The Christian Communities in the Holy Land are Facing  a Crisis.

They 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

Kim Lawton( 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 Jerusalem. 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 Bethlehem,was once an all-Christian village. Now it's a virtual ghost town.


Christianity has even diminished inBethlehem, where Jesus was born. For most of the centuries after the Nativity, Bethlehem was overwhelmingly Christian. Today, Christians make up only about a third of the local population."

. . . we don't want the
Holy Land to become just a Christian theme park or a Christian world Disneyland.

 
Reverend Mitri Raheb (of the Christmas Lutheran Church, Bethlehem):"And we don't want the Holy Land to become just a Christian theme park or a Christian world Disneyland."

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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."

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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 "


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What is missing from all this history and analysis is a serious search for a solution to the problem.

Unfortunately 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.

 It's 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 f
ocus 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 and isolation.

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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