Tuesday, January 4, 2011

For love of sisters and brothers ...or not- if they are evangelical

Sometimes I start a posting on one subject and discover I need to write on a slightly different subject. I use the word ‘slightly’ because I was preparing some links on the persecution of the Coptic Catholics in Egypt and elsewhere when I uncovered another area of persecution, the Evangelicals of Syria.[1] And with it I uncovered a Church official who is willing to let other Christians suffer for the sake of…and here I can only guess, position, political correctness, jealousy, heresy or maybe his own fear.

As I was looking at the links I intended to use I read the Presbyterian News. Under the heading of the Episcopal News Service is an article, “International ecumenical and interfaith leaders condemn New Year church bombing in Egypt.” One of those in leadership, “the Rev. Nadim Nassar, a Syrian-born Anglican priest and director of the Awareness Foundation,” stated:

It grieves us ... to see the tragedy of this attack on Coptic Christians in Alexandria, Egypt, a place where Muslims and Christians have lived together for years. We pledge our prayers and concerns to all who are persecuted or live in fear for proclaiming their faith … Christians, Jews and Muslims must unite in condemnation of such killing and act together to pursue peace with justice for all.”
But Nassar, who is a priest in the United Kingdom, has a blog and what he has written there is hardly his concern for other Christians. And if what he says is correct, which I, with hope, doubt, the Presbyterian Church is also lacking some care.

The Economist has written an article, “Syria’s Evangelicals Don't try too hard: Protestant Christians are under rare fire,” about the crackdown on some Evangelical Churches and missionaries in Syria. They quoted Nassar and he took exception to how they used his quote. While the article mentions that it is those Protestant Churches “which cater for refugees from Sudan and Iraq and expatriate workers, as well as for Syrians,” that are being persecuted, it is also because they evangelize. It is against the law in Syria to be instrumental in someone’s conversion.[2]

But the main reason the Economist gives for the persecution is “that Orthodox and Catholic leaders, disgruntled by the success of these new churches, have complained to the government.”

The author of the article writes, “Father Nadim Nassar, a priest, says that tension in the region has made life harder for all Protestant groups. “Protestantism has long been viewed as an extension of the West and all Protestant groups have been affected by a backlash against them.”

Nassar in his complaint on his blog explained that he was speaking of the whole Middle East region not just Syria. But about the Economist’s statement that the Orthodox and Catholic had complained to the government Nassar writes on his blog:

I believe that this statement is considerably wrong for two reasons. The first reason is that it is wrong to single out the Orthodox and Catholic leaders as even the mainstream Protestant Church, the Presbyterian Church, expressed their doubts about these churches. The second reason is that the churches that were closed down were American Christian hard-line evangelical churches that suddenly appeared in the country with a lot of foreign money and that is what drew the attention to them.

We must understand that American hard-line evangelical Christians mostly have a political agenda which usually supports, and is supported by, Israel. Such an agenda is definitely not welcomed in Syria or in any country in the Middle East! The political ideology underpinning the theology of the very influential American far right churches is not a secret. But its popularity in the United States does not mean that other parts of the world - especially the Middle East - should accept it, nor should we automatically label those who are against it as ‘anti-Christian.’ The foreign missionaries at the churches that were closed down were spreading a hard-line theology that threatened our social cohesion and our ecumenical relationships.

But what churches were being closed down. The article mentioned “the missionary arm of the Evangelical Free Church of America,” and evangelists from the United States as well as South Korea. They also stated that “independent local churches, all of them licensed by the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, have been hit, too.”

Nassar finishes his blog posting with this, “Until these “popcorn” evangelical independent churches appeared out of nowhere, pouring money into the little groups they created, the national evangelical churches in Syria always enjoyed respect, acceptance and support from the government in different cities in Syria.”

If that is a fear ridden statement, I am sorry he has so much to fear. If it is simple arrogance rather than joy that the gospel is being preached and refugees helped, God have mercy on him. His organization, Awareness Foundation, supposedly promotes reconciliation and diversity, but it is doubtful that he truly believes in love for one another. May he be reconciled with all of his brothers and sisters in Christ.

Hopefully the Presbyterian Church did not complain, as he stated, about the Evangelicals in Syria.

[1] I was preparing to link to Dexter Van Zile’s article, Copts Under Siege. Please do read this.
[2] See also NEWS ALERT: Syria Closes Evangelical Churches In Crackdown


Fritz Longabaugh said...

Thanks for this. I'll be travelling to Israel for vacation soon and I wonder if you have a contact with Syrian evangelicals for me. As a pastor I'd like to encourage them somehow -- if an American pastor would be welcome. Could you suggest a contact?

Viola Larson said...

Hi Fritz,
No I do not know any Evangelical Christians in Syria. But I would suggest contacting the Evangelical Free Church of America since it seems they do minstry in Syria. If you go to the Economist article they give the name of the outreach. Hopefully the EFC would be able to give you some local congregations which are not connected to them.

Viola Larson said...

Here is the web page for Reach Global the missionary arm of the EFC http://www.efca.org/reachglobal/where-we-serve/middle-east/north-africa/about-middle-east/north-africa

That was for the Middle East Section. Here is the front page, http://www.efca.org/reachglobal

Here is an interesting section with a story: http://www.efca.org/reachglobal/where-we-serve/middle-east/north-africa/about-middle-east/north-africa

Greg Scandlen said...

A friend just told me about the group Christians United For Israel -- http://www.cufi.org/site/PageServer --

I am impressed so far. Are you familiar with them? I am planning to attend a meeting they are having on Feb 8 in Reading PA to find out more.

Viola Larson said...

Victor Styrsky who is the Eastern Regional Coordinator for CUFI is a good friend of mine. He lives fairly close to us. His wife Marita’s blog, View from the Hood, is on my links. I would suggest you get his book, Honest to God: Christian Zionists Confront 10 Questions Jews need Answered. It will give you some good information.

That being said, I am not a Christian Zionist. They are mainly dispensationalist (which I am not) and for me they are somewhat too political. That is one of the problems I have with the Israel/Palestine Mission Network. I am glad they stand for Israel when others do not. And a lot of what the mainline churches say about them just is not true. For instance the idea that the Jews must return to Israel before Jesus can return is not a cardinal doctrine of Christian Zionism. As Victor puts it in his book:

1. “ A date for the event has already been secured
2. Only God the Father knows the time
3. The coming of Messiah is imminent”

I am reformed though and I don’t agree with some of their theology. So you need to explore for your own decision.