The Christian Communities in the Holy Land are Facing a
may disappear from the Holy Land.
In 1999 the public television program
Religion and Ethics, with Robert Abernathy, hosted a discussion
about the decline of Christians in the Holy Land. The
following is an excerpt from that discussion
a frequent commentator on issues of faith and spirituality,
appearing on outlets including MSNBC, CNN and the BBC):
"The Christian decline can be attributed to at least two
factors: higher emigration rates
and much lower birth rates . . . The impact of both has been dramatic. In 1945, about
30,000 Christians lived in
Today, fewer than 10,000 Christians live there, less than 2
percent of the city's population. Jipna, where tradition says
Mary and Joseph stopped to rest on their way to
once an all-Christian village. Now it's a virtual ghost town.
even diminished inBethlehem,
where Jesus was born. For most of the centuries after the
was overwhelmingly Christian. Today, Christians make up only
about a third of the local population."
. . . we don't want the
to become just a Christian theme park or a Christian
we don't want the
to become just a Christian theme park or a Christian world
Heather Sharp of the BBC reported Church leaders have long voiced fears that Christian communities may be dying out in the land where Jesus was born, lived and
died. Conflict, lack of economic opportunities and the pull of
the West have been driving a steady hemorrhaging of Christians
for several decades, while low birth rates ensure that those who
stay live as ever-shrinking minorities."
Research by Bernard Sabella, associate professor of sociology at Bethlehem University led him to conclude
"Palestinian Christians have experienced a relatively long tradition of emigration since late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Early emigration was motivated by worsening political and economic conditions in the Ottoman Empire. A feeling of uneasiness with the atmosphere of backwardness in all spheres of life was strengthened by the fear of conscription of young men
to the Ottoman army. Families pulled in their resources to enable younger male members to travel to Central, South and North America in order to make a new living. Once these were established in their new localities, they invited other members
of their families to join them. . . .
At the end of the twentieth century given the political and economic conditions prevailing under the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Christian community fits
well the definition of a migrant community: "A community with high educational achievement and a relatively good standard of living but with no real prospects for economic security or advancement will most probably become a migrant community
What is missing from all this history and analysis is a serious
search for a solution to the problem.
much more energy is wasted trying to place
the blame for this situation on one group or another than on
trying to correct it.
Some try to place the blame on Palestinian
Muslims by alleging Muslim acts against Christians such as
threats, roadblocks to permitting Christians buying land, arson
attacks on Christian property, rapes, forced marriages and, in
the case of at least one Muslim convert to Christianity, murder.
Others try to place the blame on Israelis by alleging
discrimination in education, employment and public services that
Israeli-Arabs face, as well as the spillover effects of Israeli
policies with respect to Palestinians.
Still others would add that the morale of
Christians in the Holy Land being undermined by the long history
of fractious - at times downright hostile - relationships
between Christian denominations.
Does all this blaming get us anywhere? Does it make things
better for Christians in the Holy Land?
Do inflammatory/political speeches, sermons, articles or videos
blaming one or another help at all?
The fact is we
don't have the time for these blame games.
Injecting the politics of the region into discussions of how we
halt and then reverse the decline of Christians in the Holy
Land simply drowns out the Christian message.
For example, an article in the June 2009 issue of The
Lutheran magazine noted "For some western Christians . . . it
seems that if Palestinian Christians can't be understood as
suffering under Islamic oppression, they must have sided with
Islam [and] thus forfeit North American Christian accompaniment
and sympathy." And the fact is that other western
Christians can be accurately described by substituting the word
"Israeli" for "Islamic" and "Israel" for" Islam" in that quote.
not that we should ignore our politics or change them. And
we surely we need to recognize that
the Christian Communities in the Holy Land
are a double minority: a minority in Israeli society and a
minority in Muslim society.
And as we have
learned, minorities that stand alone suffer in a myriad of ways
in the face of greater and lesser denials of social justice.
We need to remember that alone, a minority is just a minority in
any society, with all that implies in terms of the ability and
resources available to rectify these injustices.
And so we need to come together irrespective of our views on
politics or blame. We need to focus
on actions that will help the Christian Communities in the Holy
Land. And we need to do so NOW! Before they disappear.
With the help and support of the larger Christian communities
outside the Holy Land, that is with
your individual help
and support and that of people just like you, the
Christian Communities in the Holy Land will be able to find and
implement solutions, and they will be better able to weather the
bad times until those solutions take effect. It will help them
overcome the demoralizing and debilitating feelings of neglect
What the Christian
Communities in the Holy Land need and want is for the Christian
Communities outside the Holy Land to be with them. To
engage with them spiritually and emotionally. To care and
to show it.
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