Baptists in Lebanon watched with apprehension as tensions built leading up to a Valentine’s Day rally marking the second anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.
Tuesday bomb blasts hit a pair of commuter buses in the Christian area northeast of Beirut, killing three and wounding 20, according to media reports.
Pro-government groups blamed Syria for the attacks and said they were intended to scare people away from Wednesday’s pro-government rally at Hariri’s grave, planned just feet away from protests led by Syrian-backed Hezbollah against Lebanon’s current prime minister.
Hariri, a Sunni Muslim credited with much of the reconstruction of Beirut from Lebanon’s 1975-1990 Civil War, welcomed a European Baptist Federation delegation into his home in 2004. Baptist leader Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Educational & Social Development, denounced the Feb. 14, 2005, car bombing in Beirut that killed Hariri, along with 21 others.
“This is a critical time for Lebanon!” Costa said in a Tuesday morning e-mail prayer alert. He said Baptists have been watching “with much apprehension” events leading up to today’s rally, near where opposition supporters have been holding a sit-in.
“Please pray for wisdom for the leaders of the different political groups that they may restrain their followers and avoid a repetition of the clashes that took place last January,” Costa said.
Elie Haddad, provost of Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, told EthicsDaily.com in an e-mail these days “are critical for the future of Lebanon.”
“The recent unrest has made our ministry fairly challenging,” Haddad said. “Nevertheless, God’s grace abounds. Our task of training leaders for the church in the Middle East and North Africa continues relentlessly. Please keep us in your prayers.”
Many of Lebanon’s citizens overcame religious differences and rallied together following Hariri’s death, but that unity over time degenerated into sectarian strife. Protestors camping out in front of key government buildings since Dec. 1 are campaigning for new parliamentary elections and a national unity government transferring power to the Shiite Hezbollah party and a Maronite Christian faction.
Current Prime Minister Fouad Sinioria, who has support of an anti-Syrian Parliament majority elected in 2005, has vowed not to cave in to pressure from the opposition, despite recent resignations of several Shiite and one Christian minister.
An evangelical Christian leader in Lebanon said in a recent Christianity Today article he doesn’t stand wholeheartedly with either side.
Lebanese Baptists sheltered Shiite families displaced by last summer’s 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel. More recently they turned to development projects and post-war camps for children in an effort to break down barriers between Muslims and Christians. Because of those efforts, EthicsDaily.com in December declared Lebanon’s Baptist community “Baptists of the Year” in 2006.
Costa said in a November newsletter he believes Arab Christians “have an important role to play” in bridging the gap between East and West.
“We pray to a God who does miracles,” Costa said this week. “And as the tension continues to build up in our country, we are in desperate need for a miracle.”
“Our God is able!” Costa said. “He has delivered us before and He certainly will this time too.”
“The United Nations strongly rejects attempts to secure political objectives through violence and the killing of innocent civilians,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement issued through a spokesperson. “The Secretary-General stresses that there must be an end to impunity and appeals to all Lebanese to maintain national unity in the face of such attempts to undermine the country’s stability.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.