Frequently, "it is not the relationship between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority that was, and is, at stake; but justice, political participation, human rights and national dignity,” says Dr Tarek Mitri.
He adds that “community-specific anxiety could not overshadow the common worries of Christians and Muslims" in the Middle East.
Mitri, senior fellow at the American University of Beirut, is a former Lebanese cabinet minister and a former staff member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) responsible for the inter-religious dialogue and cooperation programme.
He was addressing a public hearing on 'Christians and changes in the Arab world' on 31 August 2012, during the WCC Central Committee meeting which is currently underway in Kolympari, Greece.
“For many decades, church leaders have tried to accompany their faithful along an arduous road. They privileged what the theologian Jean Corbon called the risk of existing over the fear of disappearing. They refrained from overplaying minority militancy and identity politics,” said Mitri.
Reflecting on the situation of Christians, he called the political situations in Arab countries a complex one. There, he said, churches have and should play a role in bringing Christians and Muslims together for the common good and in the common struggle for peace.
“The church institutions were defined not only in terms of their functions of preservation but by the gospel-rooted imperative of witness and service to the neighbour. Churches never perceived Christians and Muslims as two monolithic blocks facing each other, nor did they oppose rights of the minority to the aspirations of the majority,” Mitri pointed out.
Rather than focusing on the majority-minority dynamics, he stressed the significance of a reinvented “pact of citizenship” which “binds Christians and Muslims together” through political participation.
He went on to say that “the pact of citizenship that was a determining factor in various independence movements is to be re-claimed and enacted in the present longing of Arab peoples for freedom, dignity and democracy.”
Mitri also put responsibility in regard to a safe future for Christians on their Muslim co-citizens, along with the national governments and state institutions.
“The future of Christians in the Arab world does not only depend on the contributions they are capable of, but also on the attention that their fellow Muslim co-citizens may give to them,” he said.
Mitri also asked Christians and Muslims to be “motivated by the sense of common good and recognition of the wealth of religious and cultural plurality that could spare the Arab world the sad face of uniformity.”
An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.