Recent U.S. Iraq policy has moved from toppling a genocidal autocrat to seeking to create a pluralist, prosperous Arab democracy and inducing neighboring regimes to replicate it. The mainstream media discuss what this might mean for the region at large, but what about for Christians in the Middle East? What does this policy portend for them? If one were to perform a risk analysis for churches as one does for corporationssomething I do for a livingwhat would be the inherent risks for churches, particularly evangelical churches, in the Middle East at this time?
Minority of a Minority
Evangelicals in the Middle East are primarily the legacy of American Presbyterian missionary efforts in the 19th century. They are clustered in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian areas, and Egypt. In Cairo's Shubra district alone, 40 congregations meet, in addition to Kasr Dubara in the heart of downtown, which is the largest evangelical church in the Arab world, and one of the largest in Africa. Its Sunday evening worship service packs two thousand believers. Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast, boasts seven churches, and believers populate other towns north and south, as well as some of the tiny villages nestled in verdant fields hugging the Nile.
In Damascus, Syria, one church's huge neon sign boldly proclaims Yesua Noor Al Alam (Jesus, Light of the World). The presence of this and six other evangelical congregations shows that the climate is considerably more permissive than when the apostle Paul had to sneak out of town in a basket. A revival is taking place among Orthodox and Catholic churches in Syria and Iraq, and in Iraq, at least five evangelical churches dot the map.
Still, Middle Eastern evangelicals remain a minority ...