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Pew: Israelis and Palestinians Find Favor in the Eyes of Americans

Americans prefer a less polarized Holy Land. But they themselves are as polarized about it as ever.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center—three years removed from when Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu led the political scene—reveals rising favorability ratings for Israel and Palestine, across nearly every segment of Americans.

Most, however, still prefer Israel.

White evangelicals lead the way, with 86 percent viewing the Israeli people favorably and 68 percent viewing Israel’s government favorably, compared to 37 percent favorability for the Palestinian people and 14 percent favorability for their government.

Overall, 1 in 3 white evangelicals view both peoples favorably, but only 1 in 10 favor both governments.

These believers are out of step with the wider US, however.

Among Americans at large, the Israeli people have a 67 percent favorability rating, up from 64 percent. The Israeli government’s favorability rating increased from 41 to 48 percent. And a narrow majority of Americans now view Palestinians positively (52%, up from 46%), though less so their government (28%, up from 19%). Overall, 2 in 5 Americans view both peoples favorably (42%), but only 1 in 5 favor both governments.

“Americans naturally want to be favorable toward other peoples,” said Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). “I’m surprised it is not higher.”

Theology may have something to do with the affinity. In a new question, Pew asked Americans if God gave the land that is now Israel to the Jews. White evangelicals agreed at a rate of…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on June 9, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

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Trump or Netanyahu? American Evangelicals Support Israel, Yet Signs of Change

Image: Frédéric Soltan / Corbis / Getty Images

In the public spat between Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, who would American evangelicals support? A new survey suggests it might be the Israeli.

Polled shortly after the Gaza war last May, it also reveals a substantial generational gap in level of support for Israel and a lack of impact by pastors from their pulpits.

And it happens to release this week, following Trump’s explosive comments.

In excerpts from a recently released interview, the former president blasted the former prime minister for his statement of congratulations to Joe Biden after the 2020 election.

“Nobody did more for Bibi. And I liked Bibi. I still like Bibi,” stated Trump in an expletive-laced diatribe, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “But I also like loyalty … Bibi could have stayed quiet. He has made a terrible mistake.”

Netanyahu responded with praise for Trump. But in noting a friendship with Joe Biden, he also honored the longstanding partnership between the US and Israel.

During his presidency, Trump moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, acknowledged Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and negotiated with five Muslim-majority nations to normalize relations with the Jewish state.

American evangelicals joined Netanyahu in appreciation. According to a new online poll surveying a multiethnic panel of approximately 1,000 self-identified evangelical and born-again Christians, 35 percent say they became more supportive of Israel because of Trump’s policies. Only 11 percent became more supportive of Palestinians, while 53 percent had no change.

And overall, 68 percent of American evangelicals believe the Jewish people today have the right to the land of Israel, by virtue of the covenant God made with Abraham which “remains intact today.” (About 23% say they don’t know.)

The survey, conducted by professors from the University of North Carolina–Pembroke in conjunction with Barna Group, was released today but conducted in July, well before public knowledge of Trump’s falling out with Netanyahu.

The 15-year Israeli prime minister scored a 74 percent favorable rating, based on the share of evangelicals who gave him a score of 6 or greater on a 10-point scale. One in five (22%) gave him the top rating possible. The survey did not include a direct comparison. But given the fact that it included…

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

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Pew: US, France, and Korea Are Most Divided—Especially over Religion

Image: Illustration by Christianity Today / Source Images: Saul Martinez / Stringer / Brandon Bell / Mohamed Rasik / Getty Images

“Conflict” is a troublesome word to describe a society. But increasingly across advanced global economies—and particularly the United States—their societies believe it is the correct label.

If there is any good news, religious conflict lags behind.

The Pew Research Center surveyed almost 19,000 people in 17 North American, European, and Asia-Pacific nations this past spring about their perception of conflict across four categories: between political parties, between different races and ethnicities, between different religions, and between urban and rural communities.

The US ranked top or high in each.

A global median of 50 percent see political conflict, 48 percent see racial conflict, 36 percent see religious conflict, and 23 percent see urban-rural conflict.

But in the US, 9 in 10 viewed political conflict as “serious” or “very serious.”

Asian nations varied considerably. South Korea matched the US at 90 percent seeing serious political polarization, with Taiwan third at 69 percent. Singapore was lowest overall at 33 percent, while Japan was 39 percent.

France (65%), Italy (64%), Spain (58%), and Germany (56%) followed Taiwan.

In terms of race, the US ranked first again, with 71 percent seeing serious conflict. France was second at 64 percent, and South Korea and Italy third at 57 percent. Singapore again ranked lowest, at 25 percent.

South Korea had the highest perception of religious conflict, at 61 percent. France followed at 56 percent, and the US at 49 percent. Germany and Belgium registered 46 percent each. Taiwan was lowest, at 12 percent.

Nearly 1 in 4 French (23%) saw religious conflict as “very serious.”

Age plays a role in perception. Pew noted that adults under 30 are significantly more likely than those ages 65 and older to see strong religious divisions in Greece (60% vs. 24%), Belgium (62% vs. 38%), Japan (42% vs. 22%), Italy (49% vs. 30%), the US (58% vs. 42%), Spain (24% vs. 10%), and Taiwan (17% vs. 7%).

