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Sometimes Christians in the Middle East assert Western culture against Islamic culture. Muslims do not eat pork, we will. Muslims do not drink wine, we will. Muslims fast through Ramadan, we will not. The Christians seem to say we have to be us and they have to be them. While understandable, this attitude is another of the challenges for Christians. Christianity does not have to be — and should not be — tied to Western customs and lifestyles. Middle Eastern Christians are challenged to incarnate their faith in a culture that has been molded by Islam.

Christianity is not tied to geography. Another observation, which may generate some serious disagreement, is that Christianity has no necessary ties to geography. Judaism is land-bound. Judaism is focused on one piece of land, a small strip of land, the Holy Land, because of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and because of the ancient kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Because Judaism is land-bound, the creation of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East was and remains important to Jews.

Islam, too, is very tied to geography — to Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. In a sense, Muslims are shrine-bound. Jerusalem’s Haram as Sharif with its Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque are extremely important to Islam. Ariel Sharon provoked the second intifada when he entered this Muslim sanctuary area atop the mount, where centuries ago the Jewish temple stood, to declare that an Israeli can stand anywhere in Israel. This was as dangerous as throwing a lighted match into a powder magazine.

For Muslims, Jerusalem is the third most important place in the world. Muslims are shrine-bound. Christians are not. Jesus is not buried in the Holy Sepulchre; it remains an empty tomb.

Remember the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman, “... the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem ... but in spirit and in truth.”

Where do we find Jesus? We find him everywhere. We find him among ourselves when two or three of us are gathered in his name. As followers of Jesus, we do not have the ties to a place that Jews and Muslims do. Christianity can flourish anywhere. It can flourish in China, in Georgia, in Africa and in Rome.

Particular Christian structures and institutions, however, do not flourish in quite the same way. It is hard to do things the Italian way if you live in Australia or the Palestinian way if you live in Honduras. Structures have to be adapted to the places where they are located, but Christianity itself can be implanted and grow anywhere at all.

Even though there are no geographic imperatives in Christianity, Christians have historical roots in the Holy Land. There is no place so evocative to visit for a Christian as the land of the Bible. This is a land of immense symbolic importance to Christians. But, if it should happen that not a single Christian remains in the Holy Land, it will not fundamentally hurt Christianity.

A bridge to the future for the Arab world. Notwithstanding their limitations, Middle East Christians can be a bridge to the future for the Muslim Arab world. Christians have learned certain universal values from the modern, Western world and so can bring certain perspectives to the Arab world that are vitally important for its development and maturation.

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