I’ve been inspired by a series of articles about the state of Muslim/Christian (Coptic) relations in Egypt. For those unaware, there was a bombing of a Coptic Church in Alexandria on New Years day. The bombing occurred as worshipers were leaving New Year’s Mass, and killed more than 20 people and injured roughly 80 more. There were (sometimes violent) protests afterwards. This led to much concern about the safety of holding Christmas Mass. Some churches were considering canceling the service. Then an amazing thing happened: some of Egypt’s most prominent moderate Muslims spoke up, and sparked a unique idea. They encouraged Muslims to show solidarity with their Coptic countrymen, and go to Christmas Mass as “human shields” to discourage Muslim extremists from bombing any services, since they would have to chance killing Muslims as well. According to this article, they followed through on this promise.
I am sure that this did not turn into a major evangelistic outreach, and I hope it didn’t. I wouldn’t mind at all if some Muslims learned something about Christ, and true Christian devotion from this. However, turning the good-faith gesture of support into a thinly veiled attempt at evangelism would have made such a showing of support less likely in the future, and probably pushed some of the attenders further away from Christ.
This also sparked some to ask, reasonably, whether Christian in the US would do the same if a mosque in our area was threatened with violence. Would we be willing to show up on the eve of Ramadan, or some other Islamic holy day, and put ourselves in danger, simply to show that we as Christians cannot stand by idly as some claiming the name of Christ attempt to harm our neighbors? This is the equivalent of what occurred in Egypt. Instead, I hear many Christians bemoaning the building of an Islamic community center near the former World Trade Center. Sure, that is a touchy subject, and an open wound, but how do you think the Muslims in Egypt and much of the Middle East feel about the Crusades? Some of the church buildings in the Middle East date to that period of time. They live with constant reminders, and I think we would do more to defuse terrorism if we would show a Christ-like love for those we disagree with, rather than living up to the reputation that the most militant Muslims think we have earned.
I wish that this had been the end of the story. Unfortunately, mere days after the Christmas Mass show of support, more violence occurred. Christmas was 7 January 2011 for the Coptic Church. On 11 January, a gunman (an off duty policeman) walked onto a train car and opened fire (one article said it was with his service weapon) on a group of Copts, killing one of them and wounding four others. While Egypt claimed the attack was not sectarian, several of the victims claim that they were singled out because the women among them were not wearing the Muslim hijab.
What is also amazing to me, is that even with this type of attack and persecution, there is a practice in the Coptic Church that makes its adherents stand out. It is common practice, at least in the less urban parts of Egypt, to have a tattoo of the Coptic Cross somewhere on their body. While this is less common in urban areas, it continues in the more rural areas. Why? One would expect that urban areas are more likely to have educated, more tolerant, Muslims. On the other hand, perhaps the more urban areas, with larger churches, make for better targets. Still, the tattoo of the Cross would seem to be more problematic in areas where personal interactions are more likely to bring isolated violence again Christians that would be of less importance to the national police, whereas a murder in Cairo or Alexandria would likely get much more press, and be more likely to result in arrest and prosecution. (A Christmas Eve January 2010 drive-by shooter was recently sentenced to death, while the sentence for his accomplices is due in February.)
Would we be that willing to stand up for our faith? Would we continue to wear our Christian T-shirts, place the bumper stickers or fish symbols on our car, and the like, if this would place us in the very real danger that the Copts face? We consider it horrible if someone tells us to “shut up” about our faith, or chooses to unfriend us on Facebook because we quote too many Scriptures on our status messages. We fear discrimination for being too open about our faith. Some of these fears are real, though I sometimes wonder if we get Christ’s call to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” a little backwards. Christ didn’t call us to be obnoxious about our faith. Still, this is nothing compared to the level of real concern and danger the Copts face just for being Christian and living out their faith. The Coptic man on the train was not killed for witnessing to a Muslim, or saying something offensive. He was likely targeted simply for being Christian.
I would hope that I would have the level of resolve that says I will permanently mark myself as belonging to Christ, even though that very mark may be the thing that ends up sealing my fate. I cannot deny Christ in the face of death, if I have marked myself as His. That kind of mark permanently determines how I will be willing to stand up, no matter the cost or the consequences. I have no tattoos, and have never really seriously considered getting one. This kind of thing does make the idea a little more attractive. I have no plans to get one, at this point, but if I ever do, it would likely be something like this which would mark me as belonging to Christ and show solidarity with my persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.
Thoughts? Reactions? Feel free to use the comments section below! I’d love to hear from you. 🙂