The collapse of Christianity in the Middle East

destroyed church

I am of a mixed mind on articles like this, Why Christianity Is Surging in the Heart of Islam. On the one hand you have an author who is justly proud of what he has been a part of. On the other you see a mistaken and pollyannish portrayal of the true situation.

Today the Pew Research Center numbers Christians in the Arabian Peninsula at 2.3 million—more Christians than nearly 100 countries can claim. The Gulf Christian Fellowship, an umbrella group, estimates 3.5 million.

These migrants bring the UAE’s Christian population to 13 percent, according to Pew. Among other Gulf states, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar are each about 14 percent Christian, while Oman is about 6 percent. Even Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest cities (Mecca and Medina), is 4 percent Christian when migrants are counted.

Together, they represent the largest Christian community in the Middle East outside of Egypt. But their experiences vary considerably.

While the title describes a ‘surge’ the article describes an outsider church that is hanging on in one part to of the Arabian peninsula and it is doing that based on the flow of immigrant workers.

“We don’t really face persecution; we face misunderstanding,” said Bill Schwartz, formerly with YWAM, now the Qatar-based priest responsible for the Anglican Church’s work in the Arabian Gulf. “But we are building churches in every country except Saudi Arabia, and have good relationships with all governments.”

At least 17 Gulf cities provide land for more than 40 church buildings. Through them, the Bible Society in the Gulf legally distributed 41,000 Bibles, 10,000 New Testaments, and 115,000 pieces of Christian literature in 2013. “It shows the Christian community is here to stay,” said general secretary Hrayr Jebejian.

“People in the West measure religious freedom exclusively by the freedom of Muslims to convert,” said Schwartz, but he believes this view is too narrow. He grants that restrictions exist, and believes Islam at best “tolerates” non-Muslims. But the general freedom that Christians have to worship in much of the Arabian Peninsula issues from the Muslim faith and should be appreciated, he said.

 

What Schwartz describes is the difference between being free and being a pet. In the most liberal of the Arab States, the UAE, it is forbidden for Christians to proselytize. It is forbidden for Muslims to convert to Christianity. A Christian man may not marry a Muslim woman unless he converts to Islam. In the major country of the Arabian peninsula, Saudi Arabia, things are even more draconian. To convert to Christianity there carries a death sentence. New churches are not being built there. You can’t legally possess a Bible.

The state of Christianity in the Middle East is dire. Two years ago, before ISIS had been fertilized by the inaction of the Obama administration, this was how it was described:

Alarming reports have been coming in for years: Christianity is being expelled from the Middle East. According to Walter Russell Mead , more than half of the Christians in Iraq have fled the country since 2003. Today it’s happening in Syria. Swedish journalist Nuri Kino reports on a “silent exodus of Christians from Syria” in the face of “kidnappings and rapes.”

It’s a regional trend. Two years ago Caroline Glick reported that “at the time of Lebanese independence from France in 1946 the majority of Lebanese were Christians. Today less than 30 percent of Lebanese are Christians. In Turkey, the Christian population has dwindled from 2 million at the end of World War I to less than 100,000 today. In Syria, at the time of independence Christians made up nearly half of the population. Today 4 percent of Syrians are Christian. In Jordan half a century ago 18 percent of the population was Christian. Today 2 percent of Jordanians are Christian.”

There is some evidence of a number of religious conversions, but they remain secret and it is arguable how a religious community that operates under pain of death and without a clergy can survive as an authentically Christian community. The Jesuit missionaries had a saying that the Church was never really secure in a missionary land until it had developed an indigenous clergy.

It would be great to say that the Christianity is surging in the heart of Islam, but reality says it exists as a curiosity for a largely hostile population. It is the religion of lower class foreign workers and privileged foreign expat professionals. At best, the Christian churches in Arabia keep down the loss of Christians to apostasy and conversion to Islam.

Under the adminstration of Barack Obama, a man who is obviously hostile to religious freedom in America and believes religion should only enter your life for an hour each Sunday while your minister is ranting on and on about “God damn America”, no attention has been paid to pushing for religious liberty anywhere in the world. Including here at home. Absent a consistent pressure on Arab regimes to allow religious liberty, we are seeing the eradication of Christianity in the land where it was founded.