Mideast Report: 'Being Christian is Difficult in Lebanon'

A church delegation visiting the Middle East reported Friday that Christians in Lebanon expressed difficulties surviving in an unstable and Muslim-dominated region.

Top leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in a letter expressed concern for the indigenous Christian population that is dwindling not only in Lebanon but elsewhere in the Middle East.

Instability, insecurity, persecution and economic hardships are only some of the many factors prompting Christians to flee the region.

“We are tired…Our young people are leaving…Being Christian is difficult in Lebanon,” said leaders of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (the Presbyterian Synod) to the PC (USA) delegation.

“We want our children to live like any other children and pray that they may have time to dream,” shared local Christian leaders.

The diminishing population of Mideast Christians and its potential effect on the region is a topic troubling not only the church delegation, but also religious freedom experts and human rights activists in Washington.

A Middle East scholar during visits to the nation’s capital last year warned that the lost of religious minorities in the region would adversely affect Islamic moderation.

Dr. Habib Malik, professor of history and cultural studies at the Presbyterian-founded Lebanese American University in Beirut, said that Christians provide a “dimension of universality – openness towards other culture” that help Muslims in the region become more accepting of others different from themselves.

For example, Christian beliefs such as respect for women’s rights, acceptance of religious pluralism, rejection of suicide bombings and religious domination can facilitate Islamic moderation when the two groups co-exist in the region.

“There is a new breed of Muslims that emerges after this interaction with a generally relax, secure, and stable non-Muslim, indigenous community,” said Malik in a conference last November.

Preserving a Mideast Christian population is also important for mediating western ideas into the region and maintaining a population that the international community can ask for reciprocal equal treatment as Muslims receive in their country.

“The very presence of vibrant Christian witness is at stake,” said the PC (USA) delegation in the letter.

Delegation members, however, concluded with a message of hope inspired by the local Christian leaders who “maintain hope where there is so much despair.”

The delegation will next visit Israel and meet with Israeli Jewish and Christian church leaders there.