How does a Christian relate to his or her culture in the Muslim world? I’ve been thinking about this after reading a recent Wall Street Journal article (Saturday, Aug. 11-12) about the struggles of the Christian faithful in Syria.
Life is much easier here in the United States if one is an adherent of a church. Over 90 percent of Americans profess faith in God and most of these believers are Christian. The church here can throw its weight around with impunity even though the most conservative segment of the church loves nothing better than to point out so-called persecution.
In Syria, which has been undergoing horrendous internal strife for well over a year, life is difficult for practically everybody. The Assad regime is forcefully, violently holding onto power in spite of repeated calls from the world community for it to relinquish control and quit massacring civilians. In this horrific carnage the embattled church finds itself in a very tentative place.
Somewhere around 12 percent of Syrians are Christian, divided into many subsets: Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Armenian Orthodox. I don’t know whether there are any good old Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, etc.
How does a Christian survive as such an insignificant minority surrounded by Sunnis (Islam), Ismaeli (branch of Shia Islam), Druze and Alawi (another branch of Shia Islam and the ruling family in Syria)? Most reports suggest that the Syrian Christians as support Assad’s ruling coalition and fear the worst if he is overthrown. Mr. Assad has warned that if he loses this war that more conservative Muslims will destroy the Christian community.
But not all Syrian Christians support this brutal regime and the Wall Street Journal article cites numerous Syrian Christians who are acting as bridge builders in this bloody conflict. One report was of a Christian activist who was arrested by Assad’s forces in April in Damascus for distributing chocolate Easter eggs to Christian, Sunni and Alawite families, paper strips attached to each egg with verses from both the Koran and the Bible. It was her way of showing that followers of Jesus reach out to all people. This woman would be condemned in some quarters of the U.S. for mixing the Koran and the Bible, but she was epitomizing reconciliation. Another example: the Jesuit Refugee Service is feeding and clothing thousands of Syrian refugees in Damascus, Homs and Aleppo, and it doesn’t matter whether those in need are Muslim, Christian or any other sect.
There are apparently many other examples of Christians trying to find a way forward in this war-torn nation without aligning themselves too openly with any particular power group, tribal group or religion. Will Christians eventually be forced to flee a Syria that has turned more hostile towards them? Or will this 12 percent minority will be salt and light for a new, stable Syria where people live with differences? The answer is not yet clear.
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.