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Hagia Sophia’s Muslim Prayers Evoke Ottoman Treatment of Armenians

Via Turkish Presidency

Declared a mosque in principle, Hagia Sophia is now a mosque in practice.

Following his decree earlier this month, Turkish President Recep Erdoğan’s joined a coronavirus-limited 500 worshipers to perform Friday prayers in the sixth-century Byzantine basilica, underneath the covered frescoes of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

Hundreds more gathered outside.

International condemnation resounded after the Turkish Council of State ruled to revert the UNESCO World Heritage Site back to its Islamic status. Conquered in 1453 by Ottoman sultan Mehmed II, the massive church was turned into a museum by the founder of the modern Turkish republic, Kamal Ataturk, in 1934.

Underreported in much of the criticism was a wider complaint.

“The action of the Turkish government evokes heavy memories on the desecration and destruction of holy sites of the Armenian people and other Christian nations by the Ottoman government for centuries,” said Garegin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.

There are an estimated 11 million Armenians worldwide, including 3 million in their modern nation-state.

Representing the diaspora from the Holy See of Cilicia, in Lebanon, Catholicos Aram I went into more detail.

“Soon after the Armenian Genocide, Turkey confiscated thousands of Armenian churches and transformed them into bars, coffee shops, and public parks,” he said, “ignoring the reactions and appeals of the international community.”

As Erdoğan is doing again now—and not just to the Hagia Sophia.

Turkey has assured the frescoes will be uncovered for all visitors (3.7 million last year) outside of prayer times—and now without a museum entry fee. More than 400 other churches continue to serve the 1 percent of Turks that are Christians.

But Erdoğan’s remarks in Turkish revealed a wider agenda. “The resurrection of Hagia Sophia is the sound of Muslims’ footsteps…”

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on July 24, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Hagia Sophia Converted Back to Mosque by Turkey’s President

As Christians feared and many expected, the Hagia Sophia is now—again—a mosque.

The Turkish Council of State ruled today that the original 1934 decision to convert the sixth-century Byzantine basilica into a museum was illegal.

When Ottoman sultan Mehmet II conquered then-Constantinople, he placed the iconic church in a waqf—an Islamic endowment administering personal property, usually designated for religious purpose. The original stipulations opened the building for Islamic prayers, and sharia law keeps waqf designations in perpetuity.

Shortly after the decision, President Recep Erdogan signed—and tweeted—a decree handing the building to Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate.

In a televised address to the nation, Erdogan said the first prayers inside the Hagia Sophia would be held on July 24, and he urged respect for the decision.

“I underline that we will open Hagia Sophia to worship as a mosque by preserving its character of humanity’s common cultural heritage,” he said, adding: “It is Turkey’s sovereign right to decide for which purpose Hagia Sophia will be used.”

Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, considered the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, warned in late June that the building’s conversion into a mosque “will turn millions of Christians across the world against Islam.”

Greek Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II earlier stated that Erdogan “would not dare.”

And UNESCO reminded Turkey of its international obligations, as the Hagia Sophia is registered as a World Heritage site.

“A state must make sure that no modification undermines the outstanding universal value of a site listed on its territory,” the UN body stated.

In response to the Turkish decision, the Russian Orthodox Church expressed regret, stating it could lead to “greater divisions.”

The foreign minister of Cyprus called it a “flagrant violation” against “a universal symbol of the Orthodox faith.”

And in Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, protesters gathered outside a church that is modeled on the Hagia Sophia and bears the same name. They chanted, “We’ll light candles in Hagia Sophia!” and held Greek flags and Byzantine banners.

During his address, Erdogan rejected the idea that the decision ends the Hagia Sophia’s status as a structure that brings faiths together. “Like all of our other mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be…

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on July 10, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Despite a Murder and Visa Denials, Christians Persevere in Turkey

Turkey Korean Murder
Image: Source Images: Congin Kim / Annie Spratt / Unsplash

This article was first published in the March print edition of Christianity Today.

Five days after her husband’s murder, Jung Kyung-In named her newborn daughter “God’s Goodness”—in Turkish, not Korean.

Jung moved to Turkey with her husband, Kim Jin-Wook, in 2015. The Korean Christian couple found a place to live in an impoverished district of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey, 60 miles from the Syrian border.

Kim worked selling spices, but his real calling, as he understood it, was witnessing to the gospel. He took the Turkish name “Peace,” and his Christian friends in Turkey say he was a great evangelist.

