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No one knows where the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are “going,” much less what the political and social landscape will look like when they get there. The region is literally changing as we watch. This is both exciting and concerning.

MENA may eventually feature, God forbid, re-closed countries and new autocratic regimes. If so, we’ll need programs like SAT-7’s (in cooperation with Overseas Council and MEATE=Middle East Association for Theological Education) TEACH/LEARN project that works to develop leaders in Church and culture. SAT-7 is a Christian satellite television ministry based in Cyprus broadcasting in Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish across MENA and throughout 50 countries in Europe. Its US support office serves an American constituency vitally interested in MENA.

MENA may ultimately feature the newly open, if not democratic, societies the freedom fighters, rebels, and the rest of us are generally hoping for. If so, we’ll need programs like SAT-7’s TEACH/LEARN project because the Church will be able to work more publicly, will flourish, and will need more leaders than ever.

I’ve learned a lot about the Middle East in the past 18 months, but I have much to learn. The latter point can be said for US government or Western leaders in general and for Church leaders. The more we learn about the Middle East the better, for a lot of reasons.

MENA is not a block, not the monolith that evening news tends to unintentionally suggest. The region of 22 countries is home to 500+ million people speaking Arabic, Farsi (Persian), and Turkish. The countries, cultures, and people are similar but vary dramatically in ever way.

MENA people are religious, vigorously so, yet many are simply culturally religious as opposed to persons holding deep-seated informed religious understanding or commitment. They generally do not understand, or at least embrace, Western ideas like separation of Church and State and do not think it wise even when they do grasp the concept. So when they look upon the nominally Christian or Christian-by-heritage West, no matter what country is doing what, it is “Christian” to them. This makes true Christian testimony both more important and more difficult.

MENA will be different tomorrow from what it is today. We should work hard to learn more about and from the people of MENA. Learning doesn’t guarantee peace, but then again, nothing but good comes from greater understanding.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

Unprecedented social foment continues in the Middle East and North Africa. People demonstrate, protest, and even fight for change, and “Freedom” is the watchword.

Quick revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt may have spoiled us. The world wants peaceful resolution, and the sooner the better. But protesters in Libya are facing the strongest government opposition yet, complete with mercenaries, tanks, and fighter jets firing on Libyan citizens. Each day the prospects of a protracted civil war grow more likely. Meanwhile protesters in Bahrain, Yemen, and several other Arab countries press their governments for more economic opportunities, access to political decision-making, and basic human rights.

So far, it appears the two successful revolutions and protesters throughout the region seem to be nonsectarian, meaning they’re motivated by something other than religious goals. They’re driven by scattered leaders or by groups of freedom fighters rather than by organized religious movements. This is positive in the sense that religious influence generally heightens the stakes, making orderly transfers of power more difficult. The fact this could change as the revolutions settle into some kind of new political normal is a “known unknown” element of Middle East social transition.

On television or the Internet we watch tens of thousands demonstrate and/or fight. This is impressive, but we should remember there are tens of millions on the sidelines, sitting at home watching, doing nothing, or mostly just not engaging knowledgeably with the protests. What we don’t know is whether these millions at home are or will vote in favor of change or in favor of not changing? This is another element of change-by-the-moment Middle East/North Africa social transition.

One hopes that what emerges in all the countries engaged in civil discourse and/or civil war is a new level of tolerance and respect for minority individuals and groups. That is to say, one hopes post-revolution governments will not only protect basic human rights but will set the tone for inclusive societies in which acceptance is extended to all—ethnicities, races, religions, and also women and the disabled. Whether this will happen is yet uncertain but could change by the moment.

Three groups now seem to have emerged in the Middle East and North Africa: 1) people committed to revolutionary change, 2) people committed to maintaining current governments, and 3) the “silent majority” waiting, watching, and wondering which way they’ll cast their lot when the time comes. This could change at any moment and no one knows just how or in which direction.

The Middle East has always been a fascinating and an inherently important region of the world. Never more so than now.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordon, Bahrain, Morocco, Libya—across North Africa and the Middle East protesters are demonstrating at risk of their lives for one thing: freedom.

It’s true, stagnant economies, unemployment, and frustration with lack of opportunities or social progress motivate protesters. But make no mistake, decades of suppression, rule by dictators, and extensive corruption created a roiling critical mass that’s finally exploded. Freedom is protesters’ ultimate goal.

Given the magnitude and intensity of the historic social unrest we’re witnessing, however the conflict is resolved, the region is changed forever. How it will change is the exciting and concerning question.

Until now, people both within and without the region thought that dominant and traditional religion could not function in modern society. And there were good reasons for this respected point of view. Yet the forces for freedom we’re witnessing have not come from religious ideology. Nor are those who are resisting change representing religious ideology.

Instead, protests and pitched street battles have taken place between those for freedom and those for control. Meanwhile, several encouraging incidents have been reported wherein Christians, Muslims, and the non-religious acted in concert to protect one another. These revolutions are not about religious positioning but power politics.

Of course, we should take care not to romanticize every protester as a freedom fighter who knows no guile. Unfortunately, some agitate for other less noble agendas. But so far, the general thrust of these revolutions has been toward freedom. The equally difficult work of establishing justice for all will come later.

Human craving for freedom is part of our DNA. It was placed there at Creation when the human race was made in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27). We were granted life, liberty, moral capacity, reason, personality, talent, and eternal value. Each individual matters. We are, each of us, irrespective of race, color, ethnicity, or gender, “somebody.” So no enslaving or oppressive rulers, regimes, or religions are legitimate in the eyes of God.

Because the human race is tainted by evil, freedom is always born and nurtured with a price. It costs blood and treasure. Since January, our Mediterranean neighbors have been paying that price.

