Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

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.

Middle East Published Articles Religion Unplugged

In Time for Orthodox Easter, A Turkish Declaration of Christian Unity

Turkey Christian Unity
The welcome package with the English and Turkish version © BQ/Warnecke

In the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, a delegation of imams approached the sultan in complaint. Western pressure forced the state to allow Christian churches to ring their bells.

“Do they all ring at the same time?” the sultan asked. No, he was told. “Then don’t worry,” he replied, “until they can agree.”

Perhaps apocryphal, the story illustrates the long history of division plaguing Christianity around the world.

The Ottoman empire is gone, and Turkey is now a secular state with official freedom of religion. Bells are hardly heard these days at all, though in smaller numbers the ancient Christian communities remain.

But from Istanbul – once Constantinople – where the “Great Schism” sundered Catholicism and Orthodoxy in 1054, a new book heralds a new beginning.

Christianity: Fundamental Teachings is a simple, 95-page presentation of the common beliefs of all Turkish churches. Its 12 chapters include descriptions of the nature of God, the salvation through Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit, the inspiration of the Bible, and the role of the church.

But its most explosive page is the preface of endorsements.

The Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, The Armenian Patriarchate, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Turkey, and the Associate of Protestant Churches all approve it, and recommend that it be widely read.

“You can’t find a page like this in all of church history,” said Armenian Bishop Sahak Mashalian, the principle scribe. “It is akin to a miracle.”

Please click here to read how it developed, at The Media Project.

Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Calvin of Arabia: Protestant Theology Translated into Arabic

John Calvin Arabic
Translation: Foundations of the Christian Religion, vol. 1, John Calvin. (via LSESD)

This article first appeared in the December edition of Christianity Today.

Most of the theological writings that shaped Western society over the last 500 years cannot be found on Middle Eastern bookshelves. Few Arabs have ever read anything from John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, or Karl Barth.

The reason is simple: Almost none of the Protestant canon has been translated into Arabic.

The dearth of Christian religious texts in the world’s fourth-largest language is especially pronounced within Protestantism, which developed in European languages such as Latin, French, German, and English. The Reformation has barely broken into the Arabic-speaking world, dominated by Islam and where most local Christians—whose numbers are dwindling fast—are inheritors of Orthodox or Catholic theologies.

Nearly a decade ago, George Sabra, president of the Near East School of Theology (NEST) in Beirut, had the notion to translate perhaps the most influential writing of the Reformation, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, into Arabic for the first time.

Written by my colleague Griffin Paul Jackson, I contributed a section on Catholic efforts:

After years of checking thousands of footnotes, Sabra—who settled on a Baptist publisher based in Egypt for his 1,500-page tome—has realized the weight of clear, quality translation. But he’s not the only one counting the cost.

For Middle East Catholics, less than one percent of key texts are available in Arabic, said John Khalil, a priest who works at the Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies in Cairo. “Our bishops can access works in Italian or French,” he said. “But having nothing in Arabic results in fewer theologians. It is a problem.”

Khalil recently secured permission to publish translated and original Christian works, naming his imprint after Aquinas. He has begun revision of the Summa Theologica, translating volume two and hoping to complete the rest in the near future.

But the problem is not just with the classics. Few modern theological works have been translated into Arabic either. Only one book is available from the leading theologians behind the Second Vatican Council.

Khalil’s primary interest is social justice, and in May he published the first Arabic translation of Gustavo Gutiérrez’s benchmark A Theology of Liberation. A handful of books about liberation theology exist in Arabic, but until now, no original texts.

But even these pushed Christians toward participation in Tahrir Square demonstrations that led to the overthrow of Egypt’s government in 2011. One celebrated martyr of the revolution, Mina Daniel, was a leader in Khalil’s study group.

Since then, however, many Christians have soured on such theology. Khalil hopes translation can make a difference.

“I don’t imagine we will become like Latin America,” he said, “but I hope we will at least stop blaming our young people who are struggling for justice. Religion should criticize every political system, and the church must have a prophetic voice.”

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



The Virgin’s Fast and Intercession

Virgin Mary 2

In the Coptic Orthodox tradition, today begins two weeks of fasting from animal products in honor of the Virgin Mary.