“He shared the gospel in every corner of Diyarbakir without hesitation,” said Ahmet Güvener, pastor of the Diyarbakir Protestant Church, which has about 70 members. “He was not aggressive, but clear, and I think local people were uncomfortable with this.”

One day in November, Kim told Jung he was going out to evangelize. He was attacked on the street, stabbed twice in the chest and once in the back. Kim, 41, died of his wounds in a city hospital.

Authorities arrested a 16-year-old boy for the crime. He has allegedly confessed to the murder, saying he was trying to steal Kim’s phone.

Despite her grief, Jung saw this as an opportunity to testify. She wrote a letter to the boy accused of killing her husband.

“I do not understand why you did this, but I cannot be angry at you,” she wrote on her phone.

“Many people want the court to give you a heavy punishment. But I and my husband don’t want this. We pray that you become worthy of heaven, because we believe in the worth of people. God sent his Son Jesus, who forgave those who persecuted him. We also believe in that and we pray that you would also repent of your sin.”

Jung read the letter aloud to the local media. Her testimony was viewed online more than…

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

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Senate’s Genocide Vote Not the Only Good News for Armenian Christians

Armenian Genocide Memorial

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on December 13, 2019.

Following years of frustration, Armenian Christians worldwide received a double blessing this week.

For the first time in its history, the US Senate recognized the Armenian Genocide. And after 11 years of practical vacancy, the Armenian community in Istanbul, Turkey, elected a new patriarch.

“It is very emotional for the Armenian world, and anyone who wants to see the truth incarnated,” Paul Haidostian, president of evangelical Haigazian University in Beirut, Lebanon—the only Armenian university in the diaspora—told CT concerning the resolution.

“But it is very obvious this was the opportune moment to be bipartisan.”

Led by Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, the unanimous passage yesterday drove his co-sponsor Sen. Robert Menendez to tears.

“I’m thankful that this resolution has passed at a time in which there are still survivors of the genocide,” said the Democrat from New Jersey, pausing for 20 seconds before being able to continue. “[They] will be able to see that…

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

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There’s No One Christian View on Kurds and Turks

Turkish Christians
(Image: Lefteris Pitarakis / AP. Clergy representing minority communities in Turkey gathered Sunday in a monastery in southeastern Turkey to pray for Turkish soldiers fighting in the cross-border operation against Syrian Kurdish fighters.)

This article was first published at Christianity Today on October 24.

As reports circulated that Turkey had violated its five-day pause in operations against the Kurds on the Syrian border, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rhetoric intensified. If Kurdish fighters did not withdraw from their positions, as agreed between Erdogan and President Donald Trump, Turkey would “crush their heads.”

The front now appears quiet as Turkey has secured its “safe zone” in cooperation with Russia.

In America, as reported in the press, Christian opinion has been almost universal in its condemnation. But the Christian landscape in the Middle East, home to the oldest and some of the most enduring persecuted traditions in the faith, offers a complex array of responses.

CT has previously covered anti-Turkish sentiment from the Syriac, Assyrian, and Protestant communities of the region.

But there is an underreported—and contested—pro-Turkey and anti-Kurdish contingent as well.

Arameans:

“President Trump is right on Syria!” stated Johny Messo, president of the World Council of Arameans, in a press release. “These ‘heroes’ have oppressed vulnerable Arameans, taken their innocent lives, Kurdified their lands, and still use a tiny Christian group as their mouthpiece.”

The Arameans, though an ancient expression of Christianity, represent a 20th-century revival of identity tied to the ancient biblical land of Aram. Communities exist in Syria, Turkey, and elsewhere in the region, and have been recognized by Israel.

While the West has rallied behind the democratic Syrian enclave that permits religious freedom, Messo says what it commonly called Kurdistan is actually…

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

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Armenian Orthodox Leader: ‘We May Forgive One Day, But We Will Never Forget.’

Aram I Armenian Orthodox Church
(Image: Associated Press)

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on November 1.

The Armenian Orthodox Church is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world. According to tradition, Armenia was evangelized by Jesus’ disciples Bartholomew and Thaddeus. In 301 A.D., it became the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion.

An Oriental Orthodox denomination, the Armenians are in communion with the Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopian, and Malankara (India) churches. They differ with Catholics and Protestants over the 451 A.D. Council of Chalcedon decision to recognize Christ as one person with two natures: human and divine. Oriental Orthodox Christians declare Christ has one nature, both human and divine.

