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Middle East still dangerous for Christians

Religion column

CREEDE HINSHAW

CREEDE HINSHAW

Christians in the Middle East continue to face stressful, dangerous situations. Here are a few reports that I've wanted to comment on.

A Dec. 24 Associated Press release described the stresses facing minority Christians in Syria who face uprooting, loss of homes and death because of their faith. But the situation in Syria is more complicated than to be simply described as a Muslim war on Christians.

To be sure, Christians in Syria are at the mercy of Muslim terrorists. But the minority Syrian Christians reportedly aligned themselves over the decades with Syria's autocratic, maniacal dictator Bashar Al-Assad in a belief that he best offered them protection. Such a decision -- if accurately reported -- is reflective of human nature and may have allowed Christians to flourish over the preceding decades.

But in light of today's events, one must at least question what factors should be included in the decision to align oneself with a cruel, powerful leader. The AP article acknowledges that such questioning is taking place in the Syrian Christian community, citing other Syrian Christians who opposed Assad's autocratic rule and pointing out that Christians were thrown into jail along with Muslims over the years for opposing him. One Christian artist from Syria concluded, "I am afraid that now we Christians will pay the price for being silent about this terrible regime all these years."

The Dec. 5 edition of The Wall Street Journal reveals another facet of the Christian dilemma. Armenia, an impoverished former state of the Soviet Union, is receiving thousands of Armenian Christians who once lived in Aleppo, Syria, anchoring the middle class of Syria's largest city. These Syrian-Armenians have deserted bombed and degraded Aleppo since last summer, traveling hundreds of miles through rebel-held journey to return to their homeland, overwhelming their destitute native country. These refugees almost unanimously voice their support for President Al-Assad.

Finally, Middle Eastern Christians in the Eastern Orthodox branch of the church celebrated Christmas last Sunday, Jan. 6. The political ramifications of this celebration were newsworthy in Egypt, where 10 percent of the population is Christian.

This sizeable number of adherents suffer sporadic violence and discrimination at the hands of the Muslim majority (and did so even during the Mubarak regime) and have remained very anxious over the election of Mohammed Morsi as president of Egypt, an election made possible by the support of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood movement. Secular Egyptians and progressive Muslims, along with the Coptic Christians, are watching warily to see whether Egypt can move from a dictatorship to a Western-style democracy.

The Associated Press reported that President Morsi contacted the new Coptic Christian pope to wish him Christmas greetings and sent one of his aides to the Christmas Mass. This is a small signal, to be sure, but at least it sends the right message for this ancient nation trying to come to terms with a new way of self-governance.

Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at creedewesleymonumental.org.