Who Are the Christians in the Middle East?

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Who are the Christians in the Middle East? By Betty Jane Bailey and J. Martin Bailey, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003, 215 pp. List: $20; AET: $14.

Most Westerners are woefully ignorant of the Christian communities in the Middle East, often viewing them as the result of modern missionary activity. It calls to mind the story of a member of the local Syrian Orthodox church being asked by a well-meaning visitor, "Who converted your family?" After a moment's thought, the woman replied, "St. Paul, I think."

Despite Christianity's birth in the Middle Bast, and Israel/Palestine being known as the Holy Land, the long separation of the churches of the Middle East from those in the West-a separation based on medieval schisms, issues of language and political divisions-has led to a view of Christianity as a Western, European invention. The Baileys, long-time students of the Middle East, have produced a welcome addition to the sparse literature on the subject.

Their book is divided into three main sections. The first is a collection of essays offering an overview of the Christian communities of the Middle East. David Kerr, a professor at the University of Edinburgh, presents a brief historical background. Riad Jarjour, general secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), discusses the present plight of Middle East Christians, and looks to future possibilities. The Baileys themselves add an essay on the important ecumenical work being done by the MECC.

The second section, which comprises the bulk of the book, discusses each of the major families of churches present in the Middle East (Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical (Protestant) and Assyrian), and each family's member churches. The final section discusses the churches in geopolitical terms, examining their situation in each country of the region. …