The Armenian Church is governed by two patriarchs, entitled Catholicos. One, Karekin II, is Supreme Patriarch for all Armenians and sits in Armenia.

CT interviewed Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, which was once located in modern-day Turkey but since the Armenian Genocide relocated to Antelias, Lebanon, five miles north of Beirut. His jurisdiction includes the Armenians of the Middle East, Europe, and North and South America.

Aram I discussed the genocide, the US House of Representatives resolution this week to finally recognize it, and Armenians’ desired response from Turkey.

How do you respond to the US resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide?

Yesterday I made a statement welcoming warmly this action taken. I believe it is very much in line with the firm commitment of the United States of America in respect to human rights. The rights of the Armenian people are being violated. After more than 100 years, we tried to bring the attention of the international community that the Armenian Genocide is a fact of history.

Whether we call it genocide or massacre or deportation, the intention is important. The intention of the Ottoman Turkish government at the time was to destroy [and] eliminate the Armenian people for political reasons. The presence of Armenian people in the western part of present-day Turkey and [historic] Cilicia was an obstacle to their project of pan-Turkism.

This is our legitimate claim: that the international community make a visible, tangible manifestation of their concern in respect to human rights, and recognize the Armenian Genocide. It was carefully planned and systematically executed by the government at the time.

Our people all around the world warmly greeted this action of the House of Representatives. It is our firm expectation that…

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

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Will US Genocide Resolution Satisfy Armenian Christians?

Armenian Genocide Memorial
(from the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute)

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on November 1.

Armenian Americans breathed a sigh of relief this week when the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved Resolution 296 to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Around 1.5 million Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1923, as the defeated Ottoman Empire transitioned into the modern Republic of Turkey. Less than half a million survived.

The resolution also mentions the Greek, Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, Aramean, Maronite, and other Christian victims who lived in Asia Minor and other Ottoman provinces at the time.

If the House legislation is passed in the Senate and signed by President Donald Trump, the United States will be committed to commemorate the genocide, to reject its denial, and to educate people about it in order to prevent similar atrocities in the future.

But if Armenian Americans are finally pleased, the diaspora in the Middle East—much closer to the Turks and the lands taken from their ancestors—demurs.

“It certainly heals some small aspect of our century-long national wound,” said Paul Haidostian, president of the evangelical Haigazian University—the only Armenian university in the diaspora—in Beirut, Lebanon.

“There is some sense of relief. But it should not be exaggerated.”

Nor should it be underestimated, he told CT. All Armenians…

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

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Syrian Christians Brave Insecurity to Stay Behind and Help

Syria Open Doors
via Open Doors USA

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on October 18.

Though most of the fighting has stopped for now, Turkey’s incursion on Kurdish-controlled northern Syria has left another humanitarian crisis in its wake.

Local churches as well as Christian organizations like Open Doors and Preemptive Love Coalition have prioritized caring for the citizens who took the risk to stay behind and helping the displaced return.

Last Saturday night, after three days of Turkish bombing, the Alliance Church of Qamishli met to make a decision. Would they flee for safety, or remain and help?

To some degree they had no choice.

Fadi Habsouna, a father of two, was injured when missiles hit his home and ruined his shop. His wife is in critical condition. His grandfather’s home was destroyed by a bomb. The pastor housed them in church-owned property, and decided to remain to assist the family, and others suffering similarly.

The church agreed; only eight families would leave.

“These are extremely brave people who want to be salt and light in their communities,” said David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, who relayed this story from his field staff. “They want to maintain the presence of Jesus and reach out.”

Open Doors is better known for its advocacy work on behalf of the persecuted; Syria ranks no. 11 on its World Watch List of places hardest to be a Christian. Its local partners keep a low profile in order to provide on the ground assessment. But the crisis in Syria has driven them to humanitarian aid.

It is not the first time. Following the rise of ISIS in 2014, Open Doors helped 150,000 Christians located in camps along the Turkish and Lebanese borders. Now their community hubs are providing food, medical care, hygiene kits, and temporary shelter in the northeast Syrian towns affected by the Turkish incursion.

“Christians have to make hard choices,” Curry said. “Leave the communities they were raised in, move inland, or …”

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

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Christians Killed on Syria’s Front Lines

Turkey Shelling Syria
Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, as seen from the Turkish border town of Akcakale in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on October 11.

