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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.

 

Some things learned at the Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding 25th Anniversary and the Global Faith Forum (sponsored by Northwood Church, Keller, TX), November 10-13, 2010:

-Lifetime effort in Bible study “to rescue truth from familiarity” ~ Dr. Kenneth E. Bailey.

-Any current interpretation of the text must be held “tentatively final,” meaning we’re always open to learning more ~ Dr. Kenneth E. Bailey.

-Being “Pro-Palestinian” is not the same as being “Anti-Israeli”—Evangelical Christians need to be visible and supportive on both sides of this national-ethnic divide.

-We need to include in the dialogue the whole family of Abraham.

-We need to create a non-polarizing language about being “Pro-Jesus,” “Pro-Palestinian” or “Pro-Arab,” “Pro-Jewish,” “Pro-Nonviolence,” and “Pro-Peace.”

-Some suggested that American Christians need a primer on the Middle East – we don’t get it.

-Or we need a “Pastors’ Toolkit” for leading discussions about the Middle East.

-There are 15 million Latino Evangelicals in the United States – their issue is immigration.

-We live in the “golden age of advocacy” in that one person can reach one million instantly online.

-It’s easy for internationals to become dependent upon the West for help, but this is not always best for them or the West. Need to help develop leadership in the Church in the Middle East.

-Jesus must be the center of all our work. He means more than conversion. He is hope for the hopeless. He is the only one who can create a future for humanity that’s worth living. He can bring real justice, real peace.

-Christians need to speak up more often and more pointedly challenging fellow-Christians who advocate violence or other negative responses to people in the Middle East and elsewhere.

-God said, “Love your enemy,” so we must not ever reinforce violence in any form.

-The media focuses upon the loudest and often the most extreme voices within a movement, thus creating and perpetuating stereotypes, which can create grossly inaccurate perspectives within the public.

-Negative stereotypes foster a toxicity across divisions.

-WASP = "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant" or "Wealthy, Alienated, Separated, Protected"?

-Young people want authenticity, faith reality, living-out faith, service…they want to see real faith in action.

-“The right to believe anything does not mean anything people believe is right” ~ Os Guinness.

-“The art of after-dinner speaking is the act of speaking in someone else’s sleep” ~ Os Guinness.

-Os Guinness: Key question—“How will we live with the deep differences in the world?” – 3 corollary questions”-

1--Will Islam modernize peacefully and be a force for peace?

2--Which faith will replace Marxism/Communism?

3--Will the West recover its foundations?

-Guinness: There will never be one way fits all for relating religion to public life. Each country and culture has to figure it out, but there are three types--

--Sacred Public Square – Established churches or dominating religious participation…Religious Right, England and Anglican Church, Europe.

--Naked Public Square – Secular, all religions excluded as private or as a problem…France, Soviets, Communist Countries, Ataturk in Turkey, US leaning toward French model.

--Civil Public Square – Public life where everyone of every faith free to engage on basis of faith with clear understanding of rights, respect, and responsibility toward all faiths…Guinness’s view.

-Civil Public Square not a way to compromise faith, very different from “inter-faith dialogue,” which promotes unity over all religious differences. But there is no common denominator. There never will be; there are irreducible religious differences in beliefs and these need not be compromised in a free society in free discourse.

-Freedom of Speech is a right of believers, not a right of certain beliefs that must be protected above all others with special political correctness or tolerance measures or hate speech legislation. Freedom of conscience protects believers, not all ideas as sacrosanct or untouchable. Ironically, the Left supports restrictive, protective legislation that undermine the freedom of conscience they believe in. The Right argue in ways that do not align with the Founding Fathers and also tend to undermine a truly free society.

 

© 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.