Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, is anything but the peaceful town that we sing about during the Christmas season. Today, the Palestinian Authority (PA), underwritten by American taxpayers to the tune of some $500 million in economic support, has governmental and security jurisdiction in several West Bank cities, including Bethlehem.
Pastor Naim Khoury at the First Baptist Church in Bethlehem, is a Christian Palestinian who recognizes and supports the right of Israel to exist and control the land God gave them. His Church of around 300 worshippers has seen tremendous growth as he boldly preaches the gospel in an area dominated by Muslims. Unfortunately, he has seen his Church bombed 14 times and Pastor Khoury has been shot at four times during the course of his 32 year ministry.
Muslims, who have not been able to run Pastor Khoury‘s parishioners out of Bethlehem, are now trying to “erase” the Church by refusing to recognize it. In a Muslim dominated area, where you have to declare your religion, the PA has refused to issue birth certificates for babies born and marriage licenses for worshippers who wish to wed. It is also next to impossible to obtain employment if you are a Christian, which explains why the Church has almost 70% unemployment.
I very much admire the dedication and belief of the Muslim converts to Christianity. They hold fast to their belief, willing to die, if necessary for their faith. If American Christians, who take their freedom of worship for granted, were held to the same type of persecution, there would be few, if any, who claimed belief in God. In Muslim countries conversion from Islam is prohibited and the severity of punishment, administered by family and friends can include death.
In September 1995 an Interim Agreement between Israel and the Palestinians was signed giving the Palestinians responsibility over sites of religious significance in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Both sides to the agreement promised to respect and protect the religious rights of Jews, Christians, Muslims and Samaritans, as well as provide protection for and free access to Holy Sites and freedom of worship and practice. Yet, in a not so surprising move, the Muslims have not kept their word.
Violence against Christians and Christian Churches, which is a daily event, is not limited to the West Bank. Numerous incidents of persecution of Muslims who have converted to Christianity exist throughout the Middle Eastern countries. And, as long as our government continues to prop up the PA with financial support and hand over taxpayer monies for foreign aid to other Muslim countries, Americans will share the guilt in the discrimination and in the hostile environment Muslims have created toward Christians.
Christians are one of the most persecuted groups in the world according to a recent study by the human rights watchdog, Open Doors “2011 Martyrs, a Book on Christians’ Persecution.” While Muslim countries resort to crimes like arrests, torture and even murder to control the Christian population, European countries and the United States resort to laws and social pressure to suppress Christian ideas.
There are evil forces in this world that want to wipe our 2,000+ years of Christian history. If they have their way, Christianity will only be a sidebar in the history books of tomorrow.
If we do not stand up for Christians around the world, who will? Christians are not second class citizens and it is time we quit acting like we are!