Conversely, Canadians under 30 are significantly more likely than Canadians ages 65 and older to say there is no strong religious conflict (78% vs. 65%). Religious diversity, however…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on October 13, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

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The American Mosque: More Suburban, Less Conversion

Image: ISPU, US Mosque 2020 Survey

The American mosque increasingly resembles the American church.

New data released in the US Mosque Survey 2020 reveals a plateau of conversions, a shift to the suburbs, and a challenge with “unmosqued” youth.

“Muslims and their mosques are becoming more integrated into American society,” said Ihsan Bagby, the lead investigator, “and more adjusted to the American environment.”

Released every 10 years, the survey aims to comprehensively dispel misconceptions about the locus of Muslim community in the United States.

How might the findings guide American evangelicals?

Begin with the contrast: the increase in the Muslim equivalent of church planting.

The survey counts 2,769 mosques in the US, an increase of 31 percent since the 2010 report. The prior decade had a growth rate of 74 percent, with 1,209 mosques counted in the 2000 report.

They increasingly appreciate a nice backyard.

The share of mosques in large cities has dropped from 17 percent in 2010 to 6 percent in 2020, while the share in small towns has dropped from 20 percent to 6 percent. The survey found that 8 in 10 Muslims now live in a residential or suburban area.

“As we begin to share the same neighborhood, engaging the Muslim community is no longer just the domain of missionary specialists,” said Mike Urton, the associate director of Immigrant Mission, a ministry of the Evangelical Free Church of America.

“It is now the domain of the local church.”

The now mostly suburban Muslims also “tithe” similarly to their Christian neighbors. Including contributions toward operating expenses and the obligatory zakat charitable giving to the poor, the survey calculated…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on June 14, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

Americas Christianity Today Published Articles Religious Freedom

Just a Bill: Religious Freedom Consensus Rarely Voted into Law

Antony Blinken

Secretary of State Antony Blinken called out Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf kingdom “remains the only country in the world without a Christian church, though there are more than a million Christians living [there],” he stated yesterday.

Such high-level criticism of the key US ally is a departure from the foreign policy of the Trump administration, though the State Department has listed the oil-rich nation as a Country of Particular Concern on international religious freedom (IRF) since 2004.

Blinken also highlighted recent violations in Iran, Burma, Russia, Nigeria, and China. Positive developments were noted in Sudan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

“Our promise to the world is that the Biden-Harris administration will protect and defend religious freedom around the world,” stated Blinken, releasing the 23rd annual International Religious Freedom Report, assessing the records of nearly 200 countries and territories.

“We will maintain America’s longstanding leadership on this issue, [and] we’re grateful for our partners.”

He named several entities, but one is glaring in its absence:

The US Congress.

Six years ago, 21Wilberforce, a Christian human rights organization, launched the International Religious Freedom Scorecard to hold America’s lawmakers to account.

“There is much room for improvement,” Lou Ann Sabatier, director of communication, told CT. “It is a long and arduous process for an IRF bill to become a law, and many do not make it out of committee.”

The latest scorecard, released this week and grading the two-year term of the 116th Congress, lists 91 legislative efforts in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Only two became law. The daughter of one of Congress’s chief IRF champions is not happy…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on May 14, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

Americas Christianity Today Published Articles Religious Freedom

Polarized Americans Still Support Religious Freedom

Image: Mark Wilson / Staff / Getty
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo address the State Department’s second religious freedom ministerial.

Last year, American support for religious freedom survived COVID-19.

The right to free speech held firm amid racial tensions.

And vigorous backing of the First Amendment endured a contentious presidential campaign.

So concludes the 2020 Becket Religious Freedom Index, which will monitor the resilience of the United States’ “first freedom” through the yearly challenges to come.

“Americans understand religion as a fundamental part of an individual’s identity,” said Caleb Lyman, director of research and analytics at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

“It is no surprise that they support strong religious freedom protections in work and public life.”

Designing 16 questions across six categories, the annual index measures perspectives on the First Amendment. Now in its second year, in October it polled a nationwide sample of 1,000 Americans, scoring their support from 0 (complete opposition) to 100 (robust support).

The composite score is 66, a statistically insignificant decline from 67 in 2019.

Becket’s report recognizes that the religious impulse is natural to human beings, and therefore religious expression is natural to human culture.

Through their law firm, they defend religious rights. Through their index, they discover if Americans agree…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on January 4, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

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Interview: To Elect Trump, Evangelicals Could Find Common Cause with Muslims

By Alisdare Hickson (link)

In a tightly contested presidential race, might Muslims swing the US election?

Referencing the release of President Donald Trump’s tax returns in Tuesday’s debate, former vice president’s Joe Biden’s “inshallah” [Arabic for “if God wills”] may have been a nod to the strong support he receives from this community.

But according to data from the fifth annual American Muslim Poll, Muslims make up only 1 percent of the American population, only 74 percent are eligible to vote, and only 57 percent are registered.

Why then do they occupy such an outsized space in the mind of many American evangelicals? And what should evangelicals better understand about the American Muslim community and their political preferences? CT spoke with Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), which commissioned the poll.

