The press sheds light on the ongoing debates between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Evangelical Church in Egypt. The following reports on the different press reports and comments about the issue.
“Who is the winner and who is the loser in the conflict between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Evangelical Church?” a question raised by Sharīf al-Dawākhilī and Hānī Samīr of al-Dustūr ofOctober 21, 2009. Al-Dawākhilī and Samīr did not stop at posing the question; they also answered it: “both, and before them, Egypt.”
The authors spoke about the growth of the Evangelical Church at the detriment of the Coptic Orthodox Church, especially in Upper Egyptian governorates, where, according to the authors, the Protestant Church has converted about 1000 Coptic Orthodox to Protestantism, as a well informed Coptic source had declared. The sources are supposed to be assigned by the church to develop a strategy to face the alleged Evangelical plan.
The sources further reported that there was “actually an American plan to support the Evangelical Church to invade our Coptic Church, and the Evangelical Church cannot deny this. However, some months ago, they started to execute the plan. The Evangelical Church started their activities in Upper Egypt making their way gradually down to Alexandria, the last stage in the Evangelical mission. The American Evangelical Church stands behind the plan with a fund of $100 billion.”
Samīr and al-Dawākhilī mentioned that the first Evangelical church in Egypt was established in 1860 in Cairo. Samīr and al-Dawākhilī referred to further details about the issue. [For more information about the subject see AWR 2009, week 40, articles 24-26, AWR 2009 week 41, article 20]
In the same context, al-Misrī al-Yawm of October 17, 2009 reported that Bishop Michael of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United States had asserted that there was a Protestant plan to get into the Coptic Orthodox Church; however, he said that he had no evidence to back up that assumption. He added that the Evangelical Church does not target the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United States but it is easier to use the social and financial atmosphere of the youth in Egypt.
Bishop Michael stated that the Protestant Church entered Egypt through the missionaries that accompanied the French and British occupation forces. Bishop Michael also denied knowing about the $100 billion fund to attract the Orthodox to the Evangelical Church.
On the Protestant part, Pastor Isber ‘Ajāj from the Protestant Baptist Church in Washington denied any American plans that target Orthodox Copts in Egypt, hinting that there are no differences between the two churches concerning the fundamental tenets of Christianity; the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Conversely, he asserted that the existing plan is to attract Copts to Islam and that the plan is supported by oil countries’ money.
He also denied what was reported about some Orthodox Copts’ conversion to Protestantism to get a divorce because the Coptic Orthodox Church will not give them one. He elaborated that there was an agreement between the different Christian denominational leaders about preventing conversion to any denomination for divorce or any other personal status related privilege.
Pastor ‘Ajāj added that the Protestant Church in the United States sends missionaries and supports the poor by offering them food and clothing, but not money.
Commenting on the subject, Michael Munīr, head of US Copts Association [www.copts.com] stated that the claims about the Protestant plan were exaggerated; adding that missionary work is recommended in the Bible. He added that the Protestant Church in the United States has missionary activities in poor African countries to help the poor and the sick. However, Munīr confirmed the existence of considerable Islamic missionary work in Egypt and the United States.
Munīr bemoaned the divisions and conflicts within the Coptic Orthodox Church and the media’s role in increasing the tensions and becoming a fertile soil for attacks against the church. He called for establishing a press office for Pope Shenouda III that is responsible for publishing news and responding to what the media publishes about the church, which will limit the rumors and fabricated news.
On his part, Coptic activist, Majdī Khalīl stated that the conflict that is taking place is made by the security apparatus who want to detract Copts’ attention away from the persecution they are subject to in Egypt by creating other arguments. He called on all Christian churches to unite against what he called discrimination and persecution.
Ākhir Sā‘ah of October 21, 2009 wrote about the conflicts that have recently taken place between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Catholic and Protestant churches. He referred to Bishop Bīshūy’s attack against Bishop Yūhannā Qultah, the patriarchal deputy in the Coptic Catholic Church, when the latter wrote an article during Ramadān hailing the Prophet Muhammad. Bishop Bīshūy then accused Bishop Qultah of being a nonbeliever.
