Arab Christians have built hope in hopeless situations

May 31, 2013

BEIRUT, Lebanon

“We do not live in the mentality of the ghetto, nor in the mentality of a minority complex, nor do we live as dhimmi (dependent) people,” said Bishop Munib A. Younan. “We have always been, as Arab Christians, building our societies, loyal to our countries and nationalities, bringing hope in hopeless situations.”

A Palestinian Christian from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, Younan was speaking at the joint World Council of Churches and Middle East Council of Churches conference on the Christian presence and witness in the Middle East May 22 in Beirut.

In his speech, Younan said that the process of reform continues to be at the heart of every Arab and Middle Eastern Christian. Their hopes, he said, will not end until they see the Middle East transformed through the values that Arab Christians cherish.

He particularly stressed a stronger engagement between Christians and Muslims. “Dialogue is important in some contexts, but we need full engagement. We need engagement with all monotheistic faiths, especially Muslims,” he said.

“We must engage with our Muslim neighbors on the question of the proper relation between religion and state. We must advocate for equal citizenship with equal rights and equal responsibilities that can be secured by stable and secure states with reliable constitutions.”

“We advocate for these values for the sake of building pluralistic societies that respect all diversities. This is the reason we refuse today to continue to be divided into sects, or millets, or religious groups,” Younan continued. “This is not a political conversation alone, but a perspective established in our faith that all people are children of God.” 

Younan acknowledged the vital role of the Middle East Council of Churches in developing a constructive “intra-Christian” engagement, including involvement of the Evangelical family. 

Younan, who is also president of the Lutheran World Federation, said that churches in the Arab world need further engagement with the global church, especially in the West. “Sometimes we express disappointment with churches and church-related organizations in the West. We are tired of their speeches. We want action,” he said.

“It is true that Middle East churches bear responsibility to build this relationship. But there is also responsibility in the West to not abandon us in the Middle East,” he added. 

In reference to the Israel Palestine conflict, Younan mentioned ecumenical initiatives like the WCC’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum, as well as Kairos Palestine document, which he said helped to develop a common plan of action for how Christians can raise their voice against the occupation.

“One of the political expressions of this problem is the illegal Israeli occupation. Once this conflict is resolved, there will be many other conflicts that can be solved.”

“For this reason, we demand that Jerusalem, the mother of all religions and the city of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, must be on the agenda of every church in the Middle East and throughout the world,” stated Younan.

He concluded by saying that the current challenges in the Middle East are a “Kairos moment” for Christians. “It is a chance for us to remind the world that the conflicts in the Middle East are not religious. We know that extremism is not the monopoly of one religion alone and that more than just one people is capable of violence.”

“The future of Arab Christians is not in war or in occupation. The Arab Christian future is in our participation in our societies as an integral part of our peoples, witnessing in every consequence alongside all our neighbors,” added Younan.

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