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What are the reasons? First, Middle East Christians tend to be very well educated compared to the majority of the population. And, it seems that the higher the level of education and economic opportunity of the family, the smaller the family size. Accordingly, you find a steadily declining birthrate among the Christian population.

In economically less developed sectors or in the more religiously conservative sectors, larger families are the norm. For instance, ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel and strictly observant Muslims throughout the region have a much higher birthrate.

Another reason for the declining numbers of Christians is emigration. Christians are leaving the Holy Land, the Arab world and the Middle East. Why? Most Christians feel a sense of exclusion from the predominantly Muslim or Jewish societies in which they live. Some observers allege the region’s Christians suffer persecution. This is an exaggeration, I think, but that there is discrimination against Christians in most Muslim countries is absolutely incontestable.

The degree of discrimination varies from country to country. Certainly, in a large country like Egypt, there have been distinguished Christian ministers such as Boutros Boutros-Ghali. But generally the higher levels of the political and social order are reserved for Muslims.

Further, the West has its attractions. Most Middle East Christians have family or friends living freely in Australia, Scandinavia, Latin and North America.

In summary, dispassionately and in terms of population trends, it is clear that the number of Christians is rapidly declining throughout the entire Middle East. Some sources project that it is likely the total Christian population of the Arab world will be as low as 6,000,000 within two decades.

Historical perspective. An historical perspective — a look at very long-term trends — is very useful for assessing the present.

Christianity began as a branch of Judaism in what we call the Holy Land. It was a Jewish sect and had that ethnic identity. The first Christians were Jews. Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the Apostles were all Jews, Messianic Jews. The world in which they lived was under the control of the pagan Roman Empire.

As Christianity began to spread, early Christians struggled with the question, “Are we to be Jewish or not?” The breaking point with Judaism came once pagans (Gentiles) were admitted into the Christian community without the obligation of converting to Judaism. Early Christianity quickly became, so to speak, a transnational movement. To be Christian did not demand to belong to a particular tribe, ethnic group or political body. This was a very radical departure from the norm, since religion was a component of the social and political order in all ancient societies. Christianity had the character of an organized movement without national or ethnic boundaries. In Christ, as St. Paul insisted, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

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Tags: Middle East Christians Christian-Muslim relations Emigration Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem