During a lull early this month in the fighting between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon, mission officials counted heads and tried to assess the damage to date. Only a handful of the several hundred Protestant foreign missionaries serving in Lebanon remained. None had been hurt, and most mission property had escaped major damage. There were reports of casualties among national workers, however, including the death of a Seventh-day Adventist communications employee. Important church-related schools either delayed the start of their fall terms indefinitely or were limping along at a fraction of normal enrollment. For now, the future of Christian work in Lebanon remains clouded, say mission officials.
Many factors figure in Lebanon’s turmoil: political, economic, and class differences, the presence of several hundred thousand Palestinian refugees, involvement of outside powers, even subversion. But the roots of the nation’s troubles go back many centuries, deep into its religious past.
Christianity was present in the area as early as the first century. In the fifth century St. Maron founded what is known today as the Maronite Catholic Church, an Eastern-rite church in submission to Rome. It is the largest of Lebanon’s Christian bodies, claiming perhaps 60 per cent of the Christian community and 30 per cent of the country’s estimated 3.3 million population.Population estimates throughout this report are based on conditions earlier in the year, before hundreds of thousands of persons fled from the country to escape the fighting.
The Greek Orthodox Church is the next largest Christian group, with about 13 per cent of the total population. Protestants account for only 1 per cent.
The majority of Lebanese—descendents of the ancient Phoenicians—are Muslims, divided about equally between the Sunni Muslims and the Shi’i Muslims, with a smattering of other Muslim sects. The two main branches of Islam are the result of a split in 657 over the successor to Muhammad. Within each of the major Muslim communities are factions that disagree with one another on fine points of interpretation of the faith. Disputes between them have often erupted into violence.
Islam and the Arabic language date from the ninth century in Lebanon. About 1840, the country came under the domination of the Ottoman Turks. A mandate after World War I placed it under the administration of the French, who had intervened during disorders in the 1860s.
Lebanon, a mountainous country about the size of Connecticut, was given its independence in the early 1940s. To provide for a system of checks and balances between the Muslims and the Christians, a national pact was agreed upon. The Christians outnumbered the Muslims at the time, a calculation based on a census taken in the 1930s—the last time a census has ever been taken. Thus the pact reflected the dominant Christian position. It specified that the president would be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, the speaker of the legislature a Shi’i Muslim, and the commander of the army a Christian. Religious quotas governed the selection of virtually every major governmental, judicial, and military official.
All things considered, the arrangement worked fairly well until after the Six-Day War of 1967, and Lebanon prospered. Beirut became the Wall Street of the Arab world. Business and tourism flourished. The biggest chunk of the prosperity went to the Christians, who tended to have better educations, better jobs, and better connections than the Muslims. Enough of the Sunni Muslims acquired wealth and position to keep the lid on, though. Only occasionally did it threaten to come loose.
One such occasion was in 1958 when Camille Chamoun sought a second term as president, a post he had won six years earlier. Many Muslims opposed his move as a violation of the national pact. In the ensuing disorder Egypt backed the Muslims, and President Eisenhower ordered in thousands of U. S. Marines with the explanation that American citizens needed their protection. Peace was restored, constitutional reforms were enacted, and Chamoun eventually stepped aside in favor of another Maronite acceptable to the Muslims. (Chamoun more recently has been head of the ministry of the interior, another key government post.)
Lebanon’s own small army (fewer than 18,000 troops) has been ineffective. Many officers are Christians, and the majority of enlisted men are Muslims. Therefore there is hesitance on both sides to commit the troops in any internal fracas. Many Muslims are bitter over the army’s failure to repel Israeli reprisals against Palestinian commandos operating out of the refugee camps and villages in southern Lebanon. And they will never forgive the army for dealing more harshly in the past with the Palestinians than with Israel.
A number of political parties have emerged in Lebanon over the years, and these too reflect religious alignment. The largest ones have their own security and militia forces. In the Christian camp, the conservative Phalange Party is the largest.
With the gradual shift in population the Muslims began pressing for more constitutional revisions and reform of the ruling pact. Key provisions of it were never put in writing; they have been observed all these years in a sort of gentlemen’s agreement. The Muslims wanted more of a say in government, more control of the army, more leverage in the marketplace, land reform, and more government support of the Palestinians, among other things. Militants and leftists poured on the fuel. They were supported to come extent by elements in the Beirut-based Palestinian Liberation Organization.
The Christian rightists feared that a shift in power would result in the establishment of a Muslim state and might lead to a destructive war with Israel.
In such an explosive atmosphere relatively minor incidents like a fenderbending auto accident near Tripoli and a street-corner argument in Beirut quickly escalated into bloody national crises. More people were killed in three months of civil strife than in ten years of feuding between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Many business firms relocated elsewhere around the Mediterranean, and tens of thousands of people fled to Syria and Jordan.
