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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.


Lebanon Prayer: Lokman Slim


By all accounts, a brave man died. But some dispute if he was good.

Yet all condemn his murder.

Suspicion falls on those who doubt. All his life they marred his name.

A Shiite in the south, the militia let him be.

And now most think they killed him.

But no one says so. None accuse. In truth they do not know.

Unknown gunmen pulled the trigger. His family says they beat him first.

He spoke against militia arms. He criticized its foreign ties.

But this is not all that Lokman did. He built an archive for the war.

Every sect contests the history. With documents they now can fight.

And maybe Lebanon can know.

Maybe Lebanon can heal.

Maybe Lokman now can rest?

The nation does not have the luxury. Politics will take no pause.

Christian allies signal distance. Their Shiite partnership has failed.

Helpful here, successful there—”It did not build a state of law.”

Do they tie this to Lokman? Do they tie to the port?

Germans uncovered a stash of explosives. Authorities busted a shipment of drugs.

Six months from the blast there still is no justice.

But two others were killed who had snooped around.

God, the nation hangs its head in horror. Resignation fills the soul.

Add to the list of targeted killings. Another assassin will never be known.

All authorities promised otherwise.

Like they promised for the port.

God, what do you want from the Lebanese people?

Will this time be different? From faith, must they hope?

Or does faith permit only the hope in hereafter? That one day, injustice will all be put right?

Shallow comfort for his family. Little help to fix the state.

So should the nation rage in anger? March again to Martyrs’ Square?

That hope, also, has faded.

Some look to Washington, Riyadh, or Paris. Others to Ankara, Damascus, Tehran.

Hope not in princes, your scripture says.

Then the Lebanese mountains? Lift up your eyes. Help comes from their maker.

To rest in their glory. To reside in their shade.

For refuge from virus. For reminder of you.

Ah, but God, it does not settle. Our lives are left disquiet here.

Already you can give your comfort. Not yet does it assuage us whole.

And Lebanon is left in the lurch.

Your kingdom coming. God, we long.

May we work on its behalf.

May we not confuse your aim.

We honor you in common good. Order, justice praise your name.

But something more is all eternal: The soul that now is in despair.

If Lebanon rises it may fall tomorrow.

The kings of the moment the next one will pass.

Yet the life you redeem is kept everlasting. The joy you bestow is abundant and true.

Give this to Lebanon—all those who seek it.

And with it: Hope.

For Lokman. For justice. For love.


Note: The family has since conducted an autopsy, and accepts the result that no signs of torture were found on his body.

To receive Lebanon Prayer by WhatsApp, please click this link to join the closed comments group.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

Sometimes prayer can generate more prayer. While mine is for general principles, you may have very specific hopes for Lebanon. You are welcome to post these here as comments, that others might pray with you as you place your desires before God.

If you wish to share your own prayer, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1) The sincerest prayers are before God alone. Please consult with God before posting anything.

2) If a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, sects, or nations. While it may be appropriate, save these for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

I will do my best to moderate accordingly. Thank you for praying for Lebanon and her people.