The level of support for President Trump has doubled among Muslims, from 13 percent in 2018 and 16 percent in 2019 to 30 percent in 2020. How to you interpret this finding? We are still trying to understand it ourselves. One thing is…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on October 1, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Current Events

The Middle East Needs America to Reconcile

Lebanese Voices:

This post was submitted by Rev. Joseph Kassab, president of the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon

Current demonstrations in the United States have exposed a rift in society, very similar to the gaps found in the Middle East. In both regions, governments have failed to guide their pluralistic societies toward harmony, peace, and reconciliation.

In the United States, these rifts take on the forms of black and white, rich and poor, and between non-integrated ethnicities. Economic prosperity and the high standard of living has papered over them for a long time, but only postponed the explosion.

As for the Middle East, underdevelopment and a deteriorating economy intensifies the contradictions, making them more violent. Our weak governments do not have the capacity as modern states to regulate conflict. In addition to rich and poor, our rifts occur as Shiite and Sunni, Christian and Muslim, along with various ethnicities that feel robbed of their homelands, with less sense of belonging to their country of residence.

At the grassroots level, the situations are substantially similar. But surprisingly, the similarity is beginning to extend to the level of leadership.

Three weeks ago, President Trump visited a church and lifted the Bible in an iconic photo op. Whether it was to appease his evangelical supporters or contain ongoing demonstrations and violence, he also hinted at involving the army in the restoration of calm.

Middle Eastern leaders often act similarly in their times of crisis.

When Saddam Hussein’s regime was threatened, he added the Islamic phrase “God is Great” to the national flag. He employed the army and chemical weapons against the Kurds, when they attempted to revolt against him. Religion and violence are the magic used to contain the anger.

Since government is responsible to guard national security, I believe it has the right to use the army if vitally necessary. But conversely, the United States should have the integrity to understand and permit this right when protests erupt and threaten the stability of other nations.

But it cannot be acceptable in any pluralistic country, and especially for the United States, to use religion as a weapon to solve its problems. It is the tool of ISIS, in their pursuit of “Islamic peace.”

The world recognizes America as a superpower, looking for it to lead the world by example. Many Americans are angry, whether demonstrating in the streets, or frustrated in their homes. Lifting the Bible is not the solution—living the Bible is.

These protests have much to teach us in the Middle East, where many governments rule by majority mindset. It can be difficult for God’s vision of justice and equality to result in full benefits of citizenship for underprivileged minorities. 

But when we witness massive crowds of white citizens protesting for the rights of blacks, it inspires us to believe that the American dream is still alive. The whole world is watching, some wishing the nation to fail. Others, like us, will find hope the US transcends its differences, and reconciles.

For our sake, then, America must be as great a democracy in times of trouble, as it is in times of peace. The Middle East also needs to breathe.

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When You are Persecuted in One Place, Flee to Another. But Not to America

Flee to America

This article was first published at Christianity Today on November 5.


The United States did not resettle a single refugee in October.

According to 30 years of records from World Relief, last month was the first time a calendar month went empty. For the past five years, the October average was 4,945 refugees resettled.

Among those impacted: persecuted Christians.

The humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals tracked the number of arrivals from the 10 countries identified by the US State Department as Countries of Particular Concern for violating religious freedom. The 5,024 Christians whose cases were accepted in fiscal year 2019 is a decrease of two-thirds from the 15,341 who were accepted in fiscal 2015. A maximum of 5,000 is allotted for victims of religious persecution in fiscal 2020—for all religions and countries.

Resettlements of non-Christians are also declining. For the same time period, Yazidi refugees from Syria and Iraq have declined 91 percent. Jewish refugees from Iran have declined 97 percent. And Muslim refugees from Burma have declined 76 percent.

“This isn’t just heartbreaking—it’s unjust,” stated Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, noting the State Department announced a limit of 18,000 refugees for fiscal 2020.

“I urge the administration to reconsider its approach and set a cap that better represents the compassion and hospitality of the American people.”

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the policy.

“Addressing the core problems that drive refugees away from their homes helps more people more rapidly than resettling them in the United States,” he stated, pointing out an estimated backlog of one million asylum cases.

“Helping displaced people as close to their homes as possible,” stated Pompeo, noting the $9.3 million the US has spent to alleviate humanitarian crises, “better facilitates their eventual safe and voluntary return.”

The Religious Liberty Partnership, birthed at a Lausanne Movement gathering and now numbering Christian organizations from 20 countries, has highlighted three biblical responses to persecution: accept and endure (2 Tim. 3:10–13); challenge and resist (Acts 22:25–29); or flee (Acts 9:23–25).

Jesus says the same in Matthew 10:23 (NIV): “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

But with Christian attention focused this past weekend on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, the RLP document—reaffirmed with the Refugee Highway Partnership (RHP), a partner of the World Evangelical Alliance, in 2017—suggests that the clear choice of the local leaders who shepherd the displaced echoes Pompeo.

