Bethlehem Diary 8: A story from Egypt

Day 5 part 2: Egypt

One of the most moving inputs of the week has been from Bishop Angaeolos of the Coptic Church. He spoke of Christianity’s story in Egypt. Christianity was strong in Egypt for 2000, Egypt provided a place of refuge for the holy family and many Christians have experienced martyrdom there. 90% of the Coptic Church members live in Egypt and they refuse to call the other 10% the diaspora because they will one day come home.

The uprising in Egypt began not as an Islamic Christian dispute but out of a concern for the economic and social disaster that Egyptians were experiencing. However, there were some incidents between Islamists and Christians. In 2013 attacks were carried out on Christian church and institutions but there was no retaliation because Egyptian Christians have ‘love your enemy’ firmly embedded into their tradition and lifestyle. They took strength from their knowledge of Christian teaching and heritage and their understanding of sacrifice.

The Bishop acknowledged the experiences of injustice and pain felt by so many and the impacts on ordinary human lives.

The response for him, in his own words:

Persecution has led me to be a greater activist for human rights and civil liberties.

It struck me how the language of human rights has been missing from the discussions. Perhaps this is because of the general difficulties church members have with the language which implies an individualism, for some in the NI context at least, which is unhelpful and seems to give people an opportunity to be ‘at’ one another. This debased view of human rights and what it means is both sad and unhelpful. Perhaps it is because the language of human rights feels too political to evangelicals and they prefer what seems to be them to be more acceptable, softer, Biblical language.

Over the week I have been reminded that all theology is politics. Whether we acknowledge it or not and whether or not we try to take up a stance that we call biblical and inclusive we fool ourselves when we do not accept the political nature of our theologies. That is true not least in the theological discussion that has been sometimes above the radar and sometimes below it all week – the challenge to the United States but also the other Western Christians to see what the real lives of Palestinians are like and to understand how their theologies, our theologies, support government policies that do nothing to alleviate the experience of Palestinians and the human rights abuses they face.

Is there anything that will lead us to be greater activists for human rights and civil liberties which belong to the whole human family?

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