Lebanese Baptists are EthicsDaily.com’s pick as the Baptists of the Year.
They weathered a withering war. They showed physical courage and spiritual grace under unspeakable pressure. They used the best of technology to share their story. They shared their limited resources to house and care for a flood of Shiite refugees.
Lebanese Baptists spoke with a brave and compelling theological clarity about the Middle East that was long overdue, challenging the misreading of the Bible that mingles bad theology with bad politics.
None spoke with the theological sharpness than Martin Accad, dean of the Beirut’s Arab Baptist Theological Seminary.
Accad went straight to the heart of the matter about American Christian bias for Israel, charging that “unquestioning identification of the modern state of Israel with biblical Israel” leads some Christians to misread the Bible.
“Christians are not able to differentiate between ‘biblical Israel’ and today’s political State of Israel,” he said. “As soon as you are able to make the difference between these two entities, your readings of history and of the Bible begin to be straightened up.”
Accad said the “new Israel” prophesied in the New Testament does not refer to modern Israel but rather to the worldwide community of Christ’s followers.
The Oxford University Ph.D. graduate said that America had “blurred the lines between its own political and economic interests, on the one hand, and divine justice on the other.”
Accad said he reacts with “stupefied disbelief” when American Christians and political leaders speak of U.S. foreign policy as just, fair and “doing God’s will on Earth.”
“Every time a Baptist in the U.S. says something offensive about Muhammad or Islam, these words are reported all over the Arab media,” he wrote. “They are a cause for deep embarrassment and danger for us. Evangelicals in the Middle East, and especially Baptists, are then accused of being Zionists and enemies of Islam.”
Accad said evangelicals in Lebanon sometimes “get tired of mopping up behind U.S. church statements that are made out of ignorance and self-centeredness.” He called on Baptist churches in America to “educate themselves about Islam and Middle East realities.”
Accad also opposed deceptive missionary efforts in Muslim countries.
“I do not encourage missionaries to take up a ‘fake identity’ as an excuse to preach the gospel in Muslim lands,” he said. “But if they want to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ, they ought to follow his example of the Incarnation.”
Accad’s clarity of word matched the clarity of action that other Lebanese Baptists demonstrated as 700,000 Lebanese were displaced.
The Beirut Baptist School sheltered almost 800 Shiite refugees, housing 40 war victims per classroom with 10 classrooms sharing a single bathroom. The refugees shared 300 mattresses.
When the school lost its water supply, water was hauled from the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary to the downtown school until shelling made the trip too dangerous.
In addition to Accad, the roll call of leaders in the war between Israel and Hezbollah includes:
–Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development;
–Naji Daoub, Beirut director of SAT-7;
–Mike Bassous, general secretary for the Bible Society of Lebanon; and
–Elie Haddad, provost of Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, and his wife, Mireille.
These Baptists join a select group of global Baptists, who have been recognized for their leadership.
Paul Montacute was EthicsDaily.com’s Baptist of the Year in 2005 for being a global Good Samaritan, who directed Baptist aid initiatives in response to two major natural disasters: the tsunami and the earthquake in Pakistan.
In 2004, EthicsDaily.com selected three British Baptists for recognition: Doug Balfour, David Coffey and Tony Peck.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Editor’s Note: Martin Accad contributed a lesson to the free, online resource Eyeing Easter, Walking through Lent: A Bible Study with Global Baptists.