Arab Christian leaders: Same old song and dance on Israel

When one pauses to reflect on what significant Arab Christian leaders have been saying about the problems in the Middle East these past few years, one throws up one's hands in despair. You guessed it. Their real complaint is with Israel

Prayers at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
Dexter Van Zile
On 8 August 2015 04:05

Last summer, a group of Christian scholars from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Iraq gathered in Cyprus under the auspices of an organization called the Christian Academic Forum for Citizenship in the Arab World.

The theme of the conference was, “Shifting Identities: Changes in the Political, Social and Religious Structures in the Arab World.”

The Diyar Consortium, a Bethlehem-based, pro-Palestinian propaganda organization led by Lutheran Pastor Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, played a substantial role in organizing the conference, which was attended by more than 50 intellectuals from the fields of academia, journalism, and government in the Middle East.

Attendees gathered to discuss challenges to Christians in the region. The result of their meeting is a document titled “From the Nile to the Euphrates: The Call of Faith and Citizenship” which was released in Beirut in December, 2014.

The title of the document is ambitious, but the text itself is a pedestrian and vague compilation of what is going wrong in the Middle East and how Christians should respond to these problems.

Sometimes the document does not make much sense. On one hand, the authors state “there is no  ‘religious solution’ to the predicaments of our region.” But on the other hand, the document declares itself to be an attempt to put forth a “public theology” that Christians can use to address the problems facing the region.

Underlying the text is a fearful refusal to speak explicitly about the role Islamic jurisprudence regarding non-Muslims and women plays in hindering the ability of the Arab peoples in the Middle East to build productive and humane societies for themselves. For example, the document reads in part, as follows:

"Those contemplating the situation of the Arab world today will invariably discern that, despite the proliferating numbers of those espousing religion in many of our countries, we are nevertheless lacking a deep spirituality that is human and humane, nurtured by an awe of the Divine, committed to preserving the sanctity of life, principled to uphold the dignity of every child of Adam, and motivated to love and seek the well-being of neighbor, regardless of his / her identity, religion or belief.

"When these vital spiritual elements are absent, many resort in vain to seeking them in alternatives that have nothing to do with the essence of religion, and are in fact swept by superficial currents that lead to inhuman behavior."

Christians and other minority groups are being murdered en masse. Women are being sold into sexual slavery. And the best this gathering of scholarly Christians can do is to lament that many folks in the region, “are swept by superficial currents that lead to inhuman behavior.”

The only time that document shows any specificity or passion is when it complains about, you guessed it, Israel. The document complains about the, “the continuing, expansive claims of Zionism” and states that the Middle East has been, “fragmented by the implant of the State of Israel into its heart.”

The document further seeks to underline that there is “no doubt that the implant of the State of Israel into the heart of the region has contributed significantly to its fragmentation and disintegration, and the diversion of vast resources toward militarization.”

The undeniable implication of overheated language like this is that the Middle East would be better off if Israel were destroyed when in reality Israel could provide the technology and expertise that Arab countries need to improve their living standards.

But this would require Arabs to view Jews and their state as a legitimate part of life in the Middle East.

Ironically, the whole point of the document prepared by these Christian scholars is to promote human rights and freedom in Arab countries in the Middle East. And the one country these scholars condemn by name is Israel -- the country these scholars should be pointing to as the model, not as the problem.

If this is what passes for Christian thinking about the problems facing the Middle East, there is a problem, a serious problem.

Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA)

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