During our six years in Egypt we have attended the Orthodox Church regularly, appreciating without fully accepting many of their traditions. But today a small part of the mass, seemingly special for this fasting period, unnerved me.

It was not this part, repeated each week:

With the intercession of the Mother of God, Saint Mary:

Oh Lord, grant us the forgiveness of our sins.

We prostrate before you, oh Christ,

With your good Father and the Holy Spirit,

Because you have come and saved us.

A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise.

I was raised a good Protestant, and imagine I still am. Our attendance at the Orthodox Church is to learn, and to the degree possible, serve – seeking to honor the body of Christ in the widest possible ecumenical spirit. Our priests share this spirit and welcome us, but are bound by the teachings of their church that bars communion to all who are not baptized Orthodox.

They would be happy to re-baptize us, but to us this does not seem right. ‘There is one faith, one hope, one baptism,’ it is written, and we do not share their understanding of history lending them status as the one church which has carried Jesus’ teachings correctly.

But we do share, we believe, membership in the universal church of those who trust in Christ for their salvation. Though our fellowship with the Orthodox is not complete, we trust it is real.

This puts us in the position of engaging their traditions. One of the more Protestant-offending is the intercession of the saints; chief among them, the Virgin Mary.

The hymn above, so beautifully chanted each week, is perfectly Protestant in every line but the first.

But there is a logic behind the concept of intercession that I find able to accept, if not practice. It is a logic most practicing Protestants frequently assume.

That is: In times of need, I am very eager to ask my friends to pray for me. If I believe that the prayers of a living Christian can make a difference with God, why should I not also seek the prayers of still-living Christians in heaven?

Fair enough, but the Orthodox extend the logic further along family lines. Would not Jesus be even more inclined to answer the request of his mother? After all, they say, at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, Jesus was approached, by Mary among others, to tend to the embarrassment of running out of wine.

‘My time has not yet come,’ said Jesus, seemingly rebuffing the request. But it made no difference to her. ‘Do whatever he tells you,’ his mother told the servants. And thus, Jesus’ first miracle – perhaps against his inclinations – turned water into wine.

Why should the Christian not continue to seek such obvious intercessory power?

But the Protestant has a trump card to play, while highlighting the example in Cana as before Jesus’ death and resurrection. But now it is written, ‘Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’

My conclusion has been: Intercession is not necessary, though it may be benign. Perhaps it even helps, if only in strengthening bonds with the church both here and hereafter.

But if I seek intercession doubting that God cares enough to hear me on my own, it may become dangerous. This is not the Orthodox understanding, but I have seen this spirit in many otherwise faithful, believing friends.

It is dangerous also as a manipulative technique, very akin to the Middle Eastern mindset – not far from any human – that seeks to get around the system through ‘wasta’, a powerfully placed ally who can bend rules or gain a hearing on my behalf.

But if intercession seeks to engage the ‘great cloud of witnesses’, and still ‘fix our eyes on Jesus’, why not?

After around six years of fellowship, this is where I have more or less comfortably settled with the Orthodox.

Until today.

Perhaps this was the first time we were in church on the actual first day of the Virgin’s Fast. But this part of the liturgy took my attention:

We have no [dalla] with our Lord Jesus Christ

Except in your requests and intercession,

Oh Lady of us all,

Our Lady, the Mother of God.

I wasn’t sure what dalla meant, but it didn’t sound good. The dictionary gives these options, among others: audacity, boldness.

In the teachings above, Christians are told to approach the throne in this manner.

But the dictionary also offered these options: familiarity, chumminess.

This is the sense my friends offered after mass. They described dalla as something like ‘warm, friendly feelings’, and who could have more of this with God than the Virgin Mary?

They used justification similar to that offered above, which seems perfectly logical. But that is not what the hymn is saying. It is that our dalla with God comes only through her intercession. This is making it a necessity.

And it runs up against another teaching of Jesus, where God welcomes our requests through our relationship with him. ‘I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name,’ he said, but even here it is not intercession exactly. ‘I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me.’

Perhaps we do not perfectly love him, an Orthodox might argue, whereas his mother does. But elsewhere it is written, ‘We love him because he first loved us,’ and this, ‘while we were yet sinners.’

