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Economics, security forcing Christians out of Mideast, Christian leaders say

In Washington, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) is arguing that the “Arab Spring” has made non-Muslim religious minorities increasingly vulnerable.

But some religious leaders think there’s more to the story, at least in Palestinian areas.

“The Christian community is vanishing, and it is not because of Islamic terrorism,” the Rev. Dr. Donald E. Wagner, program director of the Friends of Sabeel North America told the Sun-Times Editorial Board last week. “It is because of losing land, of having economic deprivation and just little future for the kids.”

Christians historically made up about 18 percent of the Palestinian population, but are now down to 1.1 percent, Wagner said.

Wagner is among the religious leaders who support a controversial letter that called on Congress to make military aid to Israel “contingent upon its government’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies.”

One of those policies is “a deliberate policy of … taking Christian land,” said Wagner, who agrees with the points in the letter but was not involved in writing it.

“The Christians still own about 17 percent of all of Israel and Palestine, and those lands are quite vulnerable,” he said.

Partly, that’s because Christians tend to be wealthier than their neighbors and have the means to leave.

“There are more Christians from Bethelem in Chile than there are in Bethlehem now,” he said.

The Rev. Dr. Cotton Fite, priest associate at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, said an “uptick” in an anti-Christian attitude on the part of Middle East Muslims is a contributing cause, but the main reason for Christian departure is economic.

“There simply is no future for their children,” he said. “They know there is no future economically.”

UPDATE: Michael Salberg, director of International affairs for the Anti-Defamation League, said Thursday the Christian population is dwindling due to a combination of factors, and that “it would be disservice to the complexity of the issue to rule out one.”

There are people who are accepting and willing to have a mixture of other people living with them, but there also are extremists, he said.

Although economic and security issues are real, “the idea of minimizing or glossing over or discounting or dismissing the atmosphere of hostility that exists for Christians in Muslim countries and Muslim territories, to me, flies in the face of reality,” Salberg said.

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