Author: Nathan L. Hollenbeck
Category: Religious Liberty
Last Friday, Brian Stiller of the World Evangelical Alliance rightly wrote that “Egypt is a bellwether for the Middle East. If Christians (12% of the population) walk away, the power and presence of Christian ideals will lose by default.” Despite the pervasive social, economic, and political pressures they face in Egypt, his simple response is to tell Copts, Egypt’s ancient indigenous Christians: “don’t leave.”
Egypt Christians need more than that. But the good news is that it would be easy for Evangelicals to contribute what Egypt Christians need, if only Evangelicals–especially those in America—merely adjusted their paradigm about the cause of Christian minorities in the Middle East.
Egypt has been one of the top four recipients of US military aid for more than three decades.
The Hudson Institute’s latest Index of Global Philanthropy indicated that the Middle East remains near the top of US Government funding priorities, but at the bottom of US individual giving priorities. Evangelicals, of course, account for the lion’s share of individual philanthropy in the US, and across the globe.
Have American Evangelicals come to think that the US Government can do the job of supporting marginalized Middle East Christian communities for them? From statistics like those the Hudson Institute recently released, it would seem so.
The fruits of recent US government intervention should be a wake-up call to all Evangelicals. Iraq has nearly emptied out of Christians since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Now, Egypt Christians are fleeing. It is clear that government intervention is not enough, and Middle East society sees human rights pressure from the West with daily increasing suspicion. As churches and as individuals, Evangelicals must step in themselves and do for Egypt Christians what they have already begun to do for the HIV crisis in Africa and other global causes.
Perhaps Evangelicals would already be deeply involved in Egypt if more knew about the hidden story that runs through most of the Apostle Paul’s epistles and the book of Acts: Paul’s epic efforts to organize Western Christians to support Christians in ancient Jerusalem through a mass offering. In a paper published by LCMS World Relief and Human Care, (2007) Matthew C. Harrison writes that “the collection was Paul’s crowning achievement in life.” Paul tells the Romans that the newer churches “owe it” to the Jerusalem church (Romans 15:27) because the Christians in this ancient homeland preserved the gospel in the face of many challenges so they could hear it. The collection is so important to Paul that he completes his final journey to Jerusalem with the offering… even though he knows it means certain death.
Brian Stiller writes in his editorial that “Christian faith is about being salt and light, preserving and illuminating.” Indeed, the Body of Christ has a thoroughly biblical mandate to help Christians in the ancient Middle East homelands thrive, and be salt and light in their societies.
Will Evangelicals themselves start being salt and light by standing with Copts, the last great population of Christians in the Middle East, or continue to expect Western Governments—through government funding or political pressure—to fulfill their mission for them?
The Christian light in Iraq and the Holy Land is already smoldering, and may soon go out altogether. Egypt’s Church is Christianity’s last chance to thrive in the Middle East. Mr. Stiller, if you don’t want Egypt Christians to leave, please also tell Evangelicals in the West: now it is time for the Body of Christ to step up for this cause by partnering with local Coptic ministries, before it is too late: for Egypt, and for the entire Middle East in which Egypt’s Christians shine.