Mideast Revolutions Draw Mixed Reactions from U.S. Christians

The revolutions unfolding across North Africa and the Middle East against authoritarian regimes are drawing mixed reactions from Christians in the U.S.

Some say the protests for freedom are cause for celebration, but others are urging caution.

"We ought to be slower to celebrate these changes," Michael Rydelnik, professor of Jewish Studies and Bible at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Ill., told The Christian Post Tuesday.

He did not deny that freedom and democracy was superior to dictatorship, but expressed concerns over what could potentially replace the current regimes.

There could be "greater influence for radical Islam," he warned. "And that will lead to trouble."

"Christians ought to be careful in fully embracing these revolutions," Rydelnik explained. "Be thoughtful and prayerful, because it may lead to governments that will oppress and persecute Christians."

An evangelical pastor in Keller, Texas, has a more optimistic view.

Pastor Bob Roberts' immediate reaction to the anti-government protests was: "I think it's fantastic."

"We've been talking about how we (the U.S.) want democracy in the world. Well, it's happening. What's exciting is it's happening without us," he commented to CP. "Just like the founding of our country took place from pulling ourselves from tyrants so the same thing is happening in the Middle East."

And Christians should celebrate that, he insisted.

"People have a moral responsibility to stand up against tyranny, injustice and abuse from those who are in control," the Northwood Church pastor explained. "Our history is replete with that. The Scriptures are clear to that and our own history is a validation of that. For us not to celebrate people wanting to live in a free society is to hold the world in ancient captivity, old paradigms and hopeless futures."

Roberts, who engages with Muslims both in his community and overseas, acknowledged that Scripture also says that one should be peaceable with all men and respect authority.

But he quickly added that "when authority is abusing humanity, it's violating the function of why it was placed there to begin with. Rulers are to keep the order but if they don't fulfill the rights of moral law, then that's a different story."

"To tell a man because a tyrant is ruling him he must submit to that kind of abuse is like telling a woman being abused by her husband that she should stay – and then she loses her life," he illustrated.

The revolts for freedom and democracy began in Tunisia in December, and have spread to neighboring countries, including Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, Iran, Kuwait and Morocco. Tunisia and Egypt both saw the downfall of their presidents. Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, meanwhile, has vowed to hold onto power.

In a televised statement Tuesday, Gaddafi said that he would fight to his "last drop of blood," as he called his supporters to attack anti-government protesters.

"I will die as a martyr at the end," he stated.

Already, nearly 300 people have been killed in the crackdown against protesters in Libya. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the bloodshed "completely unacceptable."

Thus, the future is far from clear. Rydelnik of Moody Bible Institute feels ambivalent that, for example in Egypt, those who gain control will be anti-Western, anti-Christian, and anti-Israel.

He fears that other countries could follow the same path as Iran, which went from a dicatorship to an Islamic theocracy. Hence, making it worse for Christians.

"When you look at it, it was far better for Christians and the Middle East when there was dictatorship – a moderate one under the Shah," he noted.

"I do believe we Americans who support democracy – and that's the right thing in many respects – will come to regret what has happened in the Middle East because there will be a greater influence of Islamic radicalism," he added.

Roberts believe its is the best time to fight for freedoms including that of religion.

"I think there's a better chance for it today than there was three weeks ago," he stressed, while saying he could not predict whether freedom will actually result from the revolutions.

The fact is, Robert points out, people around the world are connected, thus making it increasingly hard for countries to "clamp down" on them.

"We communicate through social media. You're not going to be able to keep people in bondage because everyone has access to the same information," he explained. "Gaddafi is now in trouble not just with his people in Libya. He's in trouble with the whole Arab League."

"No matter how hard they try to keep things in secret, that day is over. Tyrants and despots in Africa, East Asia and all over the world, their knees are knocking because they're afraid. This is putting them all on notice."

Other experts, meanwhile, say the recent events over the past several months have been permitted by divine will.

"This may be a fad; or it may be a trend ... but nations are going through all kinds of upheaval, economic, physical/natural, and political ... all permitted by the Sovereign God to sensitize the world to His revelatory and salvific initiatives," said Ramesh P. Richard, professor of Pastoral Ministries and Global Theological Engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary, in an e-mail.

Conclusively, he hopes countries will be "made freer for the gospel ... in personal witness, public proclamation, and freedom of worship." And that, he said, is his only criterion for the success of any mass movement.

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