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Western political powers have been almost universally perceived as religious powers by Muslims. For this reason, there has always been a lingering sense that Christians in the Middle East are of questionable loyalty because of their ties to France, Germany, Britain and the West in general.

The Western (“Christian”) mandates. Until the recent invasion of Iraq, there had been only one other brief interlude of Western, “Christian” control of the Middle East. After World War I, the Sykes-Picot Treaty divided control of that portion of the Ottoman Empire between Britain and France. During this period of the League of Nations mandates, the region’s modern nation states were created. France carved Lebanon from Syria. Britain severed Jordan from Palestine and joined three Ottoman provinces to create modern Iraq.

Only one of these modern nation-states created by the “Christian” powers during and after the mandate period, Lebanon, is nonsectarian. Israel is a Jewish state; all the rest are Muslim, either secular or religious.

Today, a Christian in the Middle East lives in a Judeo-Muslim world. Except for the unique and somewhat ambiguous case of Lebanon, Christians are citizens or subjects of either an Islamic or a Jewish political authority.

The future of Middle East Christianity. What does the future hold for Christians in the Middle East?

The nature of Christianity is for it not to be tied to any one government, ethnic group or culture. Christianity transcends national, ethnic and cultural boundaries. Christianity is for the world. Jesus came to save the whole world. The Holy Spirit was poured out on the whole world. The mission of the church is for the whole world — that is why it is called catholic, or universal. Human nature being what it is, the church may be at times entangled with a particular culture, ethnicity or politics, but it serves the whole world.

The challenge for Christians everywhere, especially in the Middle East, is to not cling to a Western identity. In Lebanon, a generation or so ago, the average well-educated Christian spoke French, but could hardly speak Arabic. Effectively, Christians self-proclaimed themselves foreigners; now all that has changed. But many Christians in the Middle East still continue to identify with Western ways and Western styles of life.

Christians in the Middle East should not overly identify with a particular ethnicity either. Tribal identity remains strong in their countries. For example, many a Jordanian priest, if asked, “What tribe do you belong to?” would have a ready answer. He knows he belongs to a tribe; he has Bedouin roots.

Of course, we all belong to a family, a clan and an ethnic group. In the United States, for example, when I went to school, other children would ask me, “What are you?” which meant, in my part of the world, “Are you Irish? Italian? German?” I could never give a simple answer; I always had to explain that though my family name is German Jewish, I am Catholic and of Irish descent on my mother’s side. We all have ethnic identity or identities. But Christianity is more than ethnicity. Christians in the Middle East — and everywhere — should not define themselves by it.

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