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Syria clamps down on evangelical Christians
Two of the most secular states in the Middle East, Syria and Jordan, have long been places of choice for the migration of Christians from Iraq and other middle eastern countries where there is harsh persecution—rather than to the west.
In the case of Syria, this country has long been one of the freest Middle Eastern countries where religion is concerned, according to The Economist.
But lately Syria has been cracking down on Christians, who compose one-tenth of their population. Christian buildings have been closed down which do not receive official sanction as churches, The Economist said.
Foreigners who work in Protestant churches in Syria are not getting their visas renewed. The reason—a decree has banned them because they work with the Protestant Injeeli, The Economist reported.
The crackdown has led to the cancelling of a number of summer church camps. Ironically, however, only the Protestant churches are being targeted. Why? According to Syrian officials, it is because of their tendency to evangelize, often with the help of foreigners, The Economist said.
Since the invasion of Iraq, thousands of refugees have come to Syria, and this has led to the influx as well of local and foreign evangelicals, largely from the U.S. and South Korea, who help the refugees in their financial needs and lend theological support to Christians in Syria insofar as is permitted, The Economist reported.
However, evangelistic efforts also have led to incursions on independent local churches which are licensed by the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. Orthodox and Catholic leaders, according to The Economist, are unhappy with the success of the new churches and have issued complaints.
While evangelizing to Muslims is illegal, there has always been an unspoken understanding, according to The Economist, that Christians keep off of one another’s members. Protestants do not follow the unspoken rule. An Orthodox pastor said to The Economist, “We have enough churches—but the Protestants are stealing our sheep.”
One reason the Syrian government has managed to successfully limit religious discrimination for so long is because of its commitment to secular and religious harmony, The Economist reported.
But there is a political advantage, too. The regime is ruled by a minority Alawite Muslim sect. Secularism helps to keep the Muslim Brotherhood in check. The government clamps down quickly on zealous acts, according to The Economist.
In the last two years the niqab, a female garment which covers the entire body, has been banned at Islamic schools. But part of keeping things in order is making sure that people stay in the faith they were born in, The Economist said.
An Orthodox leader told The Economist, “There is freedom to practice your religion but not yet to choose it. You are what you are born into.”