Reformed Churchmen

We are Confessional Calvinists and a Prayer Book Church-people. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; also, we remembered the 450th anniversary of John Jewel's sober, scholarly, and Reformed "An Apology of the Church of England." In 2013, we remembered the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. For 2014: Tyndale's NT translation. For 2015, John Roger, Rowland Taylor and Bishop John Hooper's martyrdom, burned at the stakes. Books of the month. December 2014: Alan Jacob's "Book of Common Prayer" at: January 2015: A.F. Pollard's "Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation: 1489-1556" at: February 2015: Jaspar Ridley's "Thomas Cranmer" at:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Discrimination Against Christians in Middle East

This Christmas weekend we’ll see many newspaper and broadcast accounts of Christian pilgrims flocking to sacred places in the Holy Land. The unhappy counterpoint to that is the reality that Christians are increasingly relegated to the role of pilgrims in the Middle East and not natives of the region.

For years, the trend has been one of Christians fleeing from Muslim nations where religious freedom is being slowly extinguished. Then there’s Saudi Arabia, where no such freedom exists, and conversion to Christianity means a death sentence. In the historic Holy Land, only one state has seen an increase in its Christian population — Israel.

The Arab Spring is portrayed constantly as a liberation movement, but for Christians it’s been a decidedly darker story.

The uprising in Egypt unleashed anti-Christian attacks, with Coptic Christian churches burned and their parishioners murdered. In one particularly bloody incident, Egyptian security forces joined stick-wielding thugs in killing 24 Christians and wounding 300 in Cairo in the worse sectarian violence in Egypt in 60 years, according to an account in the New York Times.

The strong showing — more than 60 percent of the vote — in elections by the Muslim Brotherhood and the more fundamentalist Salafists portend more trouble. It’s no wonder Coptic Christians are fleeing Egypt by the tens of thousands, with one estimate that more than 200,000 may leave by the end of the year. Copts are descendants of ancient Egyptians. Their church dates from the mid-Fifth Century, nearly 120 years before the birth of Muhammad.

The situation for Christians in the disputed territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — the locale of many Bible stories — has been grim for a long time. Christians in 1970 accounted for 5.3 percent of the population of these areas, but it’s less than half that now, the World Christian Database told the BBC. Thirty-five years ago, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, was nearly 100 percent Christian; today Christians make up less than a third of its residents.
Islam and Sharia law rule in the West Bank and Gaza, and Christians are subject to discrimination. Their plight isn’t helped by breakdown in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Open Doors, an organization that tracks persecution of Christians, reports that “many Christians want to leave the Palestinian territories because of the hopeless situation.”

So the story goes across the Middle East. The U.S. liberation of Iraq had the unintended consequence of sectarian violence, especially severe for Christians. The country’s Christian population is down to 500,000 from perhaps as many as 1.4 million less than a decade ago. “Iraq could be emptied of Christians,” a leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church told the Wall Street Journal.

You won’t be surprised to hear that the Islamic Republic of Iran registered “a sharp increase” in the number of Christians arrested starting last year, reports Open Doors. It apparently was part of any effort to distract from the popular protests against the repressive regime and its stolen election.

Only in Israel, where religious freedom is honored, have Christians increased, soaring from 34,000 in 1948 to 140,000 today.

Advocates for Islam talk about its history of tolerance, but political, revolutionary Islamism is the driving force in Mideast history today; it has little use for religious freedom. That has Christians literally running for their lives.

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