The economy is in shambles, bitter feelings run deeper than ever, and some Mideast observers are saying that Lebanon cannot recover with democracy intact. If so, then the future of Christianity in the country may also be at stake.
The largest Protestant body in the country is the Presbyterian-oriented National Evangelical Synod, with more than 10,000 members. The Armenian Evangelical Union has about 7,000 members, and there are substantial communities of Baptists, Anglicans, and independent evangelicals with ties to Britain.
Dozens of Protestant foreign missionary groups have work in Lebanon. The largest missionary force at the beginning of the year belonged to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Most of the four dozen SDA missionaries were engaged in educational work. The United Presbyterian Church had about twelve missionary families there. Operation Mobilization had thirty assigned to work in publications and in direct evangelism. The Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God, and the Lebanon Evangelical Mission (British) also had sizable contingents.
Much Protestant mission work centers on education. The Catholics likewise emphasize education, enrolling about one-fifth of Lebanon’s school children, and operating a number of seminaries and several universities.
DEATH ON PRIME TIME (RATED PG)
Pastor Paul Tinlin of the 250-member Evangel Assembly of God Church in Schaumburg, Illinois, is getting a lot of press attention in the Midwest. It all started when Tinlin, 41, wrote a letter to a local newspaper disagreeing with an editorial that praised the Supreme Court for in effect striking down the death penalty. His letter stirred up sharp reaction, prompting a stiffer stance by Tinlan.
“There should be swift and sure justice for those who kill—and that should be public execution, and the execution should be on prime-time TV,” declared the minister. “We’ve got to start letting society see life for real,” he explained to a Chicago reporter. “Society should know that killing isn’t like on TV shows where the victim gets up and walks away when the show is over, that when real people get killed they are dead, that they are not just non-persons whose names appear in the newspaper and whose lives had no real meaning for the general public.”
Tinlan told his questioning 12-year-old daughter that seeing executions on TV “would probably make me sick, that it would be gruesome.” But, said he, “murder is also gruesome, and society has to start taking it seriously.”
He cited a verse in Genesis: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” Maybe, he said, it’s time for God’s harshest law to be followed.
For potential victims of tricks on Halloween, 326-member First Church of the Nazarene in Pekin, Illinois, offered some treats—for a price. Teen-agers went door to door, selling Pranksters Assurance policies for $1. Policy-holders were guaranteed against debris and litter on their property. A clean-up detail of fifty teen-agers and two dozen adults stood by on alert, ready to wash windows and haul away trash. They received only fifteen calls for help.
About 2,000 policies were sold, and the money was donated to the church bus fund, according to pastor John Davis.
Portugal: Christian Climate?
The following account is based on a report filed by London correspondent Roger Day:
For weeks, up to 5,000 refugees, mostly of Portuguese ancestry, poured daily into Lisbon. They were fleeing the fighting in Angola, and most wanted to escape subjugation by the black-dominated government that would assume control upon Angola’s independence from Portugal (see November 7 issue, page 57). They now number several hundred thousand, and they pose special problems—both economic and political—for Portugal.
Relief efforts are under way to help care for the refugees. One operation is being administered by a team of Portuguese evangelicals. Team members include Baptists, Brethren, Pentecostals, and Salvation Army workers. Food, medicine, supplies, and cash are flowing in from national alliances of evangelicals throughout Europe in response to a call from President Jaime Vieira of the Portuguese Evangelical Alliance.
In commenting on the political situation, Vieira says the refugees could endanger “the revolution.” Strongly antileftist and having lost everything, they could be used by high rightist officials to thwart the nation’s liberalization campaign, and they could provoke attacks by extreme leftists that might lead to all-out civil war.
Despite the unrest and threats, Portugal’s people in general are happier now than they were in the repressive past, states Vieira. As for religious affairs, he says there is growing optimism that the new spirit of freedom afforded to Protestants (see March 14 issue, page 59) is likely to continue. A constitutional provision was passed in July stating that Catholicism is no longer the official religion and that all churches would not be treated in the same way.
Vieira says the new freedom means much to the estimated 45,000 believers in the 600 churches associated with the Portuguese Evangelical Alliance. There is complete freedom to worship as one pleases, churches can be organized without the official opposition that was formerly encountered, and Christians are free to evangelize, even in public street meetings. Evangelistic rallies have been held in theaters and sports pavilions, something impossible a year ago. Conscientious objectors on religious grounds no longer need fear imprisonment or flee to another country; they can apply for alternate service.
