Life for Christians in the Middle East has “never been worse” and their future is acutely endangered, according to the leader of an evangelical church fellowship.
Rosangela Jarjour, general secretary of the Beirut-based Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches, spoke at the 7th General Assembly of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE). The assembly is meeting in Florence, Italy from Sept. 21 to 26.
“We don’t want to become refugees, but to live in peace and with full citizens’ rights and duties in our own land,” she said on Sept. 21, according to a CPCE news release.
Everyday life for Christians, who in the past were able to lead quite secure lives, is now fraught with fear, said Jarjour, who is from Homs, Syria, currently the site of battles between rebel and government forces.
Christians are now finding that they are no longer allowed to practice their religion and that their civil rights to freedom and free speech “are constantly violated, whilst previously secular matters are consumed by Islam,” she said.
More than 50,000 Christians have fled Egypt alone since the onset of the revolution there. Her own family has been forced to leave Homs. “Christians have lost their homes, livelihoods and churches and been the victims of widespread looting, destruction and arson,” Jarjour reported, showing delegates images of destroyed churches in Syria.
The Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches represents about two million Protestants from 17 Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican churches.
The demonstrations in Syria had begun quite peacefully, but quickly turned violent, she said. “Many of us don’t believe that this stems from our fellow countrymen,” she pointed out. At first, Christians and Muslims took to the streets together, but as the level of violence increased, so the Christians felt forced to retreat.
“This was no longer a popular movement, but instead Syria has become the battlefield for various external forces,” she declared, voicing her conviction that “democracy cannot be established by means of weapons and money from Saudi Arabia or Qatar.”
Meanwhile, in other assembly business, a memorandum formalizing previous and forthcoming co-operation between the CPCE and the British and Irish Anglican churches was presented to the assembly.
Harvey Richardson of the Methodist Church in Great Britain summarized the efforts at dialogue between the CPCE and the Anglican churches over the last 20 years by emphasizing the continuing importance of identifying and voicing any areas of common ground.
He said he views the new memorandum as a testament to the mutual understanding and trust that can be channelled into further co-operation.
Jonathan Gibbs of the Church of England said that his church, the Church of Ireland, Church in Wales and Scottish Episcopal Church were close to signing the agreement, heralding a welcome opportunity for the continuation of theological dialogue.
CPCE President Thomas Wipf described the memorandum as a significant step forward.
In other news, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ecuador (IELE) became the 106th church to join the CPCE. The formal agreement was signed by Wipf and retired Senior Church Councillor Rudiger Schloz, a serving minister until 2009 and now representative for the Church in Quito.
Wipf said the CPCE Council approved the acceptance of the IELE on the basis that the church was originally founded by European emigrants and to this day still looks towards Europe for its inspiration.
It is the hope of the CPCE and, at the same time, intention of the IELE that the fellowship between the different confessions in South America might be given a considerable boost by this move.
Schloz also described the European affiliation of his church in historic cultural terms. The 300 members of the church, which was founded in the 1940s, have remained in close contact with their European brethren to this day.
Scholz said he welcomes this new opportunity for his small church to participate in theological dialogue with the other member churches of the CPCE.