Thursday, August 2, 2012

Egypt scolded over religous freedom issues

(Story photo courtesy SAT-7)

USA (MNN) ― This year's International Religious Freedom Report notes that sectarian violence had increased in Egypt, despite efforts by the government to ease tensions.

The report denounced "both the Egyptian government's failure to curb rising violence against Coptic Christians and its involvement in violent attacks."

Despite promises from Egypt's new leader, President Mohamed Morsi, "to be the president of all Egyptians," Christians are unsure.

Still, there are steps in the right direction, notes Rex Rogers, President of SAT-7 USA. "The new president in Egypt has extended an opportunity for two Christian leaders we know at SAT-7, to work with the new constitutional committee whenever that group finally begins its work."

That's a unprecedented move. It spurs hope. "It seems like he's followed through with his pledges of diversity and pledges to recognize Christians and other minorities in the government as it's being formed. That's quite positive, but you need to wait and see what happens."

Egypt's recent history can be hard to understand unless there's perspective. Rogers says, "When you watch something like the Middle East every day, and with things revolving so rapidly, it's like going on a diet and checking your weight every day: it goes up and down, and it fluctuates. You can be encouraged one day and discouraged the next. You need to do it once a week, and really you need a bigger perspective on what's happening in the Middle East and what's happening with politics."

At least one in ten Egyptians is a Christian. With the government leaning toward a greater reliance on Islamic principles, it's no wonder a significant part of the country has post-election jitters. There are those who are wondering about what the Christians believe, too. It's a good place for SAT-7's programming.  They're a Christian satellite television agency to the Middle East and North Africa.

Rogers explains that their teams in Cairo adjusted programming to create a public forum to handle the nervousness. "We've done live panels on issues. In particular, how Christians can turn the other cheek, as the Scripture indicates, but at the same time, stand up for their rights. How do you do that in a Christian way, and how do you balance those seemingly contradictory ideas of how to live out your Christian faith?"

Farid Garas, the Executive Director of the SAT-7 studio in Egypt, has said, "SAT-7 has played the role that it should... presenting hope through faith, encouraging people to trust God, who is in control."

As an organization that does not take political positions, SAT-7 supports viewers by teaching how they can apply Christian principles to everyday life. Says Rogers,"We simply talk about 'Who is Christ?' 'What does He mean in your life?' [We] have testimonials of people whose lives have been changed and again, we get great response. We get people contacting us in a variety of ways, talking about their new-found faith and new commitment to Jesus Christ."

Keeping Christians involved is helping to shape SAT-7 programming. It emphasizes the need for an attitude of reconciliation, as well as a readiness for participating in writing a new constitution. Interestingly, it is that approach that has kept them safe in a time of turmoil. "SAT-7 has not been directly threatened, harassed, or pressured in any way has there been any suggestion that we need to curtail what we are doing, in terms of operating as a Christian ministry."

In essence, Egypt is a country searching for hope. Wishing for change fueled the uprisings, but investing the Truth is what makes the difference. Rogers says, "Life is just difficult. You come along with Christianity in a way that they've never heard before, you come along in terms of how Christianity can make a practical Christian worldview difference in their everyday lives in addition to salvation. It's a blessing of living the Christian life. People perk up and respond to that. It is hope."

Pray that God will bring peace and justice to Egypt through those who govern this country. Pray for the church as it disciples and supports Muslim-background believers in secret. Thank God for the prayers of Christians and the increased unity between denominations.

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