Who Are the Christians in the Middle East?

Last December, the second edition of Betty Jane Bailey & J. Martin Bailey’s volume on the Christians of the Middle East was published. I somehow had missed the first edition, and was looking forward to have a look at the second. While there is a lot of information in it that cannot be had anywhere else in a convenient and summary manner, I am not altogether positive about it.

What is unique for most books on this subject and might be a good reason to buy a copy, is the comprehensive introduction to the current state of the various churches that are members of the Middle East Council of Churches, along the lines of the four ‘families’ that serve as the organizational principle of the Middle East Council of Churches – the Eastern Orthodox, the Oriental Orthodox, the Catholic and the Evangelical/Protestant. For most churches, names of leaders as well as addresses and telephone numbers are provided — making this second part of the book into a kind of annotated directory – very helpfull for all of us who have regular dealings with this part of the world church. Also the Assyrian Church of the East, not officially a member of the MECC, is introduced, though with a wrong name (ancient Assyrian Church of the East – which usually refers to a part of this church in Iraq that did not accept the turn towards the Western calender in 1968) and attributing their non-membership solely to their own doing, which, though I am not aware of all the details, seems a rather one-sided view of the issue.

In fact, this church, as some of the other orthodox churches, suffer from a lack of insight in the early history of these churches, mixing up Christological doctrines (e.g., the ‘Nestorian Church’as ’emphasizing [..] the sole nature of Christ’ – a position, though this formulation is somewhat akward, usually is attributed to the opposite position of the Copts and the Syriac Orthodox), positions of the patriarchates, the life of the Christians in Ottoman times and more. Since there are many alternatives in the historic field, this need not deter the reader from buying it.

In addition to the chapters on the various countries in the third part of the book providing very brief but usually accurate overviews of the churches in their political contexts, the first part consists of a heterogeneous list of articles written by other authors. Among these, especially Riad Jarjour´s article on `The Future of Christians in the Arab World´ is a very balanced assesment of the current situation, which reflects the author´s long experience in the Middle East as well as in ecumenical circles. One of his last lines, is worth quoting, especially in view of the violence of the last months in Iraq and Egypt (p. 21): "Christians cannot be saved alone; either the Christians and the Muslims will be saved together, or both will be destroyed."

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