Three Christians have been killed in Turkey’s assault on Kurdish-held areas in northeast Syria, reported In Defense of Christians (IDC), citing their sources on the ground.

In Qamishli, a Syriac Christian and his wife died, while in Ras al-Ain an additional Syriac Christian civilian was killed. Ten civilians were injured in the attacks.

“People were so scared, they were telling me, ‘They are bombing us right now!’” Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council of Syria, told NPR. “We think this is a message to the Kurds and Christians there to leave, so Turkey can move refugees there. We think it’s a form of ethnic cleansing.”

The Turkish operation focused initially on a 60-mile stretch of land between the two Arab-majority cities of Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad, a sparsely populated area known as Syria’s breadbasket, reported BBC. IDC, which advocates for Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, said that this area has large concentrations of Christians.

In total seven civilians were killed, including two children, reported Channel 4. Retaliatory Kurdish mortar fire into Turkey killed…

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

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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.

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The Cost of Religious Freedom

This article was originally published on September 20, 2018, and in the October issue of Christianity Today.

Turkey Iran Sanctions Advocacy
Image: Jonathan Bartlett, via CT.

This article expands my previous coverage of Andrew Brunson and the US-Turkish crisis to include also issues related to advocacy for Christians in Iran.

Why did advocacy succeed for the drug dealers but not the pastor? And what should be made of Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian house church leader released in 2013 after much international advocacy—only to be arrested and beaten this past July?

“Christians engaged in this part of the world always walk a knife edge regarding how to respond to unjust imprisonment,” said Mark Bradley, an author of three books on Iran and Christianity.

“Some prefer to remain under the radar. Others prefer to get as much support from politicians and journalists as possible. It is impossible to know which is more effective.”

Todd Nettleton, chief of media relations for Voice of the Martyrs, said some persecuted Christians hope for sanctions that will either push politicians to reform or the people to revolt.

But with the experience of working in 68 countries, he described others who believe a society unfettered by sanctions leads to openness to the gospel and a demand for rights and freedoms.

“In our work, we encounter Christians living in hostile and restricted nations who fall on both sides of this debate,” he said. “We stand with them regardless of the action or inaction of earthly governments.”

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

 

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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.

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What Next for Syria?

Syrian city of Aleppo

The conflict has turned a corner as the Syrian government regained control of Damascus and begins pushing into rebel-held areas.

LobeLog interviewed Josh Landis of Syria Comment to ask him what happens next. The full interview is worth reading, but here are a few excerpts on competing regional policies.

Turkey:

Idlib was one of the poorer regions of Syria. It was a Muslim Brotherhood and rather Salafi place before the revolution. Now it’s become a dumping ground for all of the defeated rebel forces that have been pushed out of the various rebel pockets. They’ve all been pushed into Idlib, and it’s become this very unhappy collecting point.

Today we’re seeing lots of violence there internally, between militias that are vying for supremacy. But also, Turkey is protecting Idlib. Turkey does not want it to be conquered, because in doing so Assad would push tens of thousands of militia fighters into Turkey. That will make the refugee problem much more difficult for Turkey and saddle Turkey with up to 100,000 hardened rebel fighters, many of whom have links to al-Qaeda.

This gives Turkey a lot of incentive to take Idlib province and try to set up a satellite statelet that can act as a holding province for these rebels.

Israel:

Israel wants Syria to remain weak. The civil war has opened up a lot of potential for advances on Israel’s northern border. It’s destabilized that border, but at the same time it’s weakened Assad tremendously. He’s no longer a military threat to Israel, and the militias that are now along the border also don’t pose a threat.

Even if they have links to the Islamic State or al-Qaeda they’re small and have no missile capabilities or other advanced military technology. Israel would like to be able to preserve those gains and consolidate its control over the Golan. It’s now pressing the United States to follow up on its Jerusalem recognition by recognizing the Golan as Israeli territory.

United States:

The U.S. has closed off all of the major highways out of Syria to the east. International trade for Syria has been blocked off and sanctions tightened. The U.S. is dead set against international organizations playing any role in Syrian redevelopment so the U.S. can continue to strangle Syria and keep it extremely poor.

You might argue that this is bad from a counterterrorism perspective because it will create more instability, but I think the U.S. is willing to pay that price because it won’t hurt the U.S. directly.

We’re not sure exactly what the U.S. is promoting in Syria, but all the talk coming out of Washington reflects an effort to squeeze Syria politically, economically, diplomatically, and militarily in order to unseat Assad and replace him with a government that’s going to be pro-West and anti-Iran.

