*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 8th of August 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Time to head to the mailbag. I got an email from Rich in Abilene, Texas. Of course, Abilene is not only a song by Damien Jurado and Waylon Jennings but also the home of John Lackey- the pitcher who, as a rookie for the Angels, won the 7th game of the World Series in 2002. Also, Kelsi Klembara- the wonderful editor at 1517, went to Abilene Christian University.
“You mentioned that while Christianity began in the Middle East, it is now a minority religion there. I think that is interesting, and I wonder if we can connect Jesus saying, “a prophet is without honor in his homeland”…. can you explain how this happened?
Ok, I think that is an interesting connection between Jesus’ homeland becoming one of the least Christian lands, so let’s break this down. When we talk about the Middle East, we are talking about those countries to the east and southeast of the Mediterranean and down into the Arabian Peninsula. You could go as the Far East as Iran, as far north as Turkey, and you might add North Africa (Libya, Egypt, Sudan).
If you go to Acts 1, the last thing Jesus says pre Ascension is “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And while this certainly happened, Judea and Samaria and those adjacent places eventually became the least Christian places on earth based on the percentage of the population identifying as Christian. At the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War 1, the region was around 20% Christian, and today the estimates hover around 5% of the population.
A few weeks ago, Dr. Adam Francisco was guest hosting and talked about the rise of the Islamic Empire, and this is probably the shortest, easiest answer to why. But the Islamic Empire didn’t roll in and over the Christian population immediately. We know that there was peaceful coexistence of Christian minorities in the Islamic Empire and that it wasn’t until the late Middle Ages that Islam became the dominant power it is in the Middle East today.
So, what happened?
Prior to World War 1, the geopolitical scene was dominated by Empires in the way that our geopolitical scene is today marked by nation-states. Empires are bigger, move slowly, and are aligned with religion. There wasn’t a separation of Empire and Church or Mosque. So, as empires went, so did religion.
With the concentration of Western imperial power in Rome after the fall of Constantinople, it seems that the dream of an Eastern and Western Roman Empire was over. Furthermore, new world exploration looked westward. There is no reason why the Christian empires looked to the West, but they did. There were and are certainly vibrant Christian communities in the East, but they would be fractured and isolated.
2 quick notes- first, demographic shifts happen and are not inevitable. Just as Christianity would pool in Western Europe and the New World in the Early Modern era so too is Christianity shifting towards Latin America and Africa.
Lastly, and not to be too pedantic- but empires, like states and countries, can’t actually be Christian. To be Christian is to confess Jesus as the Christ and to be baptized into Him. This happens on an individual basis- if it happens through mass conversion by force or threat of force, you are dealing with something very different- but that is for another time.
The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Hebrews 11:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 8th of August 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Empires include the Comanche, Byzantine, and Galactic… he is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who reminds you that George Lucas took the name Galactic Empire from Isaac Asimov’s Galactic Empire series in the 50s, Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.