Many protesters in the Middle East and North Africa have by their actions said, “we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” I wish them well. Here’s hoping the revolutions in the Middle East will ultimately be as successful in terms of freedom as the one declared in 1776.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

In the wake of successful revolution, Tunisia's and Egypt’s greatest need is to identify extraordinary leaders possessing the passion and ability to articulate a vision for developing and governing a free society.

It is one of the ironies of freedom—nations conceived and governed “of the people, by the people, for the people” nevertheless require leaders. The “people” can voice their will, but the people can’t ultimately lead. This was true in Colonial America, certainly during the run-up and experience of the American War for Independence, and in the early days of the Republic. It remains true today. In early American times John and Abigail Adams were such leaders.

In Joseph J. Ellis’s recent book First Family: Abigail and John Adams, he explores the more than 1200 letters this remarkable couple left to history. These letters reveal their incredible partnership and Abigail’s sharp intellect, common sense, and steady personality, all of which provided John the stable port in the storm his restless intellect and personality required. With her support, John played a critical role in leading the Continental Congress toward independence and later authoring the first constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Eventually he became the first Vice President and second President of the United States.

John and Abigail were two of an exceptional generation of leaders, people like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and many more. One and all, though they often differed markedly in political perspective, they were committed to freedom’s basic values: liberty of body, mind, and soul, freedom of worship and speech, respect for human dignity, protection of life, rule of law, freedom to work and property rights, justice.

These are not uniquely American or any nation’s values. These are human values. These values and the leaders to build upon them are what Tunisia and Egypt now desperately need.

Revolutions are by definition volatile, chaotic experiences requiring passion and risk to succeed. Consequently they’re vulnerable to misdirection or takeover that can produce a result different from the past but not in concert with the original revolution’s vision of a better tomorrow. Dictators, strongmen, or dominating religious leaders can suddenly seize control—think Iran, 1979, when the Shah left only to be replaced by Ayatollah Khomeini and his mullahs.

What the rest of the world and certainly what the citizens of Tunisia and Egypt do not want is to discover their drive for freedom has been side-tracked or co-opted. They don’t want to jump out of the frying pan into the fire.

So here’s hoping Tunisa, Egypt, and any other Middle East or African country considering free government can find or develop strong and effective “Founding Fathers,” or "Mothers," leaders wholly committed to freedom and wholly up to the task of making it happen.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

 

My wife and I visited the Holy Land in 1996. We traveled with a busload of about 44 other people as part of university tour. Our tour guide was a woman who turned out to be a font of 4,000 years of history everywhere we paused to ponder.

Our first tourist stop, Mt. Carmel, took place in a driving rainstorm. What made that location memorable for me was that I was coming down with a bad cold and felt more miserable by the moment. More memorable still, though, was the realization that I was looking west to the Mediterranean Sea, watching thunderclouds just like Elijah did centuries before when he challenged the prophets of Baal.

During the next two weeks we traveled to most of the best known historical sites. They were all interesting. But what began to bother me was that everywhere something significant was thought to have occurred an ancient church or altar or shrine had been built to commemorate it. Soon, we weren’t spending as much time looking at historical sites as we were being shown an old grime-encrusted edifice where people came to light candles, say prayers, and worship the place. Undoubtedly some pilgrims worshiped God in those places, but I saw many who broke down in tears or embraced a rock or in some other way venerated the location.

Bethlehem was special, of course, because it was Bethlehem. I was glad to be there and eagerly visited the Grotto, now within the Church of the Nativity, where tradition says Jesus was born. Frankly, I was disappointed, not because I expected something recognizable from the birth of Christ to remain from 2,000 years ago, but because the place was again a focus of worship.

People acted smitten, as if they were in the presence of God himself. In no sense do I disrespect these sincere religious individuals. I’m only confessing my own feelings fourteen years later.

Bethlehem as a holy place was, to me, not all that interesting. Bethlehem, the home of people who live there and the issues it confronts today, is intensely interesting. Bethlehem is a place I would like to revisit. It is a place of history, yes, but even more a place to engage the complex issues facing the Middle East today.

Christmas time reminds us of Bethlehem and the honored position it holds in the history of the Christian faith. But Bethlehem is not in itself sacred. It’s the child in the manger who grew to become the Savior on the cross, buried, and risen who is holy. I pray for the peace of Bethlehem and peace in hearts, all possible because of the Prince of Peace.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

The Church Universal (or universal Church or catholic Church) is a title or phrase used by theologians and church scholars to refer to what the Scripture calls the Body of Christ. It represents the sum total of all Christians, genuine believers in Christ, in all times, countries, and cultures.

So to refer to the American Church or the Middle East church is a way of describing a subset of the entire Body. These terms encompass Christians who live in the United States or who live in the countries generally considered part of the Middle East, respectively.

There’s much Americans don’t seem to know about their brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East, some of what they think they know that’s incorrect, and much more to say about what God is doing in the Church in the Middle East. To address this issue I recently wrote a column, a beginning commentary, on “What the American Church Should Know About the Middle East Church.”

The column refers to SAT-7, which is a Cyprus-based Christian satellite television ministry for whom I work. SAT-7 broadcasts daily in Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and its mission is to strengthen the Church in the region.

If God chooses to bless SAT-7’s efforts and those of other Christian ministries, if he builds his Church in the Middle East, than it is truly possible for us to see spiritual and cultural transformation in the region in our lifetimes. This is our hope our prayer and our focus at SAT-7 and its support offices, SAT-7 Europe, SAT-7 UK, SAT-7 Canada, and SAT-7 USA.

I encourage you to learn more about the Middle East Church. While the Church isn’t featured everyday in the news like the region is, the Church is there and it is about the Father’s work.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.