Christianity in Lebanon*
By Embrace the Middle East
*Piece originally published on Embrace the Middle East’s Blog
The final session of the Embrace the Middle East and Churches for Middle East Peace “Conversations with Middle East Christians” webinars featured Rev Colin Chapman speaking to Dr Martin Accad and Revd Dr Rima Nasrallah from Lebanon.
Dr Accad grew up during Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990). He served as Chief Academic Officer at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary until 2020 and is leader and founder of the Action Research Associates.
Revd Dr Rima Nasrallah is the associate professor of Practical Theology at the Near East School of Theology. She is an ordained minister at the National Evangelical Church of Beirut and is active in the work of Embrace’s partner the Middle East Council of Churches.
Rev Chapman: Can you describe something about the general situation in Lebanon at the present time?
Dr Martin: “Well first there is an economic and financial collapse. Disintegration of our financial and economic system didn’t simply occur overnight; it resulted from more than 30 years of bad leadership, of deep corruption. The country’s resources have been completely sucked dry and Lebanon has now become a collapsed state. The banking sector has collapsed or is nearly completely collapsing. The Lebanese pound has completely devaluated. It’s been terrible.
“There’s also a security breakdown so increasingly there are regular incidents of violence, assassinations, rising crime rates.
“The Syrian refugee crisis contributes too, in that it continues to be used both as an excuse for incompetence in leadership but refugees also themselves are ideal scapegoats for all of our national woes.”
Revd Dr Rima: “The past four years have been really, really bad. We’ve seen a decline in living conditions in unprecedented ways. For example, for a while the government was not providing electricity at all. We had to rely on private generators and if you don’t have diesel, you can’t run your generator. Now the government is gracious enough to give us a couple of hours of electricity per day, but we are still heavily relying on private generators which means we cannot cover the entire 24 hours of power necessary. We’ve had moments when we were teaching with candlelight. I gave an exam once where our students had to put on the flashlight on their phone so that they could see the exam questions and write down the answers.
“Since there is no power provided by the government, water is not pumped into the homes. We have to buy water for everyday use and it has become very expensive. But the need for water is very, very big so we buy truckloads of water to supply our needs.”
Rev Chapman: What about families and their living standards?
Rima: “Living standards have changed dramatically and by living standards I mean they can’t even buy every day necessary needs. People’s salaries have depreciated of course. If they are in Lebanese currency, they were worth nothing. People who had a salary the equivalent of, say, $2,000 are living today on a $200 worth of salary; whereas the cost of living is still the same or even more. Products in supermarkets are imported so they cost still the same amount of money.
“Another aspect is that lives are affected in the educational system. I know from our church, for example, that many families had to remove their children from private schools. But the problem is that public schools have stopped functioning this year or functioning very little. So there were a lot of kids sitting at home trying to do official exam programmes alone at home, teaching themselves.
“Many teachers have emigrated because, working for $100 a month, they couldn’t live anymore in Lebanon.
Also the health system. We lost many doctors and many nurses but also people can’t afford medical care anymore. We don’t have enough medications in the country and an average family cannot afford to pay for the insurance; and the insurance is not covering all the expenses. People are also not going to doctors anymore. So that’s the kind of misery that you see in the country sadly.”
“Another thing we are facing as Christians is that our institutions are collapsing – old institutions that have been reliable. I just mentioned that our schools are closing, and many of the institutions that have been serving the community and the society, for example homes for the elderly can’t function anymore because of finances. Because of human resources. There are people who have been working for such a long time under such difficult circumstances that they are burned out completely; totally burned out. We cannot go on anymore… Christians and churches are trying to push but it’s very, very difficult for us to keep pushing every month.”
Rev Chapman: Do you have a President and a functioning government at the moment?
Rima: “Since October last year we have been without a president and we cannot agree on a President. [Parliament] is not meeting or they meet and then they dissolve their meeting very quickly before they come to an agreement. So we don’t see any signs of hope that there will be a President anytime soon. And the judges are off, so also our judiciary system is not working. And our very corrupt governor of the Central Bank also just finished his term; so we do not have a governor of the Bank. So the banking system, the judicial system, Parliament, the government and the President are all missing or dysfunctional.
“Since there is no justice any means that you have are justified, so you can rob your neighbour. If you provide power with a private generator, you can put any price you want. You feel as if the moral compass of the country has broken down. People don’t feel that they need to abide by any right and wrong, because it doesn’t make sense anymore. This is another place where, as a church, I feel this is also our calling, to remind each other that it is it is not OK, and that knowledge of good and bad is a very important dimension of being human, and a Christian.”
Rev Chapman: What can we do to help and support?
Dr Martin: “Prayer and advocacy and moral support are extremely important to at least feel that we are part of an international body that experiences both pain and encouragement with us. But I’m going to do something which I very, very rarely do. I want to encourage you about finding ways for professionals to stay in the country, which I think is a crucial matter. Many, many are struggling financially to put bread on the table for their families – and I’m talking both outside the church of course but also inside the church. Giving to churches and organisations that you trust, who you know will support those who need it most – teachers, nurses, doctors, workers in every sector who need your financial support to survive. We have had a loss of people like I’ve never seen before. And although the support of refugees continues through UN bodies and other organisations, there’s next to nothing for Lebanese.
“I would encourage you to seek ways to support Christians in our churches to survive financially. I know this might sound terribly parochial and it’s not in my habit to advocate for my narrow community, but the situation is really desperate. If all Christians leave to look for economic opportunities who will stay and be salt and light?”
Revd Dr Rima: “Please push for justice in regard to the financial system in particular because this is our whole banking system, the International Monetary Fund, all the discussion that is around that. We would really wish that international powers, not only America international powers, would put some more pressure on the Lebanese authorities to see that at one point we might actually see some justice.”
Conversation has been edited for length and clarity. The webinar was held in collaboration with Churches for Middle East Peace.
*Piece originally published on Embrace the Middle East’s Blog
The above post is a condensed version of the fourth session of our summer series, “Conversations with Middle East Christians”, from August 2023. Watch the full session above.
Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).