My friends assured me this also is Orthodox teaching. The church, they said, wants to impress upon the faithful the need for humility, while lifting up those whose previous testimonies – the saints – have stood the test of time. But yes, they assured, it is only Christ that gives us access to God. We can go to him on our own.

But of Mary they may have a leg up on Protestants. ‘All generations will call me blessed,’ she said. Invoking her intercession is not necessarily fulfillment, but remembering and praising her certainly is.

The Catholic Church, they said, can sometimes go too far on Mary. But the Orthodox try to keep a middle way, a balance.

Today for dinner we ate rice, peas, and zucchini. Visiting Orthodox friends later on, we had cake specially made without eggs and butter. We are not fasting, but our fare was suitable for the day.

I am glad it was so. Hail Mary, full of grace … with reticence still for the ending.

Virgin Mary 1Orthodox readers are invited to answer more fully than my laymen friends. Protestants, too.


Creating a Protestant Islam?


A friend of mine, a politically liberal Muslim with little attachment to religion, has often accused the Muslim Brotherhood of seeking to create a Protestant type of Islam. It is a little difficult to catch the connections, as well as to tell if he believes such a transformation would be good or bad for Egypt. He certainly thinks Brotherhood control of this situation would be bad, but I’m less sure as concerns the greater idea.

This article in The Immanent Frame helps explain what might have been happening along these lines, before the overthrow of Morsi.

First, the context of Islam in Egypt:

In this respect, the law and court rulings do not recognize the existence of a congregation of Muslims who can worship—that is, engage in formal rites—outside the bounds of the state. This legal status seems to be a vestige of the Islamic caliphate (دولة المسلمين, “state of Muslims”), where the congregation of Muslims was conceived as a politico-religious entity, as it first took shape under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad. While this conception often accrues to the power and advantage of Muslims in the aggregate, it restricts the religious freedom of Muslim groups or individuals who do not wish to align themselves to the political or religious orientation of the political authority.

Post-Morsi, the state has been working diligently to reassert control over the system of mosques, seeking to eliminate divergent Muslim Brotherhood voices. Incidentally, the article states Morsi’s government treated unorthodox voices similarly, continuing the policy of preventing Shi’ite or some extreme Sufi trends from operating local mosques.

But the Muslim Brotherhood also wanted to cement its control over mosques already within its influence, and gain control over mosques that were not. To do so it revived an old government practice of establishing boards to administer mosque affairs, appointed by the state, but with no influence on its religious discourse or choice of imam. The government started this program in the 1980s for the practical reason of its limited resources for direct control, but abandoned it altogether a decade later due to arising conflicts and competition.

When the Brotherhood government assumed control of the Ministry of Endowments, reviving the role of the mosque boards was on the agenda of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Brotherhood’s political arm. Minister Talaat Afifi issued a decree reconstituting the boards under the name “mosque development boards,” giving them prerogatives similar to those of the old boards. The boards still had no influence over religious and preaching activity, which remained the exclusive purview of the ministry, but, controversially, the boards were to be elected.

In doing so, the Brotherhood established a system in which they could not be accused of appointing their cronies to administer mosques, but instead take advantage of their powerful network through which ‘the people’ would exercise control. But, who are the constituent ‘people’?

But how to determine which Muslims possessed the right to vote in elections for this or that board? The official decree stipulated that “a general assembly of mosque patrons” be created from among registered residents of the neighborhood in which the mosque was located, as well as those who applied to the ministry-appointed imam to affirm that they were regular attendees and registered as members of the general assembly.

Of course this move created a great deal of controversy and opposition, notably from the existing system of imams who saw the risk of their power diminishing. But there was a great religious objection as well, not tied to politics:

The decree also raised the hackles of imams and scholars who believed that it would give rise to local “churches” in Islam; churches have a discrete membership and members have certain prerogatives.

The decision to elect mosque development boards did not resolve the problem or mitigate conflicts, but only inflamed them further, partly because the idea was grafted on to a centralized administrative order and partly because it ran up against the idea of “every mosque for every Muslim”—a central tenet of Islam—making it “every mosque for every Muslim in this neighborhood.”