Ākhir Sā‘ah published news that Bishop Bīshūy creates many conflicts with different Christian Churches, and that he attacked other denominations.
Ākhir Sā‘ah referred to the doctrinal differences between the three churches; Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox. The magazine also referred to the ritual differences.
Father Salīb Mattá Sāwīris of the Coptic Orthodox Church accused the Evangelical Church of supporting Max Michel against the Coptic Orthodox Church. [Max Michel is an Coptic Orthodox dissident who declared himself patriarch of a Saint Athanasius church, claiming that he was ordained by a Greek Synod. His claims proved erroneous, and his church was not recognized in Egypt by the Coptic Orthodox Church or by the government]
Father Sāwīris also criticized the “new guard” of the Evangelical Church for rejecting the unified project law for personal status that was suggested to the parliament by the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Rev. Safwat al-Bayyādī criticized the aggressive language of the Coptic Orthodox Church and denied having supported Max Michel. He also stated that the suggested personal status law was taken mainly from the Evangelical law in this response that has not changed for 150 years.
Rev. Bayyādī stated that a meeting with Pope Shenouda resulted in an agreement to form a joint committee for dialogue between the two churches that will be responsible for resolving any problems between the two churches.
Kamāl Zākhir, coordinator of the laymen conference held by the group of Coptic Orthodox laymen who call for reform in the church considered Bishop Bīshūy’s declarations against the other churches to be irresponsible.
Dr. Rafīq Habīb believes that such confrontations complicate the relations between the different churches. He argued that there is no evidence of the Evangelical Church’s plan to attract Orthodox Copts and make them convert. However, he added that all the plans to attract Orthodox Copts to the Evangelical Church are usually made by foreign organizations and not the Evangelical Church in Egypt.
Dr. Habīb added that some of those organizations work from within some of the Evangelical churches. He further argued that there was a number of Coptic Orthodox clergymen, like the late Father Mattá al-Miskīn who are accused of adopting Protestant thoughts. However, they do not really adopt Protestant thoughts but have a new vision that the Coptic Orthodox Church would not allow.
On the catholic part, Father Rafīq Graish, spokesman of the Catholic Church in Egypt who hoped that the problem will be a temporary one and will be resolved soon. He also stressed the significance of dialogue in the framework of the Middle East Council of Churches to solve the problem.
Mīrā Mamdūh of Rose al-Yūsuf of October 18, 2009 interviewed a number of Coptic Orthodox youth who expressed their points of view about the subject. Mīnā Fāyiq, 22 years old stated that the Coptic Orthodox Church gives priority to rites and the doctrine at the expense of the actual needs of the youth. This, he added, is clear in Sunday schools that give the impression that the church and the church servants do not empathize with the youth. Therefore the youth looks for psychological satisfaction in the Catholic or the Protestant churches.
Marian Mamdūh, 26 years old, believes that the Coptic Orthodox Church lacks dialogue and liberalism that are, in her opinion, present in other churches. The youth feel suppressed and go to other churches to express themselves and practice their hobbies openly.
23-year old Christine Nash’at stated that the conflicts within the Coptic Orthodox Church occupy the clergymen so that they do not have time to follow up with the people. She also stated that Coptic Orthodox clergymen only visit wealthy people to get donations, while in the other denominations one feels the presence of the clergymen inside the church.
Conversely, Mark ‘Adlī believes that the Coptic Orthodox Church lacks nothing. He believes that the problem is in some youth who want to break free without paying attention to spirituality. Therefore they go to other churches that devote more attention to entertainment than doctrine and rites.
Mīnā ‘Ādil goes to the three churches and believes that his participation in some Evangelical Church services or meetings does not mean that he wants to convert. He believes that the three churches in Egypt should cooperate to obtain the aimed fruits for the youth.
Finally, Monica Maurice, 26 years old, claimed that the Coptic Orthodox Church lacks tolerance.