By Wissam al-Saliby
More than a year ago, I gave a training in human rights law to members of a veteran Lebanese Christian political party. At the end of the training, during an informal discussion over coffee, I mentioned my work for the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary. The immediate response from one of the party members was, “You evangelicals only have one seat in parliament.” In his mind, the power sharing formula in Lebanon was the first thing he connected with “Lebanese evangelicals.” My immediate response was, jokingly, “Well yes, we do have one intercessor with the Father, Jesus Christ.”
In Lebanon, parliament seats, ministerial positions and key state positions are allocated equally between Christians and Muslims, and proportionally within the various Christian and Muslim sects. The president of Lebanon is always Maronite Christian, the prime minister Sunni Muslim and the speaker of Parliament Shi’a Muslim.*
Since April 2014, Lebanese parliamentarians have failed to elect a president. In repeated public addresses and Sunday sermons, Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Boutros Al-Raiiy decried the inability of political parties to agree on a compromise to elect a president, saying “Just like Christ is the head of the Church, so is the president of the Republic the head of this nation.”
On September 30, 2016, Lebanese Sunni political leader Saad Hariri met with Lebanese Maronite Christian leader Samir Geagea, with the aim of discussing the election of… the Maronite president! In the October 1 coverage of this meeting, several newspapers and TV news stations used the headline: “The ‘Holy Spirit’ Is Present at the Meeting between Hariri and Geagea.” The media were quoting a source within Geagea’s party who, to emphasize how positive the meeting was, mentioned the “presence of the Holy Spirit.”
This is a sample of a larger “Christian political” discourse well rooted in Lebanese history, society and politics. However, I believe that it’s anything but Christian. This Lebanese Christian political discourse includes ideals, principles, goals, and a vision that I believe are at odds with Scripture and with the values and ethos of the Bible. Compassion, justice, hospitality, forgiveness and meekness are all but absent.
Furthermore, Christians already struggle to faithfully communicate biblical doctrines, such as the Trinity, to Muslims, and the existence of God to Arab atheists. What are Muslims and atheists to understand about God when Jesus Christ is likened to the president of the republic and the Holy Spirit is said to have attended a meeting between party leaders discussing the latter?! The religious misunderstandings and stereotypes are made more acute by political rhetoric and un-Christlike ethics in the political realm.
While I was writing this blog, I read this Acts211.org blog post about faith and America. If we replace “America” with “Lebanon”, it would describe the situation in Lebanon with clarity.
It’s the other prosperity gospel. …It’s the one that worships America, the one that worships freedom, the one that worships “rights.” It’s a gospel premised on the idea that Christians should have an easy existence, and it’s as false a gospel as has ever existed.
You might call it the Patriotic Gospel, the American Civic Gospel or maybe even the “Duck Dynasty” Gospel. Whatever the name, its way more American than Christian, and it’s ultimately just another prosperity gospel that promises security through something other than Christ.
Indeed, I feel that Lebanese Christian political actors seek prosperity in government positions, in the “power sharing formula” and in the “land of Lebanon” rather than Christ.
A Way Forward
Christian clergy and lay people need to differentiate in their discourse between the role of the State (even if it has a power-sharing formula) and the mission of the Church.
More fundamentally, Lebanese Christian leaders need to turn to God and trust in Him. Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field (Isaiah 29:17) – not because of the labor of our hands, or because we have a president, but because God is faithful in His promises.
Third, Christian politicians need to look at the people with God’s heart. They need to demonstrate compassion towards Lebanese Christians, Lebanese Muslims, refugees, and others, forgive the wrongdoings of the past, demonstrate hospitality, and act for the peace of the city. As per Isaiah 58,
6 “Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
It is obedience to these Biblical verses that demonstrates the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives and “meetings” of our politicians and clergy.
* Lebanese Parliament is composed of 128 seats, allocated equally to Muslims and Christians and proportionally within 12 Christian sects and 5 Muslim sects. Parties running for election need to form lists that respect each seat’s pre-allocated sect. Evangelicals can only run for one seat designated for them. The Lebanese constitutional power sharing formula aims to guarantee inclusion and protection for all communities.