Morsi’s government suspended the decision to elect boards, and after his overthrow even the appointed boards were dissolved and reconstituted with traditional Azhar scholars and local patrons opposed to the Brotherhood. Politics is a determining factor, certainly, but the philosophical decision seems to have been correct, or at least consistent with traditional reasoning:

There is a traditional Islamic discourse that takes pride in the fact that there is no central religious authority in Islam—no church, no priesthood, no clerical class to govern the religious (and certainly not political) lives of Muslims. This discourse is well grounded in doctrine and Islamic jurisprudence, which indeed contain no reference to the specific shape of Muslims’ religious communities or clerical prerogatives. Historical practice also holds no precedents.

But to return to the central question about whether or not such a Protestantizing of Islam would be ‘good’ for Egypt:

The problem is that Islamic doctrine, jurisprudence, and historical practice do, in fact, both assume and fundamentally rely on the existence of a single Muslim polity with authority over Muslims’ religious affairs and the religious scholar class. The alternative is to abandon the Muslim state for a modern nation-state that fully embraces the concept of citizenship, which would entail the disappearance of political authority over religious affairs and open the door to religious freedom. Otherwise, the modern state will continue to draw on this legacy of religious authority inherited from the caliphate.

In engineering its policies for managing Islam, the state proceeds from the belief that Muslims’ religious unity is part and parcel of preserving political unity and the patriotic line, and it legally suppresses any activity or attempt on the part of Muslim groups or individuals to freely worship outside the bounds of the centralized state administration or beyond the scope of a centralized, religious orthodoxy described as “proper religion.”

Here in Egypt the Coptic Orthodox Church behaves similarly. A Christian is at home, theoretically, in one church building as he is in another. A man appointed deacon may show up in any church, don his robe, and join in serving communion. There is the thought in Christianity that the priest should only serve this communion to one who is in good standing – requiring local relationships to know – but this does not seem to be practiced. Instead, the confessional relationship may occur with a priest from any church, diocese, or monastery. The judgment of receiving communion is usually left to the conscience of the believer.

In majority Christian lands where the Protestant Church is established in relationship with the government, perhaps there is a parallel as well. But in America as well as Egypt the pattern is toward local independence with varying levels of denominational cooperation. The multitude of Protestant denominations certainly contributes, which is a phenomena not generally mirrored in Islam.

But Islam exhibits great diversity, certainly cultural diversity in its many international expressions. What it does not generally do is sanction this diversity as an option for local communities of Muslims. Outside the Muslim world it certainly exists, as mosques are established for minorities along lines of freedom given to churches, and generally funded by the community or by donations from abroad. Such freedom, however, is not extended by many Muslim states to their majority Muslim populations. In this, it seems, they follow not necessarily the rule of Muhammad, but the ideal practice of the faith current during his time.

And perhaps they dare not do otherwise, for equally historical reasons. After Muhammad the early caliphal period and afterwards witnessed an explosion of Muslim diversity that nearly tore the nascent state apart. Many of these movements were political in orientation, no matter how much religious piety and practice played a role. It took all the skill of ‘the rightly guided caliphs’ to hold things together, and the task fell to later jurists to shape sharia so as to allow a degree of diversity to law schools while maintaining the overall unity of the faith. It also fell to later caliphs to secure the support of scholars to maintain legitimacy for their rule. These processes evidence elements of manipulation and duplicity alongside sincere devotion to faith, a legacy that continues in the mosque-state relationship to this day.

Can it be developed differently along Protestant lines? Should it be? Perhaps the Muslim Brotherhood tried, and as in many of their efforts, failed. In a neutral environment, if such freedom existed, Muslim Brotherhood groups would gain control over certain mosques in certain neighborhoods – maybe many. But would the success of allowing full local control of mosques contribute to a greater climate of freedom, or simply initiate a religio-political anarchy that would tear government and society apart?

As with most experiments, all that awaits is the trying. Will Egypt, or similar nations succeeding the caliphal system, dare take the risk? Or is the very idea inimical to Islam altogether?

Please feel free to weigh in with your own ideas and experiences.

Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Christianity Today on Pope Shenouda

His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, Pope of the Co...

Just a short post today to direct to the article I contributed to Christianity Today on why the death of Pope Shenouda is also mourned by Egypt’s Protestants. If you click on the link above today you will see it highlighted as the lead story. Afterwards, please click here for the permanent link.