“Amongst church leaders across the Middle East, there is a strong consensus that indigenous Christians should…

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

Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

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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In UN Speech, Trump Announces New Religious Freedom Initiatives

Trump United Nations
UN Photo/Manuel Elias Secretary-General António Guterres and Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, attend the Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom briefing. (23 September 2019)

This article was first published at Christianity Today on September 23.

Speaking before the United Nations today, President Trump praised the country’s religious freedom record and cited figures that suggest the rest of the world has much work to do, as he announced new funding to protect religious sites as well as business partnerships to fuel the cause.

“Our nation was founded on the idea that our rights do not come from government, but from God,” said Trump. “Regrettably, the freedom enjoyed in America is rare in the world.”

Trump said he had asked Vice President Mike Pence to double-check the figure of 80 percent of the world’s population living in areas that restrict religious freedom. According to Pew Research, 83 percent of the population lives in places with “high” or “very high” restrictions, mostly targeting religious minorities.

“Today, with one clear voice, the US calls on the nations of the world to end religious persecution,” Trump said.

Pence stated that Trump was the first world leader to chair a meeting on religious freedom at the United Nations.

Seeking international consensus on religious freedom, he called out Iran, Iraq, China, Venezuela, and Nicaragua for their violations and mentioned the terrorist tragedies that struck down Jews in Pittsburgh, Muslims in New Zealand, and Christians in Sri Lanka.

Under Trump’s leadership, Pence said, the United States passed the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Act to protect religious minorities in the Middle East, and the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Fund dispersed 435 rapid response grants since 2018, aiding 2,000 victims of persecution. A year ago, the Trump administration doubled its funding for Christians and religious minorities returning to Iraq.

“As President, protecting religious freedom is one of my highest priorities, and always has been,” said Trump, who today pledged an additional $25 million to protect religious sites and relics around the world that are under threat. He urged the global community join in “measures to prevent the intentional destruction of religious sites and relics,” including attacks on houses of worship…

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


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.


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 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?



How Many ISIS Jihadis in America?

ISIS Jihadis Returning
Photograph by Bram Janssen / AP, via the New Yorker

A recent edition of the New Yorker tackled the problem of ISIS fighters returning to their home countries. Given the controversies in the US about Muslim bans and extreme vetting, it is interesting to note other nations have it much worse:

A new report, to be released Tuesday by the Soufan Group and the Global Strategy Network, details some of the answers: At least fifty-six hundred people from thirty-three countries have already gone home—and most countries don’t yet have a head count.

On average, twenty to thirty per cent of the foreign fighters from Europe have already returned there—though it’s fifty per cent in Britain, Denmark, and Sweden. Thousands more who fought for ISIS are stuck near the borders of Turkey, Jordan, or Iraq, and are believed to be trying to get back to their home countries.

Dozens of governments face similar challenges. Earlier this year, President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that ten per cent of the more than nine thousand foreign fighters from Russia and the former Soviet republics who went to Syria or Iraq have come home. (In private, other Russians have given me higher numbers.)

The report, titled “Beyond the Caliphate: Foreign Fighters and the Threat of Returnees,” notes that countries in Southeast Asia, such as the Philippines, and in North Africa, such as Libya, are particularly vulnerable.

Here are some more numbers, concluding with America:

Over all, since 2011, more than forty thousand people, from more than a hundred and ten countries, travelled to join ISIS—in addition to the local Syrians and Iraqis who became fighters. Among these jihadis were seventy-four hundred from the West—five thousand of them from Europe.

So far, the numbers of ISIS fighters from the United States have been comparatively low.

More than two hundred and fifty Americans tried to leave the country to join the caliphate in Syria or Iraq.

About half—a hundred and twenty-nine—succeeded, the report says. Some were blocked.

Only seven of those who made it to the battlefield have returned. As of August, the United States has charged a hundred and thirty-five people for terrorism offenses linked to ISIS; seventy-seven have so far been convicted.

Of course, these are the numbers we know, and even small numbers are significant. Terrorists do not need major manpower to succeed.

Even so, allow statistics to guide conversation and the processing of spin. Ideology knows no borders, but two oceans provide valuable buffer.

So does an already robust processing system. Vigilance must never falter, but neither must we surrender to mischaracterization.

Those returning have rights. Muslims coming are human. Let us protect ourselves, but keep our soul.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Jerusalem Recognition

Flag Cross Quran


Friends don’t always agree. But not all issues are the same. Jerusalem is, and has often been, historically different.

Changing longstanding US policy, the American president recognized the city as Israel’s capital, and began the process of moving the embassy.

The Egyptian president warned against it, and then spoke against it. Most of the world sides with him.

Parliament is now debating sanctions against America. The Azhar and the Coptic Orthodox Church will not meet with the vice-president during his upcoming visit.

Sporadic protests have broken out. Pressure may – or may not – be mounting.

God, the three religions of Egypt consider Jerusalem important to you. Consequently, it is to them. So it is to many in America.

But though they read you differently, do they read you correctly?

Guide all in proper conviction toward land, promise, people, and politics. Give consensus.

But God, in this your will has long been unrealized. Decades. Centuries. Millenia.

For those with conviction, no matter how proper, give them patience with the others. Give them fair arguments. Give them fairer attitudes.

And until realization comes, give love.

