Sunday, June 26, 2005

Evangelicalism's Growth in Iraq

A few days ago, The Washington Post ran a story on Evangelicalism growing in Iraq. The article describes the response of the denominations already established in Iraq, and that response reflects their unhealthy status and the need for new churches:

"'The way the preachers arrived here . . . with soldiers . . . was not a good thing,' said Baghdad's Roman Catholic archbishop, Jean Sleiman. 'I think they had the intention that they could convert Muslims, though Christians didn't do it here for 2,000 years.' 'In the end,' Sleiman said, 'they are seducing Christians from other churches.' Iraq's new churches are part of Christian evangelicalism's growing presence in several Middle Eastern countries, experts say....'Evangelicals come here and I would like to ask: Why do you come here? For what reason?' said Patriarch Emmanuel Delly, head of the Eastern rite Chaldean Catholic Church, Iraq's largest Christian community. In interviews, Delly and Sleiman were torn between their belief in religious freedom and the threat they see from the new evangelicalism. They also expressed anger and resentment at what they perceive as the evangelicals' assumption that members of old-line denominations are not true Christians. 'If we are not Christians, you should tell us so we will find the right path,' Delly said sarcastically. 'I'm not against the evangelicals. If they go to an atheist country to promote Christ, we would help them ourselves.' Sleiman charged that the new churches were sowing 'a new division' among Christians because 'churches here mean a big community with tradition, language and culture, not simply a building with some people worshiping. If you want to help Christians here, help through the churches [already] here.' Still, the Roman Catholic prelate said he could not oppose the evangelicals because 'we ask for freedom of conscience.' He also said he respected how they appear 'ready to die' for their beliefs. 'Sometimes I'm telling myself they are more zealous than me, and we can profit from this positive dimension of their mission.' Some Iraqi Christians expressed fear that the evangelicals would undermine Christian-Muslim harmony here, which rests on a long-standing, tacit agreement not to proselytize each other. 'There is an informal agreement that says we have nothing to do with your religion and faith,' said Yonadam Kanna, one of six Christians elected to Iraq's parliament. 'We are brothers but we don't interfere in your religion.' Delly said that 'even if a Muslim comes to me and said, 'I want to be Christian,' I would not accept. I would tell him to go back and try to be a good Muslim and God will accept you.' Trying to convert Muslims to Christianity, he added, 'is not acceptable.'...Sara [a Baptist pastor in Iraq] said that if Muslims approach him with 'questions about Jesus and about the Bible,' he responds. But the white-haired pastor said there was plenty of evangelizing to be done among Christians because, in his view, many do not really know Jesus. 'They know [Him] just in name,' he said, adding that they need a better understanding of 'why He died for them.'"

Pastor Sara may want to evangelize the Catholic leaders quoted in this article, since it seems that they need it.