I hope the article will help the largely evangelical American audience better understand Coptic Christians, and the great affinity between the two communities. May they pray for the church here during this period of mourning, and for wisdom, in selecting a successor.

Here is the article opening:

Pope Shenouda, the controversial yet beloved head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, passed away on Saturday after 40 years of leading and reforming the ancient Christian sect. His death complicates the uncertain position of Orthodox believers—who represent 90 percent of Egyptian Christians—now that Islamists have surged to leadership following Egypt’s revolution last January.

Coptic Protestants respected and appreciated the pope.

“Shenouda was a pope of the Bible,” said Ramez Atallah, head of the Bible Society of Egypt. “We are the fifth-largest Bible society in the world because [he] created a hunger for the Scriptures among Copts.”

Safwat el-Baiady, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt, described Shenouda’s commitment to interdenominational understanding. “I have known him since before he was pope, and we served together on the Middle East Council of Churches. He would meet with us for hours and listen to our views.”

Please click here to continue reading at Christianity Today.



A Few Thoughts and Links on Pope Shenouda

His Holiness Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria

Living here in Egypt as a writer, I have long worried over the looming death of Pope Shenouda, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Speaking only personally, it seemed a daunting task to try and summarize his life, as long, influential, and controversial it has been.

This mostly has to do with my preference for writing analysis and context, as opposed to news. Yet the death of a major figure demands quick production. Doing justice to the man and the future of the church of Egypt seemed incredibly complex a task. There is so much about the Coptic Orthodox Church which still escapes me.

Arab West Report has produced a fine obituary on Pope Shenouda, one submitted the day of his death with substantial analysis and contextual content. The author and director of our center has lived long in Egypt and is clearly well researched and contemporary to the events described. I hope to attain such proficiency some day.

Please click here for the link.

Another good report comes from the Guardian, a UK based newspaper. I provide this link not only for its content, but also because it links to a report I wrote several months ago after the Maspero massacre. I was the only foreigner present during a press conference hosted by the Maspero Youth Union, and after all this time it was picked up by the major media.

I hope a more extensive analysis of this situation can come in a few days. I spent today surveying Egyptian Protestant leaders for their reaction, and hope to make this report available tomorrow.

For now, let us pray for Egypt’s Copts, as they are mourning. Analysis can come later. Below are a few pieces I have written about him in the past.

Related Posts:


Christmas Conversion Conversations

Note: I wrote this piece shortly after Western Christmas, but a few lines needed more consideration, and we delayed publishing. Then, Alexandria happened, and I forgot all about it. Even so the theme, if not exactly the title, is fitting with what has taken place in this country.


One of the topics I am most interested to discover here in Egypt is how the Christian population might begin to love and serve their Muslim neighbors without agenda, especially those who are understood to oppose them, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or other Salafi / Wahhabi influenced groups. Characteristic of most Christians I have met here is an attitude of suspicion and a pattern of withdrawal. This is not to say that good relations do not exist between many Muslims and Christians, of course, but the general Coptic community perspective is negative.

Most of my Christian relationships here, however, have been with the Orthodox community. This is not unusual, as most Egyptian Christians are Orthodox, and we have been worshipping at the local Orthodox Church in our neighborhood. On Christmas we joined some foreign friends for a dinner celebration, and they invited two of their Protestant Egyptian Christians along. I love learning perspectives, and with them individually I raised this greater question.

The interesting angle is that each one almost immediately spoke of Muslims becoming Christians, though in a very disjointed manner. Neither one spoke of any personal involvement or activity to promote conversion, either on their part or of the church in general. Yet the topic of love and service prompted a conversation leap directly into the fact of religious identity change. Notably, there was little considered on how to get there.

With the first Protestant conversation developed toward the Muslim Brotherhood, and I asked if he thought they were an organization of crooks. I have heard this not infrequently among both Christian and Muslim Egyptians, who see them as businessmen who use religion to either line their pockets or make political gains.

This gentleman stated this was his perspective as well. I countered, though, that perhaps some of them were sincere. Perhaps many, even, were dedicated to God as they understood him, even if their ideology is to be rejected.