Help them to talk. Help them to pray. Help them to see themselves. Help them to see your principles.

Grant justice. Grant peace.

Where there is sincerity, spare the cynicism. Where there is callousness, call it out. May all speak from the heart.

May they stay friends. May they become friends. May they repent. May they be different.

God, this change is historical. Make it more so. Perhaps you are the only one who knows how.




Giving Thanks, for Khartoum and Kennedy

Thanksgiving Khartoum Kennedy
via Mormon Newsroom and Mohamed Al Hammadi / Crown Prince Court – Abu Dhabi

Happy Thanksgiving to all American friends. Religious freedom is one item of gratitude, as well as positive signs it may be developing around the world.

Consider again these promising signs I’ve been privileged to report on the past two years:

Arab Gulf — Why Christianity is Surging in the Heart of Islam

Indonesia — World’s Biggest Muslim Organization Wants to Protect Christians

Morocco — Arab Christians and the Marrakesh Declaration

Egypt — Let My People Build

Bahrain — Saudi Arabia’s Neighbor Defends Religious Freedom of Individuals

Saudi Arabia — The Game of Thrones Christians Should be Watching

Italy — Muslims Work for Religious Freedom


Not all is rosy, of course, and some nations pretend nothing is wrong.

Sudan is one of them. But in recent engagement, the United States has religious freedom on the agenda for improvement of ties and removal of sanctions.

As Crux has reported:

A leading U.S. diplomat visiting Sudan said the United States is willing to work with the Sudanese government to help it achieve the conditions necessary to remove its designation as a “Country of Particular Concern” in the U.S. State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report.

Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan was speaking on Nov. 17 at the Al-Neelain Mosque in Omdurman, located on the western bank of the Nile River, which separates it from the national capital.

Sullivan said “supporting human rights, including religious freedom, has been, and will continue to be, a critical part of the United States’ bilateral engagement with Sudan.”

The event at the mosque included leading Muslim and Christian clergy. Sudan is 97 percent Muslim, and the small Christian community has faced harassment, especially since the predominantly Christian and animist south of the country became the independent state of South Sudan in 2011.

The State Department’s 2016 International Religious Freedom Report cited reports of government arresting, detaining, or intimidating Christian clergy and church members, denying permits for the construction of new churches, closing or demolishing existing churches and attempting to close church schools, restricting non-Muslim religious groups and missionaries from operating in or entering the country, and censoring religious materials and leaders.

There is always room for cynicism, and perhaps frequently it is warranted.

Does the United States care more for counterterrorism and military contracts, and will let this item slide if progress is seen elsewhere?

Will Sudan put on a nice face and make superficial improvements, only to squeeze non-Muslim communities once the diplomats leave?

Maybe. But this Thanksgiving, let not cynicism be a landing place. Even the public rhetoric of religious freedom is something to celebrate. It sets a tone; attitudes can adjust over time.

And as the US ambassador told his Sudanese audience, it took a while in America.

“I am the grandson of Irish-Catholic immigrants who arrived in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1880s. At the time they arrived – and for many decades that followed – Catholics in the United States faced widespread prejudice based on their religion,” he said.

“When John F. Kennedy – another Catholic from my home state – ran for president of the United States in 1960, he even had to give a prominent speech to reassure the nation that his faith was compatible with the duties of the office of president.”

Sullivan said recalling such history “seems quaint” today, but added it took many decades – “it was not easy” – to reach the point where it is “nearly unthinkable” that one’s status as a Catholic in the United States would serve as a disadvantage to a person’s ambitions for life.

“The American experience in this regard underscores that respect for the human dignity of every person – regardless of religious belief or origin – is a key component of not only protecting human rights, but also fostering a society that can flourish, build upon each other’s strengths, and move forward together,” he said.

America has had flaws, too. She still has some, and may be developing others.

But today, around the table, give thanks to God for what exists — both at home and abroad.

Those who love God do not need freedom to follow their faith. But ample facilitation makes our world a better place.

Appreciate, and pray for more. And then, enjoy your turkey.


The Importance of ‘Nizam’

US Constitution

This quote is taken from an Iranian, but I think the sentiment — and language — would be the same for many Arabs:

On July 4, Mahmoud Esmaeili, a 33-year-old software engineer, became an American citizen. Here’s why: “I like the system here. I like the rule of law. You know what to expect and what to not expect, so you can plan. That was the major part of why I wanted to be part of America.” — from the Washington Post.

In Arabic the word for ‘system’ is ‘nizam’. On one level it refers to the governing apparatus, as heard during the Arab revolts, “al-shaab yurid isqat al-nizam,” or “the people want the downfall of the regime.” Mubarak had his nizam, so did Morsi, and now Sisi bears the weight of the term.

But the term implies more. It is the way society operates. On this level Mubarak, Morsi, and Sisi are much the same. Regardless of their political orientation, most people I meet complain equally about the Egyptian nizam.

And they are equally jealous of the American nizam.

The Post article relates a fascinating survey that shows 93% of Americans believe that respecting American institutions and laws are very important to being American.

Read the article to discover other criteria that polled high or low, but take a minute to be thankful for the American nizam — regardless of who hold office.