Any favorites?

 

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Spanning the Great Schism between Evangelical and Orthodox Christians

 

Spanning the Great Schism
Image: Benedetto Cristofani / Salzmanart

This article was first published in the June print edition of Christianity Today.

Three brief excerpts in the efforts to unite evangelicals and Orthodox believers.

Four years ago in Istanbul, a humble Turkish book partially reversed the 11th century’s Great Schism. Catholics joined Eastern and Oriental Orthodox—alongside Protestants—to publish a slim, 12-chapter treatise on their common theological beliefs.

“You can’t find a page like this in all of church history,” said Sahak Mashalian, an Armenian Orthodox bishop and the principal scribe of Christianity: Basic Teachings. “It is akin to a miracle.”

If this is contemporary, here is history…

“The Copts largely resisted conversion,” Suriel wrote, “[but it] awakened in them a spirit of inquiry and an impulse to reform.”

Missionaries supplied Girgis [Orthodox founder of the Sunday School Movement] materials, and the Bible Society of Egypt gave him free or low-cost Bibles for his students, said Sinout Shenouda, the Orthodox vice-chair of its board. “The Americans initiated the idea, and the Orthodox came to imitate,” he said. “It was competition, but useful in that it profited from the missionaries rather than just attacking them.”

So what about the future?

Evangelical principles seep into traditional churches. Evangelicals do too—and the cross-pollination continues.

“I don’t think it is possible to overstate the influence of evangelical converts to Orthodoxy in terms of missions,” said Alex Goodwin, annual giving director for the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC). “It has been transformative for many of us who are ‘cradle Orthodox.’ ”

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

 

 

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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.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Energy Hub

Flag Cross Quran

God,

It has long been an ambition. Now it is becoming reality. But strange the one who makes it happen.

Egypt is an energy hub.

Not long ago she sold off share at cut rate prices. Not long after that she was begging fuel from international partners.

Then an enormous natural gas field was discovered, giving promise of self-sufficiency.

Came the bombshell: Importing more.

Came the explanation: To liquify, and then export.

Came the confusion: Israel.

As some gasped at the deal the government nodded. Private sector, but an awaited development.

Given infrastructure and a large consumer market, Egypt positioned herself to profit from regional exploration and extraction.

Israel is the first client, having discovered large fields shortly before. Others may emerge.

God, may they find a good partner.

Help shared economics promote common peace. Egypt has strengthened ties with Greece and Cyprus; now even Israel is drawn closer.

Keep contested economics from sparking further tensions. Turkey eyes developments warily; Sudan and Ethiopia jostle over Nile water.

God, there are details to confirm and obstacles to overcome.

But bless Egypt in the management of her resources. May she build a foundation, and distribute well.

Let not her ambition trump her reality. She is still a long way from prosperity.

But God, let it happen. Allow Egypt to rise.

Amen.

 

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Slow Boil

Flag Cross Quran

God,

The waters of Egypt are simmering. Lower the temperature.

The Nile is her lifeblood, and a dam in Ethiopia may impact historic share. But also threatened Sudan leans instead to Turkey, a Brotherhood-aligned adversary.

The Israelis are her neighbor, and a president in America complicates the status quo. But the New York Times published leaks that suggest a betrayal of Palestine.

The presidency is her backbone, and elections in March invite political review. But back-and-forth developments lend intrigue to potential candidacies.

God, give Egypt wisdom to navigate these challenges.

Provide water to all, and harness the river in widespread development. Keep the Red Sea from further militarization.

Provide transparency to all, and establish justice in fair negotiation. Keep the media from biased disinformation.

Provide agency to all, and validate a leader in contested consensus. Keep the politics from crass characterization.

God, give Egypt peace to impart in these challenges.

Christmas came, with a new cathedral named after the birth of such a prince.

May this spirit hover over the waters. Calm them, God. Peace, be still.

Amen.

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Islamism: Contextualist or Essentialist? Or Both?

My new article for Providence Magazine.

Islamism Contexualist Essentialist
Photo Credit: Mosque in Tunisia. By Tarek, via Flickr.

In an excellent review of Shadi Hamid and Will McCants’ Rethinking Political Islam, Olivier Roy says there are generally two ways to think about Islamism.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, he first briefly introduces three important shockwaves—the Arab Spring, the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the emergence of Islamic State (ISIS)—that have affected the debate.

