The media in the East and West have recently been reporting the denunciation of evangelicals by the council of the Catholic and Orthodox bishops in Jordan. The bishops' denunciation was in support of the government's deportations of foreign missionaries, pastors, seminary students, and teachers. Some evangelical Jordanians have taken the position of not responding to the media and just waiting for things to settle down. Others believe increased Western awareness is important and helpful. However, a new analysis of the situation is essential to move forward. There are some lessons for Christians in the East and West. Though Christians are to expect tribulation and are called upon to pray and trust God for his protection, we can glean some wisdom to avoid unnecessary hardship.
1. The need to re-emphasize the love of God for the whole world. Many premillennial evangelicals would understandably appeal to the unconditional Abrahamic covenant when speaking about prophecies regarding Israel. However, many in the same group tend to de-emphasize the conditional Mosaic covenant, which calls on every generation of Israelites to obey its stipulations. While the Abrahamic covenant expresses the grace and faithfulness of God, the Mosaic covenant expresses the holiness and justice of God. In de-emphasizing the Mosaic covenant, some Christians extend support to present-day Israel unconditionally, and without regard to the quality of its obedience to God's standards. This communicates to the Arab person a view of God that is unholy and unjust.
Further, many premillennial evangelicals, in speaking of the end times, forget to emphasize God's heart for the whole world. God's goal by his grace is a world in which all nations would convene in Jerusalem for worship in joyful peace (Isaiah 2:2-4; 19:24-25). Instead, what the Arab countries today hear from the West is that God wants to impose Israel on them by force. This does not communicate the true spirit of Christ, who looks to embrace all the families of the earth in his love and grace. Unfortunately, much of the way evangelicals in the West speak about Israel provokes the strongest reaction by Arabs who see this as political Zionism. As a result, though evangelicals living in the Middle East avoid any political language, they are wrongly thought to support political Zionism.
2. The need to understand the heart of the average Muslim. Christians should emphasize the goodness in many well-meaning Muslims. Average Muslims often evaluate life from words of wisdom but without necessarily thinking in deep theological terms. They would speak with sincerity about subjects common among Christians, such as family values, wholesome relationships, conflict management, work ethic, and so on. As the apostle Paul did on Mars Hill (Acts 17), Christians should champion any values that are endorsed by the Bible, and use them as a bridge for building relationships of mutual trust and respect.
Instead, by constantly emphasizing differences with Muslims, Christians are perceived as coercing or forcing Muslims to convert, and this draws a severe rejection of Christianity. While holding dearly to the uniqueness of Christ and his death on the cross for man's sin, Christians should communicate wisely and patiently the incarnational love and forbearance of Christ. It is a tragedy when Muslims do not see this in Christians, or when Muslims see little that draws them to champion Christian causes.
3. The need to be patient with developing countries. Arabs who have been exposed to the West often want unrealistically fast democratic changes. They set standards of democracy that have been achieved in the West and often express dissatisfaction that the Arab world is far from reaching these standards. However, we should remember that the United States took time to treat all men as equals, or women as equal to men, or blacks equal to whites.
A country such as Jordan, which is striving to overcome its problems and move toward democracy, can come to view these constant criticisms as threats provoking a strong negative reaction. In Jordan, our King Abdullah has a vision for his country and for the region that is ahead of many leaders of other nations. As evangelicals, we support His Majesty in his advances towards freedom, human rights, and peace. Countries where democracy is full-fledged should take a shepherding and encouraging role with Jordan and its outstanding leader.
4. The need for mutual appreciation for evangelical achievement. Evangelicals in Jordan and much of the Middle East are to be thankful for the many things they have been allowed to do. Likewise, Arab governments should be proud and appreciative of the many contributions that evangelicals have made. Through the decades, evangelicals in Jordan have established recognized schools, hospitals, orphanages, bookstores, charity organizations, cultural centers, publishing houses, and businesses, and have invested millions of dollars in the country.
A major achievement has been the establishment of Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary (JETS) with its services to equip Arab leaders for the Arab world. Evangelicals draw courage and strength from such calls as from His Royal Highness, Prince Hassan of Jordan, encouraging Christians to continue to enrich the Arab world with their presence and unique contribution (see "The Peacebuilding Prince"). This mutual appreciation should always be strengthened and encouraged through proper and constant communication to avoid misunderstanding.
5. The need for cooperation between evangelicals and non-evangelicals. It was indeed shocking and sad that the council of the Catholic and Orthodox bishops in Jordan denounced the presence of the evangelical churches and their institutions in the newspapers and television, resulting in further media backlash. This has brought pain and confusion to the average Jordanian citizen and shame to Christians in the eyes of Arabs in the region. It is difficult to understand how the Catholics and Orthodox churches call on the cessation of all evangelical activity in the country when they and the evangelical churches are equally registered as churches in the country; both have the same common foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bible, and at least the Nicene, Athanasian, and Chalcedonian creeds, and they together do not constitute more than 3 percent of the population!
It is understandable that many Catholics and Orthodox Christians are angry that some evangelicals view them as not being true believers. Surely some evangelicals err in this regard and should cease from judging others. But evangelicals are good people and sincerely seek to serve Christ and see all who carry Christ's name walk in truth with him. They desire to share the weight of this responsibility with all churches that have the same vision. Yet it is imperative that intervention takes place at the highest ecclesiastical level to seek ways of cooperation.
6. The need to clarify much misunderstanding. JETS has been at the heart of the recent news in Jordan. Our leadership feels saddened that some government authorities, particularly Jordanian intelligence, misunderstand what JETS does. We want our authorities, especially His Majesty King Abdullah, to be very proud of JETS, which began in 1991. JETS has done the country and region a great service in helping many young men and women remain in the Arab world by providing them with the best theological training possible. We equip those from any Arab country and from any church denomination to be effective teachers and leaders in their communities. JETS also improves the economy of the country via the donations we receive from sincere and well-meaning Christians in Western countries, and without any preconditions. The presence of JETS also helps to enhance Jordan's image. To the good name of Jordan, after its inception in 1991, licensed by the Ministry of Culture in 1995, the institution's programs have been approved for accreditation by international accrediting agencies in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
With Jordanian leadership, JETS has a 17-year track record of excellence in achievement, with reports of its progress and financial audits submitted regularly to the government. With its beautiful new campus currently under construction, and with its expanded programs, JETS strives to become a recognized institution of higher learning accredited by Jordan's Ministry of Higher Education. This would be following the example of other Arab countries where such theological institutions or programs exist, as in Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Sudan. It is very sad that a misunderstanding of JETS has limited the number of its students and faculty, resulting in a constant numerical decline. Yet we are confident that, correctly understood, JETS will be welcomed as a positive contribution to peace, stability, and exemplary equal opportunity, goals that His Majesty King Abdullah strives to achieve with his vision of "Jordan First." By God's grace, we are confident that the king will protect us.
Dr. Imad Shehadeh is founder and president of Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary in Amman.
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