And take a moment of reflection also about the foolishness of certain political trends that seek to undermine it.

We must jealously guard our constitution, laws, separation of powers, electoral system, and essential rights. The human tendency to power must be tamed by a social contract that agrees to play by the rules.

This contract, says the survey, suggests Americans are far more united than commonly thought. Both parties would do well to better esteem this consensus.

One Iranian, I trust, would heartily agree.

Can any Farsi speakers verify if ‘nizam’ would have been his word of choice?


Strengthening America in Egypt

American Egyptian Relations
Protesters destroy an American flag pulled down from the U.S. embassy in Cairo, September 11, 2012. Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters

Many Egyptians believe the United States is out to get them. Yet at the same time, the United States is the primary supplier of the Egyptian military, and ties between the two armed forces are strong.

Samuel Tadros wrote an engaging history of post-Arab Spring Egypt for the Hoover Institute, entitled “The Follies of Democracy Promotion.”

In it he brings to task the sentiment of past administrations — Bush and Obama included — who sought to pressure Egypt to open up democratically.

Some critics might say it is the underlying relation with the military and the failure to push harder for democracy that makes the United States a popular target. Tadros is cynical.

Regardless, in his conclusion he hits at a very important but often overlooked feature of the bilateral relationship:

Beyond any specific policy disagreements between the two countries throughout the years, the weakness of the alliance stems from the failure of Washington to build a constituency for the United States in Egypt.

As anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories overtook the country, no one in Egypt was willing to stand for the United States, defending the importance of the alliance.

Engagement with Egyptian society should not be limited to Cairo or to the business community, but the United States should make an effort to reach wider spectrums of Egyptian society.

And he offers several rather practical steps:

The US embassy should offer a correction to every anti-American story appearing in the Egyptian media, and those who actively spread such stories and refuse to correct them should pay a price.

A journalist consistently spreading conspiracy theories about the United States should not get invited to the US embassy Fourth of July party and he should not receive a visa to go shopping in America.

Alhurra, the US-based satellite TV channel, should be revitalized to provide fact-based news for Egypt and the region as a whole.

Above all, President el-Sisi should give a major speech making the case for the US-Egyptian alliance, detailing what America has done to help Egypt and refuting anti-American conspiracy theories. If he is committed to the alliance and wants US economic and military aid, he should be required to make the case for America to his people.

America has been content to look the other way as its reputation is trashed, assured vital interests will be [and have been] protected. And Egypt is free to pursue its favored foreign policy, independent of the United States, if it chooses.

‘Hearts and minds’ only go so far in a climate of disinformation. And America must step up to the plate and deserve the good reputation it desires.

But Tadros’ suggestions are sensible. It is strange they have not been widely discussed before.

Americas Published Articles Religion Unplugged

Small Town Offers ‘Sign’ of Welcome to Refugees in the United States

Mennonite Welcome Sign

This article was originally published at The Media Project.

Biking one day in the city of Harrisonburg, Virginia, nestled in a valley in the Shenandoah Mountains of the eastern U.S., 33-year-old Pastor Matthew Bucher tumbled and fell.

Bloody and sore, he found himself in front of the local mosque. He looked up and read a sign.

“No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor,” it read in English, Spanish, and Arabic.

Bucher understood because he had written that sign – in all three languages.

“Suddenly, I knew the hope the sign offers,” he said. “I was the one in need of help, switching roles.”

The sign was born 15 months earlier, during the August, 2015, Republican presidential debate. Anti-immigrant hectoring was a prominent feature, and Bucher led his small congregation at Immanuel Mennonite Church to do something about it. 

Rather than filling neighborhood yards with political signs backing one candidate or another, Bucher’s church created a sign of their own.

“I was shocked at the rhetoric used against immigrants,” he said. “So I thought to put out a sign of welcome. Spanish speakers in the church helped, as did Arabic friends.”

That first sign in front of his church two years ago has since multiplied into an estimated 100,000-plus throughout the country, said Bucher.

The sign is recent, but its heritage extends back almost four centuries. 

Mennonite Christians know what it means to be strangers. Driven from Switzerland in the 17th century, the persecuted Anabaptist community, from which the Mennonites descend, found refuge in Pennsylvania. One hundred years later many of those families relocated to the Shenandoah Valley.

Bucher, a Pennsylvania native, became the pastor of Immanuel Mennonite one year before the presidential debate. But from 2007-2011, he lived as a stranger himself, the only American in the small, Upper Egyptian city of Qusia, 170 miles south of Cairo. Teaching English in partnership with a Coptic Orthodox bishop, his sojourn was a transformative experience.

“I received hospitality in Egypt, and here in Virginia I have been accepted and trusted as a pastor,” he said. “I want to extend that (hospitality), just as Jesus did. He and his parents were cared for as refugees, too.”

Harrisonburg is a fitting place for hospitality. Census data states the population of 50,000 residents is 16.7 percent foreign-born. Students in the public schools come from 46 countries, including Iraq, Jordan, Honduras, Mexico, and Ukraine.