He did not disallow the possibility, but the thought shifted him in another direction. Unprompted by the flow of conversation, he stated that if a Muslim Brother was truly sincere, if he was truly trying to serve God, then God would make clear to him the path of Jesus upon which salvation rests. Up until this point, I did not know the denominational adherence of the gentleman, but this language was certainly Evangelical. I wondered if he might be an unusual sort of Orthodox, but when I asked if he was Protestant, he responded ‘Baptist’.

The second individual, a lady, never clearly revealed her particular denominational affiliation, but her history revealed a mixed heritage of Orthodoxy and Protestantism, some in America, with an admiration for both. Our conversation was much more in depth, and she spoke of the good old days in Egypt when there was both more religious tolerance and personal initiative in pursuit of development. She commented that many Christians have given up hope that things would get better, but that she, though tempted to do the same, felt that as a Christian she was bound to behave as if she had hope, and press on.

Her attitude intrigued me, and when I asked about tangible actions of love and service, she offered simple but poignant advice – interact with them, and do not disparage them. Apparently, she thinks the Christian community is failing here.

Perhaps I have grander ideas unformulated in my head, but the basic humanity expressed in her words is at least the minimum of what is called for, and any more could become a deprecating ‘strategy’. Yet while I as a foreigner might have an awareness of the need for community-wide responses of love, only an Egyptian can say what this would look like. So I pressed on – what love and service could Christians in general offer to those whose ideologies desire conservative application of sharia law?

Again, a jump occurred. I do not fault any Egyptian Christian for not having an answer; it is hard for them to imagine possibilities so opposite of their prevailing mindset. Her answer, though, was education, but through the means of Christian satellite television. She immediately began telling stories of Christians on these broadcasts who had formerly been Muslims. Though some were harsh in their manner of conversation about Islam, there were hundreds, she related, who were learning about the true nature of Islam and the comparable attractiveness of Christianity, Jesus specifically.

Many, perhaps most Egyptians are satisfied in their religion and content to let their neighbors believe their personal doctrines in peace. Yet it is not uncommon for believers of any religion to be interested in the conversion of others. This can be from genuine concern for eternal destiny or temporal happiness, or from a baser instinct of community ‘rightness’ as opposite the other. On the whole, however, Egyptians are aware of the high social cost faced by any convert in either direction.

Yet I was a bit confused by the speed of connection between the initiative of love and the result of conversion, offered independently in separate conversations. By any standard, Muslims in Egypt are not rapidly converting to Christianity, if at all, so it is not as if they are describing a trend. Why then would the conversation move so abruptly in this direction?

If the reason lies in denominational difference, it could be that Orthodox have been a minority in Egypt for hundreds of years, and as such are more focused on preservation of their community, rather than expansion. Not a few Orthodox I have met have also spoken of these satellite channels and the Muslim converts they portray. Most of these have also had some experience in the West with greater levels of freedom, and specifically religious freedom. Protestants, meanwhile, have comparatively greater Western exposure, and with it a more natural connection with the Evangelical focus on evangelism.

Perhaps the Protestant religious priority of evangelism, coupled with a generally perceived Coptic experience of religious difficulties, causes the jump. The presumably real stories of Muslim converts on satellite television nurture the evangelical dream, and talk of ‘love’ reminds such Protestants of their religious obligations, along which the path of conversion treads. That they do not know this path may reflect why the abrupt connection between love and conversion has few details of action.

Or it may be specifically that almost no one even considers loving the more conservative groups of Muslims. Therefore, if conversation suggests this, it will be God’s miracle to bring them to Christianity. As such, details of action are not even necessary, and have never been contemplated.

I certainly have had far too few conversations with Egyptian Protestants to confirm these musings. Yet the congruity of conversation in this instance was striking. Perhaps the best conclusion is found in the thought of the Egyptian lady of mixed denominational heritage. Interpreting her words, engage one another as neighbors, and respect one another’s views. In a society of much religious distrust, these simple ideals have become somewhat revolutionary. Is this sufficient, for either Muslims or Christians, to fulfill the words of Jesus to love the supposed enemy? Interestingly enough, Jesus’ words in context are unconnected to the issue of conversion. Instead, his followers are to imitate God, who sends rain to both the just and unjust. Certainly God desires all to become just, but sometimes his followers can run ahead of him. Or, more consistently with this text, jump.