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American Christians love to hear about areas of the world where Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds. Conversions are daily statistics in many African nations, as in South America, India, and China. According to some credible estimates, China's Christian population has multiplied by an astounding 3,200 percent since 1949, now nearing 130 million believers.

The growth story should always delight us. But we should be simultaneously distressed about the decline story, especially that of Christianity in the Middle East. No one knows precisely how many of the Middle East's 293 million people are Christians, but nearly everyone acknowledges that Middle Eastern Christianity has been in steady decline for decades. In some local areas, officials record declines of 75 percent or more. Recent violence in the region is accelerating that decline. Some observers estimate that the region's population of 10 to 15 million Christians will continue to spiral downward during the next 50 years.

On paper, Egypt is the country with the greatest number of Christians—5.8 to 11 million, or 8 to 16 percent of Egypt's 75 million people. But despite their numbers, "Copts," as Egyptian Christians are known, have suffered from oppressive legal restrictions. Until very recently, permission to repair a church roof anywhere in Egypt could only be obtained from the president himself. Those few Muslims who wish to become Christians experience intense persecution. Many Christians in Egypt are seeking a new future in the West.

Until half a century ago, Lebanon was the only Middle Eastern country with a Christian majority. But because of immigration and higher birth rates among Muslims, Lebanon's Christian population has dwindled from around 58 percent ...

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December 2007

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