Most of the country’s evangelicals “did not believe in the dictatorship we had in the past,” affirms Vieira. “We believe in freedom and democracy, and we have practiced democracy in our churches.” He adds: “We now have more freedom than ever, and we believe we should use it to spread the Gospel.”
Christians aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the new climate. Marxists of various persuasions, from mild-eyed socialists to acid-tongued Maoists, are in the streets daily, trying to attract followers. Pornography is flourishing.
To Vieira and other Portuguese evangelicals, it all simply means that the times are ripe for a spiritual harvest.
In some cases there have been nearconfrontations. Baptists in Portugal have been engaged in a nationwide evangelistic campaign. Church members put up posters advertising the theme, “Reconciliation through Jesus Christ.” But the posters disappeared one recent Monday in Cacem. They were torn down by people, reportedly Communist-inspired, who even came into the churchyard to remove the posters on the church building. A group claiming Communist affiliation had also been at the entrance of the church on the preceding Sunday night, trying to persuade people not to attend the special campaign services, according to European Baptist Press Service. The church hall was filled for both the Sunday and Monday night meetings, reported an observer.
The Cacem church had been without a pastor for several years. The new pastor is Sergio Felizardo, one of five pastors among Baptist refugees from Angola.
Evangelical groups are under government pressure in Colombia. The Summer Institute of Linguistics, also known as Wycliffe Bible Translators,Wycliffe is in Colombia officially as a cultural rather than a religious mission, under the Summer Institute of Linguistics name. is now the focus of a public debate in the Colombian legislature. The organization is in a delicate position. It is opposed by the conservative right, which wishes to maintain a Roman Catholic monopoly on missions to the Indians; opposed by liberals and anthropologists who frown upon the “cultural imperialism” of any kind of missions to the Indians; and opposed by the far left because it originated in North America and because it has given linguistic information to the Colombian government.
In a recent meeting with a large group of Indians of various tribes, President Lopez—a liberal—proposed gradually replacing Wycliffe linguists with Colombian linguists. It remains to be seen whether Lopez’s proposal was merely rhetoric. It does imply a recognition of the value of Wycliffe’s linguistic work.
More extreme opponents have spread a strident rumor that a secret American missile base is located on a remote plateau, presumably with Wycliffe collusion. Official sources emphatically deny the rumor. The defense minister, speaking in the House of Representatives, attributed it to “fantasies originating in the suspicions of the Catholic missions.”
Other evangelical groups apparently are being scrutinized by the government too. The Confederation of Evangelical Churches of Colombia recently alerted its members that it “obtained information that the national government is studying and reviewing the incorporation (that is, the legal standing) of some evangelical churches, missions, and institutions.” The committee expressed concern and called a meeting to deal with the question.
Religion In Transit
After a ninety-minute debate over whether to remove President Ford’s name as a recipient of one of its annual “Family of Man” awards, the board of directors of the New York City Council of Churches voted overwhelmingly to give it to him as originally planned. But the board also voted to advise Ford of the criticism from clergy and laity opposed to giving him the award because of his stance against federal aid for the financially ailing city.
Trinity (Episcopal) parish in New York City, the United Methodist board of global ministries, and Church World Service (CWS), the relief arm of the National Council of Churches, each gave $5,000 to help air on nationwide television a controversial film about South Africa. A United Church of Christ agency donated $2,000, and an NCC unit chipped in $500. In addition, the Methodist board also helped with production costs. The film, Last Grave in Dimbaza, conveys a strong indictment of apartheid, but knowledgeable persons who saw the film say it contains distortions and inaccuracies.
The five-hour “I Care” television special aired by the fledgling Manhattan Church of the Nazarene over Channel 11 in New York last month brought in almost $300,000 in pledges from some 3,800 viewers.
Footballer Mike Rohrbach of the University of Washington made three trips into the end zone against Stanford—two for touchdowns and one to pray. At the close of the game Rohrbach and about a dozen other players from both teams knelt in the end zone and, according to Rohrbach, “thanked the Lord that we got a chance to compete and see each other as friends.”
Thousands of fans who watched the game in Palo Alto, California, probably still are wondering what that post-game huddle was all about. Rohrbach, a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, suggests that fans there and elsewhere might be seeing more of that kind of activity this season.
The 25-year-old Word of Life Press, a publishing house in Tokyo, staffed by 130 Japanese workers and related to The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM), last month released the New Testament of the Living Bible in Japanese. Although it is not a translation of the popular English paraphrase, it employs similar techniques. TEAM missionary Roger McVety, founder and director of the Press, is working with Living Bibles International to produce modern translations in thirty-seven Asian languages.
MIK, the only evangelical publishing house in Pakistan, sold 45,000 Christian books and 200,000 tracts last year.
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