Yet there have been only four police officers killed in the line of duty in the town since 1959. Nicknamed “The Friendly City” since the 1930s, Harrisonburg is also an official Church World Service refugee resettlement community.

“Listening to the current American national dialogue. . . one would assume that mixing nationalities, religions and ethnic groups in such close quarters would produce enough emotional tinder to fuel a blaze of angry divisions and open fighting in the streets,” wrote resident Andrew Perrine in the Washington Post. “Yet it does not.”

Instead, Bucher’s signs have found a home. The green, blue, and orange background was chosen so as not to correspond with any national flag, and 300 signs were initially distributed through six area Mennonite churches in March 2016. Another 300 were sold later at a local fair, next to the church’s tamale stand. By October, one month before presidential elections, another 1,000 were printed.

They sold out within a week.

That month the church created a Facebook page. Overwhelmed by interest, in December they created a website. Signs sell for $21.95, including shipping, but a free download is provided to print locally.

Money from proceeds is donated to the Mennonite Central Committee, the local New Bridges Immigrant Resource Center, and the Roberta Webb Child Care Center hosted at Immanuel.

Anyone selling in their own communities (usually for $10 with local pickup) is encouraged to donate to the charity of their choice. Unless they just give them away, as did a 68-year-old Buddhist, Kathy Ching.

Ching arrived from China in 1974 and ran a restaurant in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, for 40 years. During that time she helped 15 employees immigrate to the U.S., but now says of President Donald Trump, “He’s not letting people in.”

“Why do they want to come to America?” asked Ching. “Because their own countries are in trouble, and they want freedom.”

She learned of the sign through a neighbor, and purchased four at St. John’s United Church of Christ.

Pat Rieker made them available. A longtime member of St. John’s, Rieker was so pained at the anti-immigrant sentiment in America she felt her health was suffering. Feeling she had to do something, she mobilized her church after seeing the signs at nearby Plains Mennonite.

“It made me feel I was spreading some kind of message of hope and inclusion amid an atmosphere of hate,” she said. “To me, this is not the message of Christianity.”

Plains Mennonite in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, was one of the first in the area to display and distribute the signs. Associate Pastor Paula Stoltzfus had family and friends in Harrisonburg and followed the campaign on social media. She informed the church, and with a history of welcoming refugees from Sudan, Iraq, and the Congo, it mobilized easily.

“It was an idea whose time had come, reminding us to be a good neighbor,” said Pastor Mike Derstine. “This should not be a political issue but an expression of our faith.”

Similar grassroots stories have now resulted in 70 volunteer distribution centers in 32 U.S. states. Two churches in Idaho have circulated over 500 signs. In Portland, Oregon, the sign appeared at a memorial for two men who were killed in May while intervening to stop a white extremist harassing a young Muslim woman.

In addition to the signs at the local mosque in Harrisonburg, Bucher has sold to the synagogue and several atheists. Though the initial distribution moved through Mennonite churches, he estimates they only total 30-40 percent of total reach.

“I never asked my friends what religion they are. It doesn’t matter,” said Ching. “We are of different religions, but we all have a good heart.”

Yet it is Bucher’s Anabaptist heritage and Christian commitment that drive his particular service. His church’s motto is: Real people following Jesus’ radical call to love and service.

One local Baptist church pastor asked to meet him, suspicious of a liberal agenda. In the tense discussion that followed a spilled glass of tea helped them break the ice. But the conversation only turned once the pastor became convinced this Mennonite really did love Jesus.

“We must speak of power and privilege, sure. But many on the other side cannot accept Trump or his followers, either,” Bucher said. “Stand against violence and bad leadership, yes. March and demonstrate, yes.

“But be transformed by the love of God. Change is hard, but it is what we are called to do together.”

Bucher tells a story from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a traditionally rural Mennonite community now with a majority non-Mennonite city center. The municipality has resettled 20 times more refugees than the rest of the United States.

A lady put one of Bucher’s signs out on her lawn. She came home one day and found a Syrian on her front steps. Speaking no English, the hijabed woman took her neighbor by the hand and led her across the street into her own home.

Opening up the computer, she typed in Google Translate.

“Thank you so much,” read the neighbor. “Your sign made us feel welcome. We are glad this is what America is about.”



Does Egypt Still Matter?

Egypt drawn on gray map.

As America under Trump re-determines its policies in the Middle East, the feelings of the region’s people matter very little. ‘Hearts and minds,’ sure, but cold-calculating interests generally rule geopolitical considerations.

All the same, I can imagine the Egyptian angst in reading this recommendation by the Hoover Institute for Washington to re-up its cooperation with Cairo. Most of the article is an essay in explanation of why Egypt no longer matters, at least in the manner it once did.

Does Egypt today still matter? Some in Washington have been arguing otherwise.

True, rights of passage through the Suez Canal are helpful and so are flights over Egyptian airspace, but the United States can survive without both. Egypt’s control of the Arab League is no longer as strong as in the past and in all cases the Arab League is irrelevant anyway.

Maintaining the peace treaty with Israel is in Egypt’s own interests and not dependent on U.S. support. Al Azhar holds no sway over the world’s Muslim population, and Egypt’s cultural decline leaves it with limited soft power capabilities over Arabic speaking peoples.

