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A Middle East plight
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Middle Eastern Arab Christians can trace their religious heritage to apostolic times. Despite persecution and isolation, they have remained faithful Christians, many in communion with Rome. But for more than a half century, Christians have been leaving the Middle East, wanting to escape the violence in their societies and to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families.
More recently, religious discord has become a major factor. Muslim fundamentalism is prevalent. Christians additionally are burdened with the stereotype that they are somehow connected with perceived anti-Arab, or at least self-serving, policies of the United States and the European democracies.
As a result, many Arab Christians have fled to more hospitable places in the Middle East or have emigrated to Western Europe or the United States.
On a broader scale, their departure complicates the pursuit of peace in the Middle East. While their fate may seem of little interest to many Americans, or to American foreign policy, it is of great importance.
The stability of the Middle East, as demonstrated by this country's long and intense involvement in the region, is vital to America's, and the world's, security. The ability to co-exist with Islam is vital to the well-being of Christianity today and in the future.
Challenging Americans personally to press for some action or another in the Middle East can be the source of some dismay. American policy in the region is often a story of frustration rather than a story of success.
So, what is the answer?
The complexity of the tensions and problems in the Middle East, beginning with Iraq and Palestine, is so great that it is difficult to think of any one answer. However, there are measures that would improve the situation if carefully and conscientiously put into practice.
One step forward would be a policy based on the real needs of the local population - as they see them, not as we impose upon them. We should also remove from the process the wish to impose upon the region any system that is chosen because it is thought to be beneficial to the West.
Christianity is suspect in the Middle East, to a significant degree, because predominantly Christian Western powers have forced upon the Arab peoples conditions that are selfish and hurtful.
At the same time, a climate of respect for the various religious groups and movements in the Middle East, particularly of minorities, must be encouraged.
Finally, the United States needs to welcome those Christians who are fleeing this conflict-torn region. Immigration is a hot topic in this country. Many Americans are not particularly welcoming when it comes to persons of foreign birth arriving here with the intention of staying.
However, our national heritage calls us to be welcoming, especially when those persons coming here are leaving places of turmoil and oppression.
Most importantly, the gospel calls us to be welcoming, especially to persons with whom we share the life of Christ in the one family of the church.
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