As Hamid and McCants write, “After decades speculating on what Islamists would do when they came to power, analysts, academics—and Islamists themselves—finally have an answer. And it is confusing.”

The confusion tends to be filtered into analysis based on one’s predisposition.

There is a contextual approach, as Roy explains: “The policies and practices of Islamist movements are driven less by ideology than by events and sees such groups as reactive and adaptive.” He elaborates:

Contextualists believe that Islamist groups seek to adapt to circumstances and country-specific norms (for example, by recognizing the monarchies in Jordan and Morocco). The groups’ main goal is to survive as coherent organizations and political actors. And their use of religious rhetoric is often little more than “Muslim-speak”—a way to express a unique identity and articulate grievances, especially against the West.

There is also an essentialist approach: “Islamists are fundamentally ideological and that any concessions they make to secularist principles or institutions are purely tactical.”

A corollary to this argument is the idea—extolled by critics of Islamism but also some of its adherents—that Islamic theology recognizes no separation between religion and politics, and therefore an authentic Islamist cannot renounce his ideological agenda in favor of a more pragmatic or democratic approach.

The presentation is skillful, and after researching Islamist movements and parties across the Muslim world, Roy offers a conclusion…

Please click here to read the rest of the article at Providence Magazine.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Normalizing Ties?

Flag Cross Quran

God,

You desire good relations. But politics is often about particular interests, and sometimes relationships go sour. Sometimes they are damaged beyond repair. Perhaps in some cases, an outright break is necessary and best.

So with Israel, Turkey, and the Muslim Brotherhood, God, help Egypt arrange her affairs properly. Feelers have gone out that perhaps a thaw is in the offering.

Egypt has had longstanding peace with Israel, but it has usually been cold. Formal relations were handled by the intelligence and security sectors, but recently the foreign minister visited Tel Aviv.

Diplomatic relations carry more normalcy, which is controversial in Egypt. But use his effort to further peace between Israel and Palestine, God. And shape policies and attitudes among peoples, so that warm relations will be possible also with Cairo.

Turkey, also, has been mending fences with Israel, and Russia beside. Egyptian ties severed after Morsi was removed from power, and both sides continue to criticize each other.

But there are also hints that maybe things can change. Interests, justice, and legitimacies are sometimes hard to reconcile on the international stage, God. But Egypt and Turkey are regional powers; coordination is preferred to conflict.

God, may Egypt, Israel, and Turkey bless the region and the world. Much must change to experience your ideal. Forgive and be merciful when your ways are neglected.

At heart, this is a mark of the Egypt-Brotherhood relationship. Both sides accuse the other of bloody and traitorous conspiring. Though the Brotherhood is less than a nation, it is more than a person. And their members belong to Egypt, no matter the legitimacy or substance of mutual acrimony.

But does their ideology? God, give both sides great wisdom. Rule justly between them; may every crime find proper punishment.

Help member, group, government, and nation to come to terms. The issues are too disputed to pray simply for reconciliation, when some pray for retribution and others eradication. Many on both sides would see normalization as a terrible compromise, even a defeat.

Even so, it seems some are trying cautiously. If from good and righteous intention, God, bless them. Bless also those who from similar moral clarity are strident to apply justice.

Sideline those of selfish ambition, but for all others scrub away their every impurity. May good men lead the nation well.

Give Egypt discernment, God, at home and abroad. May all true ties be strengthened. May peace, in place of struggle, soon become normal.

Amen.

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Europe

Flag Cross QuranGod,

It is Egyptians who must determine their leadership. Bless her with enduring independence and government of the people.

But Europe has a significant influence in legitimizing. President Sisi visited Germany and Hungary to strengthen ties and secure trade. Meanwhile a group of international Islamic scholars gathered in Turkey to give religious justification to resist and take retribution.

Egypt barred a human rights activist from a conference in Berlin. Meanwhile the world awaits the judgment of London if the Brotherhood has terrorist links.

God, make clear in Egypt both reality and righteousness. Let there be transparency over every crime and allegation. Let there be accountability for every failure and offense.

And in Europe, where transparency and accountability are presumably stronger, let there be more than interests and leverage. May they respect both rights and sovereignty.

Balancing both, may peace – with all legitimate pressure – prevail.

Preserve good relations, God. Preserve good government.

And may both ultimately be by and for the people.

Amen.