Christians need to come out of the closet about the Middle East. We need to come clean about what we really believe, and be ready to relinquish the things we don’t.
Things that Christians don’t believe in include Arms Sales, Backing corrupt regimes, Condoning acts of violence against civilian populations, Deals for short-term political gain … (E, F, G, ….) oh, yes, and Oil. Oil is not part of the Christian gospel. Some of these things may be expedient, some of them may be necessary. But they are not ‘Christian’.
Things that Christians do believe include Atonement â€” bringing enemies together â€”, the Bible, Conscience … oh yes, and Evangelism.
Evangelism has become something of a dirty word, and Christians are getting to be ashamed of it. Somehow we’ve been talked into thinking that to go and have discussions with people of another religion is somehow wrong, whereas to go into their countries with tanks, mortars and attack-helicopters is somehow morally justifiable, and quite possibly (in an election year) the will of God.
Actually, the last words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels were ‘go into all the world and make disciples’. An exhortation to evangelism, not to invasion.
If Jesus Christ really does mean more to us than a symbol, we are going to have to make some choices.
The kind of people who have taught us to believe that ‘evangelism’ is something evil, a hangover from colonial days, usually seem to think it means going somewhere primitive, scaring some local people or possibly bribing them with Western goods, and then making them give up their age old customs and wear suits.
People who engage in cross-cultural evangelism in the 21st century don’t do that. Actually, it’s doubtful that the stereotype was ever true anywhere, but we’ll let that one pass. To Christians, evangelism is about passing on good news about peace with God. Right from the days of Paul, and certainly in modern times since Hudson Taylor, cross-cultural evangelists have adopted local dress, learned the local language, become part of the local culture. This is not an attempt to manipulate local people, or to slip in Christianity unnoticed, but to become a part of the community, to understand the people.
Christians in the Muslim world have always faced difficulties. Muslims don’t have a problem with Christians because they revere Christ. They don’t have a problem because (as George W Bush claimed) ‘we love freedom’. They have problems because they regard all Westerners as Christians, and therefore see Christians as people who eat defiled food, get drunk, and live promiscuous and immoral lives. It has taken many cross-cultural evangelists half a lifetime to prove by their own consistent lifestyles that this is not the case.
But consider again what ‘evangelism’ is – passing on good news about peace with God. The recent actions of the Western Powers in the Middle East would have made simply being a Christian a much more difficult and dangerous thing. It of course completely undermines any talk of good news or peace of any kind with anyone.
When a recent delegation of Christian leaders from the USA visited the Middle East, they found that the situation for Christians had indeed become markedly worse. But what were they expecting to find? Actually, probably that. Although American Republicanism appealed to a broad swathe of religious people in the USA, Christian leaders have known for a long time that what we are saying in the Middle East has been drastically undermined by what we are doing.
It’s time for Christians to stand up for what they really believe — or accept that religious words are merely a cover for a purely secular, political ethic. Christians can be people of good news about peace, or we can be people with bombs and guns and tanks. But — in the Middle East at least — we cannot be both.