The Future of Palestinian Christianity and Prospects for Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation
Younan, Munib, Currents in Theology and Mission
I am an Arab Palestinian Evangelical Lutheran Christian. When people ask us Palestinian Christians when we converted to Christianity, we have to remind them that we've been here since the first Pentecost when we are mentioned in Acts 2:11.
Our Lutheran Church began here in the mid-1800s as mission, primarily health and education, to the local people. We have six churches and their ministries: Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, and one in Amman, Jordan. We operate four schools and four additional educational programs that are committed to holistic education and academic excellence. Yes, we are a small church, but not the smallest in the Holy Land. We do not consider ourselves a minority but an integral part of Palestinian society.
I am a refugee. I grew up in the Old City of Jerusalem, and both at home and in church I was taught to respect Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and other traditions. I believed in my youth that the world would only become better and better. Now, every time I see what is happening in our present world, I am shocked and saddened to see that the world seems to believe more in the love of power than in the power of love. Our world has come to worship weapons, walls, and war in the name of peace and security. We have come to use the holy writings of religion to justify injustice and to undergird oppression and supremacy. The new wave of anti-Semitism, the growth of Islamophobia, and the proliferation of many kinds of xenophobia stigmatize and demonize people through racism, fear, and ignorance. This movement fuels hatred, anger, and fear against the other and keeps it alive by giving it the face of the enemy.
The Palestinian Christian Churches have denounced such intolerance and extremism and believe it is our calling as ministers of reconciliation to raise up anew generation of the faithful who will urgently seek to see God in other religions and cultures and who will urge all to seek common values of respect for all human life, justice, forgiveness, and healing. It is time that religion became part of the solution rather than part of the problem. We Christians must challenge one another with a firm theology of creation and redemption, knowing that God's son, Jesus Christ, on the cross, saved all the world and intended that we all live together injustice and peace as sisters and brothers.
Recent statistics on Palestinian Christians
A new study about Palestinian Christians was presented at a conference in Jerusalem in December, 2006. According to the study, there are approximately 162,000 Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land, 120,000 living in Israel (within the Green Line), 40,000 living in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), and 2,000 living in the Gaza Strip. More than 80 percent live in the urban areas, 20 percent in rural areas. Estimates say Christians were around 15 percent of the population of historic Palestine before 1948 and that it fell to about 5 percent in the West Bank and 1 percent in the Gaza Strip by 1967. Today, Christians are less than 2 percent in the West Bank and less than .25 percent in the Gaza Strip.
The study asked about the reasons why Christians are leaving. Some have been saying that it is because of systematic Muslim persecution. But the study concluded: "One factor remains the most detrimental to the continued existence of the indigenous population. This factor is the political situation manifested in the occupation and the loss of hope in a just peace." The fact is that we do not have a problem with systematic persecution by Muslims or the Palestinian Authority. The underlying problem of Palestinian Christian emigration is the unbearable situation under ongoing military occupation.
However, we are very worried about the future of Palestinian Christianity. If present trends continue, there will be no living, local Christian community here in fifteen to twenty years. The heads of churches last year issued a statement with specific steps to help keep the Palestinians in Jerusalem and the Holy Land: