The Coptic Christians are the natives of Egypt who have been facing persecution in their homeland since the invasion of Muslims in 641. Many have been asking why the Coptic Church isn’t taking appropriate measures to defend herself and fight back, or why we aren’t allowing other countries (i.e. America) to help. There are three important aspects to understanding the position we take: primarily, the Coptic Orthodox position, secondary, the Muslim’s view of Christianity, followed by the Arab mindset.
COPTIC ORTHODOX POSITION
There are several reasons why we reject using lethal weapons as a means of self-defense. First, we strongly believe in “Those who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matt 26:52). The Coptic Orthodox church rejects pacifism, but holds to a peacemaking view. Second, we strongly value human life, regardless of who the individual is. That includes ISIS members. Thus, it is extremely difficult for a Copt to use a gun/lethal weapon because the ultimate goal of that weapon is death. Third, we are called to love our enemies, we are called to forgive them, to bless them, to tell our persecutors about Christ and share the good news. This both opposes and trumps our need for lethal use of self-defense.
In response to a previous bombing, Father George said, “‘Behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves’ (Luke 10:3). We were lambs; our only weapons are our faith and the church we pray in. I carry no weapon in my hand.”
MUSLIM’S VIEW AND THE ARAB MINDSET
Amr Adeeb, a Muslim Egyptian journalist with a prominent TV show was stunned at the response of Copts when the Palm Sunday bombings occurred. The Copts gracefully forgave the bombers, and several priests and bishops told the persecutors that they are loved and forgiven, on national TV. Adeeb said:
“The Copts are made of steel”
“How great is this amount of forgiveness you have?”
“If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.”
“These people are made from a different substance”
And he’s not the only one, several other prominent Muslims have commented similarly.
“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” Everywhere Christians are persecuted, we grow. We see quite a number of Egyptian Muslims who have left Islam due to the constant Islamic persecution towards the Copts.
So, what would happen if the Copts began to fight back? What would happen if the Coptic Church armed herself? What would happen if the Copts retaliated and bombed a Mosque? What would be the difference between us and them? How would we be perceived by skeptical Muslims (and others)? There would virtually be no difference. An individual arming himself for his own safety at his home is different – we’re talking about the Church community here; for the Church, priests, or the community as a whole to carry guns/lethal weapons within the Church, or outside, is inconceivable.
The majority of Arab Muslims believe that any westerner or white person, particularly from America, is a Christian. So whether America invades, or helps the Copts (e.g. when SOLI wrote they would provide training to Copts), it’s seen as an attack on Muslims by Christians. An inevitable fight/war will begin. And Copts will, again, be considered as no different than the Muslims who attack them.
What kind of faith makes people go back to church immediately after that church was bombed? What kind of faith makes people chant the Nicene Creed right after their church was bombed? What kind of faith makes a community continue liturgy outside because their church wasn’t yet safe enough to be in? What kind of faith makes one go on national TV and tell persecutors that they are loved and forgiven after they just attacked and killed 28 Christians? The unshakable faith of Christ.
We mourn. We are in pain. We are angry. We have lost many brothers and sisters in Christ, and their blood continues to flow. But many of us neglect to remember something – the Coptic Christians remain undefeated. They continue to grow. They continue to inspire and strengthen the faith of Christians around the world.