A reference in today's Dallas Morning News sent me scurrying to the website for Christianity Today (otherwise not a site I particularly frequent). The article I wanted to read, "Finding God in Russia," was not yet online. But I can only imagine the worst. The CT folks are not exactly Ortho-friendly these days.
But two online articles did catch my attention. The first Marginalized Again, is particularly galling.
Evangelicals are incensed over developments in Israel. Religious education is compulsory in Israel. Muslims and Jews have their own religious instruction. And so do Christians. Representatives of the Catholic, Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Anglican churches developed the curriculum for the Ministry of Education. But it seems the new school curriculum approved for Arab Israeli Christian students in grades 10 through 12 is not evangelical. They maintain that it "conflicts with their theology and must not be adopted." Oh, dear. The curriculim seeks to "include doctrinal statements and teachings about the sacraments and church rituals with an emphasis on the heritage and traditions of Christians in the Holy Land." The nerve! For the life of me, I cannot imagine how these heirs of 2000 years of Christian history and martyrdom in Palestine can last much longer without indoctrination into the cream of late 19th-Century American theological insight, such as: premillenialism, "one-saved, always saved," the non-essentiality of baptism or the "invisible" church.
While the overwhelming majority of the remaining 140,000 beleaugered Arab Christians are members of the Orthodox, Catholic or Anglican churches, an Evangelical spokesman said that they "could not accept the curriculum's teaching that the church is the believer's interpretive authority, nor its assumptions that rituals, sacraments, and liturgical prayers are means of sanctification." He asked "how can I as an evangelical advocate transubstantiation, praying to the saints and the Blessed Virgin, or salvation by water baptism?"
The Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal, the Anglican bishop in Jerusalem, responded that evangelicals are "often perceived as having a different agenda, more to do with Zionism." No joke. The evangelical spokesman admitted as much, but added "there are clear voices among both Western and Palestinian evangelicals who oppose Zionism." Where, exactly?
The ancient Christian community in Palestine is taking a battering from all sides. They don't need grief from know-it-all American evangelicals or their agents.
And then there is the interesting development concerning the purposeful Rick Warren, of Saddleback Church fame. Mr. Warren recently visited Syria, held a series of meetings--one even with Bashar Al-Assad--and then flew on to Rwanda. Some Conservative Christians have consequently turned on Warren, seeing this visit as a betrayal of Israel. "The Crosstalk Radio Talk Show, part of a Christian radio network, called Warren a 'mindless shill' for Syria and said he 'owes an apology to Israel, to the American people and to the victims of Syrian-sponsored terror.'" I hope to visit Syria one day. Somehow, I doubt I will be apologizing to Israel for doing so.
Warren's response in a press release is well worth reading. A couple of excepts, as follows:
Dr. Warren was in Syria to meet with and encourage the country’s key Christian leaders; dialogue with top Muslim leaders; and promote religious freedom. Leaders who met with Dr. Warren included the Patriarchs of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church; the leader of the coalition of Evangelical Churches of Syria; and the pastor of the world’s oldest standing church dating back to 315 AD; and Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun, the Grand Mufti.
Many Americans don’t realize that both Christianity and Judaism are legal in Syria. In addition, the government provides free electricity and water to all churches; allows pastors to purchase a car tax-free (a tax break not given to Muslim imams); appoints pastors as Christian judges to handle Christian cases; and allows Christians to create their own civil law instead of having to follow Muslim law. Every Christian with whom Dr. Warren’s team met -- including those in the city of Malula, where they represent two-thirds of the population -- expressed gratitude for the government’s protection of their right to worship.
"The Syrian government has long had a bad reputation in America, but if one considers a positive action like welcoming in thousands of Christian refugees from Iraq, or the protection of freedom to worship for Christians and Jews in Syria, it should not be ignored,” Dr. Warren said from Rwanda. He further explained that in terms of religious freedom, Syria is far more tolerant than places like Burma, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, and nations identified in the U.S. Commission Report on International Religious Freedom. ''Muslims and Christians have lived side by side in Syria for more than a thousand years, often with mosques and churches built next to each other,” he added. “What can we learn from them?"
Warren is a man to watch. Somehow, I think he may be about to break out of the evangelical reservation.