Is the Arab spring turning into a winter of persecution? Over 100,000 Coptic Christians have now left their home in Egypt and have joined the growing refugee movement. Of the 80 million people living in Egypt, approximately 8 million of them are Christians. According to Church tradition, Christianity came to Egypt in AD 42 through the evangelistic preaching of St. Mark. In that day, Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark, joined with others to fan out across the face of the earth with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Philip Jenkins, the Edwin Erle Sparks professor of the humanities in history and religious studies at Penn State University, describes in his book, The Lost History of Christianity, how the ancient Church, east of the Roman Empire, in places like Persia and Syrian and Egypt, flourished until killed off or run out by radical groups, particularly Muslims.
It appears now that the ancient struggle has been renewed. Groups like the Muslim brotherhood have hijacked what seemed to be a genuine movement of young people seeking democracy. There is growing concern that the radical elements of Islam are now gaining power of formerly secular nation-states such as Egypt. Whereas Egypt enjoyed a friendly relationship with Israel, now that relationship is gone awry. The secular, Egyptian government is now giving way—not to democracy—but to a new tyranny that threatens international stability, but more importantly, the very lives of Christians. This tyranny is fueled by a rogue Iranian regime that is threatening the life of a Christian pastor. Now, even as I write, Iran is alleged to be involved with an assassination attempt in our own country.
The global Church is therefore obliged to pray all the more fervently for our brothers and sisters in the Egyptian Christian Church and those in other Middle Eastern countries. Compassionate nations cannot help but speak out with condemnation of the new persecutions and plead for the human rights of these oppressed peoples. For the “spring” that brought hope turned to a blazing summer of descent into a new barbarism and that season has now turned into an autumn in which the world is experiencing the first bitter gusts of a cold, but all too familiar, winter of Christian persecution. We all pray, “Lord have mercy!”
It is said by some commentators that St. Mark wrote his Gospel to Roman Christians so that they would know the simple, clear, cogent reality of the resurrected Person of Jesus Christ in order to cling to His Gospel story, and to faithfully endure the persecutions that were imminent.
Now Mark’s Gospel must be re-told to the very Church he likely founded in Egypt, as well as others who may face the same horrible prospects. For the Coptic Christians and other believers in the Middle East must cling to the powerful truth of the risen Christ in these days as they possibly face the same persecution that Mark wrote about 2000 years ago. The hope in the horror is that the Church is never really lost and history has shown its message of love and grace through Jesus cannot be hushed, even if killed.