The Middle East has been a "hotspot" for many, many years and continues to be so. Living in the region are approximately 150 million Muslims, the dominant religion. Sprinkled among them are 10-12 million Christians.
With the current situation in Iraq, the status of Christians in the MidEast is more precarious than ever. A new book by a U. S. Protestant clergy couple, "Who Are the Christians in the Middle East?" (Eerdmans Publ.) presents interesting statistics and descriptions of Christian life in the area. Betty Jane and J. Martin Bailey spent four years in the region helping the Middle East Council of Churches.
Four families of Christian denominations are present in the MidEast: (1) Eastern Orthodox; (2) Armenians and other Oriental Orthodox; (3) Catholics; and (4) scattered Protestants (called "evangelicals" there).
Christians (mostly Catholic) are 5 percent of the population. Many face what is described as "difficult circumstances;" as a result, large numbers emigrate. Islam is the recognized state religion, but the secular (civil) regime tightly controls Christians, Moslems, and everyone else. The Christians are mostly well educated, but a majority " ... are virtually excluded from public life ..."
Christians make up 1 percent of the people there. The largest groups are Armenians and Catholics. They " ... practice their religion without hindrance ...," but reportedly local courts often favor Moslems. One Protestant pastor was executed in 1990 for converting from Islam.
From its founding in 1946, the country has guaranteed freedom of worship. Christians, 4.2 percent of the population, are largely middle-and upper-class Palestinians. Many are conspicuous in politics, public administration, and the professions. Half are Eastern Orthodox; one-third are Catholic.
Muslim rulers allow only very private or secret Christian meetings.
The government allows several small denominations operate openly.
In the entire region: (1) evangelism is forbidden; (2) the government controls other church activities; and (3) the Christian population of 5 percent to 10 percent is made up mainly of transient (temporary) foreign workers.
A very old Christian community makes up about 10 percent of the people. One-half are Eastern Orthodox. There are also groups of Armenians, other Oriental Orthodox, and Catholics. The secular regime closely supervises all organizations. Muslims and Christians are "equal before the law." Churches practice their faith in the open and get public aid.
Only 0.2 percent of their population is Christian; most live in Istanbul. Christians are said to " ... experience many constraints, both formal and informal."