Acceptance of the Other: How Interfaith Dialogue Has Helped One Community Come to Life Again

By Kathryn Kraft

When she stood up from the little stool on which she had been perched throughout our interview, I saw that she was indeed pregnant. I’d guess about seven months. But, I thought, she already had seven children, a sunken eye, and a lost home!

I wondered if she wanted this baby or if her husband wanted this baby or if she was unfamiliar with the concept of contraception. My mind wandered to my London existence, where the norm is to choose if and when to become pregnant and where few people have more than three kids. And in London we can access free prenatal, neonatal and paediatric care, assistance with childcare and then free primary education.

This woman had none of these things, and the contrast between her existence and mine somehow to me summarised so well the stark reality of her story and that of her community. An ethnic and religious minority, displaced from her home. But like me in her energy and will to make a life for herself and her family. Continue reading

From our Vantage Point: The Signs of the Times Unfolding in the Middle East Today

By Wissam al-Saliby

Earlier this year, I was flipping through the radio channels as I was driving from Houston to Dallas. I fell upon a talk show where, to my surprise, I heard the interviewee mentioning “Hezbollah and Iran.” I focused my attention on the conversation to better understand how our region’s politics are perceived in Texas. However, within a few minutes, Jimmy DeYoung moved from recent political developments in the Middle East to Biblical prophecy to forecasting that Arab nations will unite and attack Israel – a claim that I have heard so many times in the US, but that sounds incredulous, almost impossible, to a Lebanese who is seeing an ever increasing Arab dis-unity. The radio show and the connected website are called Prophecy Today. It concluded with a prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem, a peace that is interpreted in light of the preceding political and theological analysis.

End-Times_Industry

Prophecy Today (DeYoung) and other similar initiatives, usually run by one man, such as EndTime Ministries (Irvin Baxter), Rapture Ready (Todd Strandberg), and Restored Church of God (David C. Pack) all demonstrate similar geopolitical analyses of events that happens to be “always in line” with what the prophecies say. This “prophecy industry” manifests itself in websites, books, radio and TV shows, conferences, church pulpits, YouTube channels, and Internet advertisements. Continue reading

Biblical Peace begins at Home: Challenging Common Notions of Peace in the Global Church

By Martin Accad

In his significant visit to Cairo, Egypt, last week, Pope Francis delicately tackled a whole series of sensitive issues in the gracious way that has become his trademark. Many conservatives, both Christian and Muslim, were nervous about his visit. Christian conservatives feared that he would lean over too far in his search for Muslim dialogue partners. Muslim conservatives (with Muslim Brotherhood affiliation – some have claimed), put out the trending hashtag #بابا_الإرهاب (baba al 2erhab – “the Pope of terrorism”) on the eve of his visit. But Pope Francis was rather unequivocal in his message of peace, seemingly addressing militant Islamism with his assertion that “Religiosity means nothing unless it is inspired by deep faith and charity.” But no doubt his message also addressed rising anti-Muslim political populism around the world, when he affirmed that “True faith is one that makes us more charitable, more merciful, more honest and more humane.” He added with the all-embracing warning that:

“God is pleased only by a faith that is proclaimed by our lives, for the only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity! Any other fanaticism does not come from God and is not pleasing to him.” Continue reading

Social Capital: Seeds of Friendship Growing into a National Symbol for Reconciliation

By Manal el-Tayar

Her voice quivered as she started speaking. One could sense how intimidating it must have felt for a twenty-year-old to address a crowd of religious leaders, politicians, ambassadors, civil society leaders, academicians and other notable delegates about her vision for a united Lebanon. As Alaa spoke, she glimpsed back a couple of times at Jennifer who stood by her. Jennifer’s beaming smile reassured her friend. Slowly, Alaa grew more confident in her speech and her words resonated with the audience.

The contribution of Alaa and Jennifer to the Celebration of the Annunciation[i] in downtown Beirut on Sunday 26th of March 2017 seemed to be the highlight for many in attendance. “You are the hope of the future,” said one ex- combatant in the civil war: Continue reading

Statelessness: Banned from Belonging

By Brent Hamoud

Much has been made of US President Trump’s executive decisions temporarily banning select nationals and refugees from entering the USA. The order has been met with opposition in forums ranging from airport terminals to federal courts, which have so far blocked the executive decision from going into full implementation. The ban stirred strong feelings across the globe; there is something about singling out particular nationalities and rejecting the extremely vulnerable that simply does not sit well in the hearts of many. (The topic received the IMES treatment here.)

