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2023-10-05 10:47:04 Views : 364 |

News: In the Eye of the Storm Middle Eastern Christians in the Twenty-First Century

Ishtartv.com - wrmea.org

Reviewed by Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon



Mitri Raheb’s edited volume, In the Eye of the Storm: Middle Eastern Christians in the Twenty-First Century, is a must-read for any serious scholar of Christianity in the Middle East. The book provides a broad overview of the status of Christians in different countries in the Middle East today, including Palestinian Christians living under Israeli rule and Christians in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. In the Eye of the Storm highlights historical context, geopolitical dynamics in the post-colonial era and opportunities and challenges that must be addressed to prevent extinction of the church in the Middle East.


One of the strengths of this anthology is the diversity of contributors, most of whom are indigenous to the region. Raheb also provides valuable space to up-and-coming scholars. Miray Philips, a Ph.D. candidate, writes about Egypt’s vast transformations through the lens of both the Coptic Orthodox and Protestant churches, and their relationship to the state throughout history, culminating in the Arab Spring. Amir Marshi, a master’s student at the University of Chicago, and Khaled Anabtawi, a Ph.D. student at the Geneva Graduate Institute, co-write a chapter addressing Palestinian Christians living under Israeli rule and their struggle to remain on their land. Paolo Maggiolini, an Italian research fellow and adjunct professor at the Catholic University of Milan, addresses Christians in Jordan moving beyond their sociopolitical and economic contexts to identify the challenges and future prospects of churches, especially as they pertain to addressing ecclesiastical fragmentation and providing better material and spiritual services to communities in need.


Alongside these young scholars, the volume is strengthened by contributions from more established researchers, including Prof. Bernard Sabella, Prof. Roula Talhouk and Dr. Antoine Salameh. Salameh and Talhouk write about Christians in Lebanon being caught “in between” societal, political and economic variables. Challenges pertaining to demography and geography, religion and state, societal freedoms and hidden discrimination, as well as ecclesiastical and monastic institutions are also addressed. Talhouk and Salameh conclude that Christians in Lebanon today are in a reality that is “extremely dangerous,” and their condition is “like a ship at sea torn apart by storms from all sides; they are drowning day by day in internal and external crisis.” Ultimately, Christians in Lebanon have a choice to make about how they will respond amid crisis, lest they become extinct.


Sabella’s chapter on Christians in Palestine provides a summary of the sociopolitical and economic context of Palestine while providing helpful statistics and analysis of demographic figures on the religious and denominational composition of the Christian community. Sabella also provides a helpful overview of some of the most influential Christian movements during the decades of the late 20th century in Palestine, including the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center; Christ at the Checkpoint, founded by Bethlehem Bible College; Kairos Palestine; and Mitri Raheb’s initiation of the Christian Academic Forum for Citizenship in the Arab World, which brings together scholars, recent graduates and activists in civil society to share research, experience and insights.


Raheb’s introduction and conclusion provide a helpful thread that links the various chapters. His introduction looks at how Christianity in the Middle East has been impacted by global events over the past two decades, from the start of the Second Intifada to the chaos imposed by Donald Trump’s presidency. Raheb’s epilogue summarizes some of the most recent public communications from the 13 Heads of Churches of Jerusalem, in parallel with the public advocacy of Kairos Palestine and the Global Kairos for Justice movements. Raheb also details the 2021 gathering in Beirut that resulted in the publication of the “We Choose Abundant Life” document as an invitation to global Christians to stand in solidarity with Middle Eastern Christians. The document concludes by referencing Deuteronomy 30:19b (“I have set before you life and death…choose life”) and offers Christians a way to build toward more durable policies that will support the sustainability of the church in the Middle East.


I highly recommend In the Eye of the Storm as a resource to understand better the devastating realities affecting Christians throughout the Arab world. Raheb concludes, “There is no future for the Christians of the Middle East without a society based on equal citizenship, systems of good governance, a fair social contract and sustainable economic development: these are all vital ingredients for peace. There is no future for Christians without a future for all.” In the 21st century, the pluralistic character of the Middle East is at risk as Christianity continues to disappear. This book invites readers to learn about those realities and presents an invitation to respond in ways that can make a difference.

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