This is my column in yesterday’s Greenville News, putting the oppression of Christians in Egypt into historical perspective.|newswell|text|Opinion|p

This week we have celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, a powerful point in the history of the civil rights movement, during which Rev. Marti Luther King,Jr. gave his ‘I have a dream’ speech.  Americans as a whole are rightly and increasingly concerned about fair treatment for minorities and disenfranchised groups.

In the spirit of that movement, and in the tradition of American freedom of religion, I hope that we will turn our hearts toward the Coptic Church in Egypt, which is currently undergoing a time of persecution truly reminiscent of the oppression of the church in ancient Rome.

To put it into perspective, we might ask ‘when did Christianity first arrived in Africa?’  Some detractors might think it began when oppressive, narrow-minded missionaries deprived innocent Africans of their traditional beliefs.  However, that would be extremely incorrect.  In fact, the Church has been in Africa since the first century AD.  Some of the great early church fathers, also called the Patristic Fathers, lived, preached, taught and were even martyred in North Africa.  In Luke’s gospel we see St. Phillip preaching to an Ethiopian official.  St. Mark, the disciple of Jesus, was once Bishop of Alexandria.  Origen and Tertullian were prominent men of the early church from Carthage (now Tunisia), and the famous St. Augustine himself was bishop of Hippo Regius in modern Algeria.

That is, to put things in some historical perspective, the Christian Church was widespread in North Africa some 300 years before St. Patrick preached in Ireland, 400 years before the birth of Muhammed and about 1000 years before the first crusade.

I speak here to my fellow evangelicals, so others can have a snack break, but we tend to think there was Jesus, Peter, Paul, then Luther and good Protestants. In this view of things, not a lot happened for about 1400 years. However, much of what we believe, much of our doctrine, was shaped, discussed, defended, disseminated and paid for in blood, both in North Africa and by North African Christians a very long time ago.

Obviously, Egypt in particular figures prominently in the stories of our faith; from the tales of Abraham, Jospeph and Moses to the flight of Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus, all the way forward to the citizens of Alexandria who were at Pentecost and the preaching of St. Mark and the Fathers of the church who followed.

Given this, we Christians should probably do more than say our token prayers for fellow believers in Egypt.  We Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics and all the rest love to tell our kids about the faith of the martyrs under Rome. About Peter and Paul, victims of the mad Nero.  About the oppressions of hundreds of years under Nero, Marcus Aurelius, Diocletian and other powerful Romans who found Christianity both inconvenient, odd and threatening.  But even as we tell those stories, is is likely that more Christians have been martyred in the last 50 years than in all the sporadic (though dramatic) episodes in ancient Rome.  Currently, Christians are being killed, captured, abused and their churches burned in Egypt by a force at least as dangerous as the worst elements of ancient Rome.  (And surely less rational, better connected and better armed).

I’m not an organizer; it’s not my gift.  But I challenge my Christian brothers and sisters to do this: read your history, learn about those churches that seem so alien, and get us all together.  Write to  you representatives, start petitions. In a time when we discuss amnesty for undocumented aliens, let’s consider opening the immigration doors wider to oppressed Christians! It’s time we showed the world once more what the ancient world said so succinctly of early believers.  ‘See how they love one another.’

If Muslims were being systematically killed and their mosques burned by Christians, the world would be outraged.  If homosexuals were being tortured en-masse in some distant land (especially by Christians), we would see lobbying and marches.  And both quite reasonably, might I add.

As such, our silence on a new era of persecution is deafening.  And if you need a reason to get on board, remember that if it can happen in a land where Christianity is two millennia old, it can happen anywhere.


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