Lebanon. Her Egyptian accent was the toast of the town, aiding the political career of her parliamentary husband.

While Muhsin would only “pray in his heart,” Selma said, she worshiped on-and-off at the National Evangelical Church in Beirut, the oldest indigenous Protestant congregation in the Middle East.

Lokman, their second of three children, was born in 1962. Registered as Shiites within Lebanon’s sectarian system, Muhsin and Selma raised them to be moral, but to make up their own minds about religion. Statues of Buddha were part of the décor of their 150-year-old home. On property located in what was once known…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on March 15, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Should Lebanon’s Christians Join Protests? Viral Sermons Argue Yes and No.

This article was first published at Christianity Today on November 27.

Lebanon Protests
Anti-government protesters chant slogans against the Lebanese government as they hold Lebanese flags during a protest in Beirut, on October 26. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Does a revolution need a leader?

As the rocks rained down near the tent of Ras Beirut Baptist Church’s effort to discuss the question, suddenly the faith of the Christians gathered there was put to the test.

For the past month, Lebanese evangelicals have debated Scripture, sharing sermons online. One viral effort urges believers to stay away from widespread demonstrations in submission to authority. Another licenses participation in the popular push for justice.

Trying to find a third way, RBBC has visited the protest site weekly at Beirut’s Martyrs Square to discuss issues related to the revolutionary movement.

“We are not supporting a political agenda, but listening to people about why they are coming down to the streets,” Joe Costa, RBBC youth leader, told CT. “You cannot evangelize people if they are hungry or hurt. You have to be with them where they are.”

And this time, the church’s tent was at the front line as dozens of Hezbollah flag-waving partisans approached on their motorcycles.

Since October 17, citizens of Lebanon and its multi-confessional democracy have shed their religious identities in largely peaceful demonstrations against their political leaders. Some politicians have responded by justifying the violence of their followers, without authorizing it. Other politicians have expressed sympathy, asking for trust to make things better.

But long seen as the untouchable defenders of their communities’ interests, over the decades many political leaders have become wealthy.

“Corruption is like decay in our bones,” Hikmat Kashouh, pastor of Resurrection Church of Beirut (RCB), told CT. “No single person doubts it, including those in authority today.”

The current protest movement is leaderless and has no formal demands, but in general seeks…

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