From Syria to Yemen and even in neighboring Libya, Egypt has lost its ability to impact its surroundings. Even regional allies are growing frustrated with Egypt and its president. Those in the Gulf dreaming of Egypt becoming a counterbalance to Iran are realizing the futility of their investments.

In all cases Egypt is increasingly deteriorating under the weight of its own troubles and Washington has no ability to change that.

So cut the cord? Absolutely not.

Is it time then for the United States to abandon Egypt? The answer is a resounding no.

It is precisely because of Egypt’s movement towards the regional abyss that the United States needs to reinvest in the American-Egyptian relationship. Egypt is no longer a regional player but rather a playing field where local, regional and international powers are in competition over the country’s future.

The country may no longer be a contestant for regional hegemony, but it is today the primary contested prize in a struggle over the region’s future. If the Westphalian order is to be defended in the Middle East amidst state collapse and the rise of Caliphate revivalist movements, this defense has to start with the most natural of the Arabic speaking states. With ninety two million people, a state collapse in Egypt would lead to a refugee crisis of historical proportions.

No one wants a Somalia on the Nile, a Libya on Israel’s borders, or a Syria in control of the Suez Canal, the United States least of all.

This would require a policy shift, oddly enough, away from the traditional cold-calculating interests of Camp David and the Suez Canal. Instead, the US must strengthen (read: prop up?) the state.

U.S. interests in Egypt are [in] … strengthening state institutions to make sure a regime collapse does not lead to a state collapse.

Instead of focusing on military cooperation, the United States needs to develop a new partnership with Egypt that addresses the growing terrorist threat in the country, the collapse of the rule of law, the failed economic policies, the educational vacuum, and the growing sectarian hatreds that threatens the fate of the Middle East’s largest Christian community.

If US banks can stomach a ‘too large to fail’ bailout strategy, why can’t Egypt? This is easy enough to imagine from an ocean away, but locally many liberal-leaning Egyptians feel US ‘assistance’ (read: interference) has been too much, not too little.

But at the same time, this type of Egyptian assesses the problem similarly. The state is weak, they say, the economy is faltering, and education is low on the totem pole of priorities. They imagine, perhaps rightly, that sectarian issues will dry up if these failings are addressed.

So calling it a ‘bailout’ likely isn’t right. It is a call to strengthen a weakened longstanding partner, in a manner that moves beyond one or two points of American national interest.

So how to cooperate? The article referenced is meant to persuade Americans, not Egyptians. But in Cairo the tone taken risks being tone-deaf to local pride, let alone a legacy of bilateral mistrust.

Perhaps Trump, with his shock-value strategy of resetting all relations, can change that. And as stated earlier ‘feelings’ don’t matter. That’s good, because Trump puts little stock in the value of tactful rhetoric.

Just don’t imagine Egypt will be happy about it. ‘You matter because you’re a headache’ is an insult not an encouragement. The author, who identifies himself as a ‘native son of the land’, can swallow it.

I suspect few other Egyptians can do so readily. If America wishes to pursue this policy, it calls for a task even greater than the discredited ‘nation-building’ efforts seen elsewhere.

It calls for culture-influencing. And that requires real mutuality and engagement, much of it without control. Culture requires freedom, and freedom requires trust.

Whether or not Egypt warrants these in US policy eyes is one thing. Whether or not Trump’s ‘America first’ can prioritize it is another.

Egypt matters. So does every other nation and people. How any state relates to another is an indication of national character. Whatever policy chosen — and diplomats must be nimble — may both America and Egypt prove worthy.

Americas Christianity Today Published Articles

What Arab Church Leaders Think of Trump Prioritizing Persecuted Christian Refugees

Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters Preparation for Qaraqosh’s first Sunday mass since the Iraqi Christian town was recaptured from ISIS (October 30, 2016).

This article was first published at Christianity Today on January 30, 2017.

Married in December to a Syrian woman with American citizenship, Fadi Hallisso went to Beirut to apply for a green card.

A Syrian Christian, Hallisso has worked with refugees in Lebanon since 2012. Funded by different American agencies, he was no stranger to the US government. He even testified about the situation in Syria to the US State Department and to Harvard Divinity School.

But this week, Hallisso was told he was no longer welcome to apply. The new US administration said so.

“It is very humiliating to be put in the category of potential terrorist,” said Hallisso. “Just because I carry a certain passport.”

As more details of President Donald Trump’s new security policies emerge—including a promise to prioritize Christian refugees for resettlement in America—much appears lost in translation.

“This executive order has created a new atmosphere very hostile to people in the region,” said Chawkat Moucarry, World Vision’s director for interfaith relations—and Hallisso’s uncle. “Unwritten rules seem to be implemented as a result.”

Is Trump’s executive order on refugees a de facto “Muslim ban”? Is it not? Is it prudent? Is it overdue? As American Christians debate these questions from the small towns of Middle America to the nation’s major airports, so also Arab Christians are trying to figure out what is going on.

“I read the executive order,” said Adeeb Awad, chief editor of al-Nashra, the monthly magazine of the Presbyterian Synod of Syria and Lebanon. He remarked…

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