EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s guest post is from Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, President Bright Stars of Bethlehem.
At the end of the 1970s, I had just finished my high school education and decided to study theology. One of my friends came to see me and asked me whether I thought it made sense to study theology. He told me, “By the time you finish your studies, there will be no Christians left in Palestine. They will all have emigrated. The many churches of the Holy Land will have been transformed into museums, and you will be unemployed unless you work as a museum guide. But you don’t need to study theology to do that.”
I listened to his words with great sorrow, for I knew he was not talking nonsense. More and more Palestinian Christians were leaving the Holy Land. They left their home and that of their ancestors to try their luck somewhere else; anywhere, where life is calmer, more peaceful, and more stable. Today less than 170, 000 Palestinian Christians are left in Israel/Palestine. By comparison, double this number of Christians with Palestinian roots live in Chile alone.
One of the greatest challenges confronting the Christians in the Middle East today is survival. National Geographic is talking about the Christians of the region as endangered species. During the last century, Armenian Christians in Turkey went through genocide. Palestinian Christians experienced in 1948 their Nakbah, Catastrophe. Their percentage dropped after the creation of the State of Israel from 8% to 2.8%. The civil war in Lebanon in 1975-1990 pushed many Lebanese abroad. Over one million Iraqi left Iraq due to the wars within the last decade alone and Syria is on the verge of losing its native Christians.
The survival of the Christian community in the Middle East is not only important for the Christians themselves but for the region at large. Without the Christian the Middle East will become mono-religious and mono-cultural region that is lacking pluralism. Christians have been important agents of social, cultural, and economic change in the region. Their witness to peacemaking has been crucial. A concentrated effort is needed to help Christianity in the Middle East survive and hopefully thrive, and this not only for the sake of Christ, but also for a new middle east based on citizenship and equality.
A panel with top leaders and peacemakers will come together in Washington DC on Thursday, September 22nd at 12:30 at the National Press Club, 529 14th Street NW to discuss best ways to help Christianity survive and thrive in the Holy land. At this panel I will be joined by Dr. James Zogby, Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo, and Shane Claiborne. You can learn more and purchase tickets here.