While I personally have been unsettled by the logic and the implications of Trump’s proposed travel and refugee resettlement ban, I see it as a comparatively small issue compared to a much larger, harsher ban that has been enduring for the better part of the past century. Continue reading

Defacing the Image of God: The Children of War and Our Collective Human Failure

By Jesse Wheeler

For what purpose do we older folks exist than to care for, instruct and bring up the young?” – Martin Luther[1]

The Children of War

Martin Luther, the justifiably controversial father of the protestant reformation, poses the above question with regard to our collective reason for being. Amidst the sheer wealth of theological topics about which he wrote, he is led to conclude that our greatest and most defining responsibility as “older folk” is to care for, instruct, and bring up the young. He continues, “It is utterly impossible for these foolish young people to instruct and protect themselves. This is why God has entrusted them to us who are older and know from experience what is best for them.” Tragically, this is a task at which I must conclude we have failed miserably, a failure for which Luther warns: “God will hold us strictly accountable.”[2]

Given the fact that we have been inundated recently by story after story of the most unimaginable, gut-wrenching horror to which young children have been subjected, both within and beyond the region, I can’t help but agree that we must be held accountable. Continue reading

Theological Education as Formation for Prophetic Ministry

By Martin Accad

When we think about theological education in a country like Lebanon, we are forced to think differently from the way that seminary education has traditionally been understood in Europe or North America. In many seminaries around the world, both in the west and sadly also in the Middle East, students are still primarily taught how to interpret the biblical text largely for preaching purposes. They may also take a couple of counseling courses and some classes in pastoral ministry. They may be offered a limited number of courses in missiology, but often in the form of electives that students can opt out of. This reflects an older mentality, where the seminary views itself as operating at the service of ‘Christendom’ – a society where Christianity is dominant and where the church often lives with a triumphalistic mindset. A large proportion of seminaries, however, have become increasingly aware of functioning in a post-Christian world. Continue reading

The US Immigration Ban: A View from the Kingdom

By Mike Kuhn

Thus the so-called outsiders are really only “insiders” who have not yet understood and apprehended themselves as such.
(Karl Barth, ”The Humanity of God”)

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
(Engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty from “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus,1849–1887)

It was a day of jolting irony.  I stood beside Atallah as the priest pronounced the marriage rites. My wife stood beside his bride. Our friends looked on. Together we drank the cup of blessing…just the four of us. Together we clasped hands and processed around the altar of the church nestled in a crowded quarter of Beirut known as the local home to several refugee communities. I was the shabīn—the best man and my wife, the shabīna—the matron of honor. So it goes without saying that we have become close with this special couple. The honor they showed us was almost embarrassing—one of those honors you feel you can never deserve. It’s just given to you. They wanted us to stand beside them on their wedding day in front of their siblings, cousins, parents and friends.

Atallah is from Dara’, Syria. Gladis, his bride, is from Aleppo. Continue reading

Middle East Immersion: Learn. Serve. Experience the Middle East!

What is the Middle East Immersion?

The Middle East Immersion (MEI) is a six-week intensive practicum designed for students from beyond the region wanting to experience firsthand the opportunities and challenges of Christian service in the Middle East. Under the mentorship of respected scholars and experienced practitioners, students in the MEI program practice intercultural work in a dynamic context and engage in mutual learning between Christian and Muslim communities.

Centered on critically reflective practice, MEI provides students an opportunity to earn academic credit and fulfill practicum requirements while being exposed to the language, peoples and cultures of one of the region’s most vibrant cities.

MEI 2017 begins 19 June in Beirut, Lebanon, and runs through July. Continue reading

A Wakeup Call for People of Faith in the Twenty-First Century

By Martin Accad

Judging from the opening seventeen years of this new millennium, I expect the twenty-first century to be one of major social and political transition. We have entered an age where world religions are having a key role in the rise of global conflicts, and in which therefore people of all faiths will have to play a key role as peacemakers. If we do not rise to this unprecedented challenge in the most robust ways, we will have failed in our most fundamental divine calling to be agents of God’s reconciliation and transformation in the world.

In the years 2015 and 2016, we witnessed a degradation of fundamental values of human decency at a global scale, which many would say they have never seen before. The rise of ISIS in the summer of 2014 triggered a global reaction that must have stunned most people, except perhaps the leadership of ISIS itself. In the Muslim world, there has been an outcry against the horrors committed by the group.  Continue reading