Sunday, January 30, 2011

Protests in the Arab World: Outlook for future LDS Church Growth

Protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and other Middle Eastern and North African nations over the past month-and-a-half have greatly interested me and their potential impact on the status and growth of the LDS Church in the Middle East. Many of these nations at present permit Latter-day Saint meetings in private but heavily restrict religious freedom by forbidding or strongly discouraging proselytism, banning the dissemination/importation of religious literature, not granting formal recognition to the Church, monitoring the actions of former-Muslim citizens who join the Church, prohibiting public worship services, and refusing or highly regulating humanitarian assistance. Consequently, the LDS Church does not publish information regarding the names and locations of congregations in many of these countries. Members who visit or move to these nations can obtain meeting times and locations by contacting the Middle East/Africa North Desk at Church Headquarters.

Protests calling for revolution and change in government in many Arab nations have potential to facilitate lasting change for the LDS Church if new governments come to power which grant official recognition to the church; permit public meetings; allow greater opportunities for humanitarian and development work; criminalize religious discrimination and persecution; and permit missionary activity to occur on a member-referral basis. The Church has a small community of Arab LDS converts in several nations, such as Egypt, Palestine, and Jordan, which would enjoy greater religious freedom if government policies and laws become more accommodating to religious minorities.

Unfortunately recent political turmoil and prospects for revolution have no realistic prospects for increasing receptivity to the LDS Church or Christianity altogether in Middle Eastern and North African populations for many years. The homogenous Muslim population displays strong ethno-religious ties to Islam resistant to missionary efforts. Change in government policy and administration would likely have little affect on how Muslim communities socially respond to converts to Christianity, which often includes ostracism, persecution, and ridicule. The Afghan government has granted greater religious freedom to non-Muslims than in many other Muslim-majority nations, yet societal abuse of religious freedom remains intense. A relaxation in government restrictions on Christian groups may allow the LDS Church to reach non-Muslims in the region, such as Coptic Christians - a religious group that the Church has yet to perform organized mission outreach among and who number in the millions in Egypt. Sustained religious freedom granted by the government for Latter-day Saints and other religious minorities may impact receptivity over the long term.

Lastly, there is always the threat a more oppressive government regime may come to power and impose greater restrictions on religious freedom. Time will only tell how current world events will unfold, and how the status of the LDS Church in many of these nations may be affected.


Ryan said...

What about prospects in the new country Southern Sudan being created in July?

Michael said...

I appreciate this post a great deal. I work as an Arabic linguist and so I have a great deal of interest with respect to the Middle East, Arab culture, Islam, etc. Obviously, the events of the past month have been amazing to behold.

I will be the first person to jump and clap when missionaries can operate freely in the Middle East. However, I must agree with the tenor of this post that despite the events recently, such a change would have to be a cultural, religious, and societal change and not merely a political one.

If the Muslim Brotherhood come to power in Egypt, I cannot foresee anything but problems for all the Christians in Egypt, to say nothing of possible LDS activities.

As for Southern Sudan, there is good potential there. But it's still a very dangerous place.

Tod Robbins said...

I taught the gospel to many Southern Sudanese refugees in Calgary, Alberta (2003-2005). They had many unique spiritual gifts and a thirst for spiritual knowledge I haven't encountered elsewhere. I have high hopes for the future of an independent nation there in southern Sudan and the future of the Church there.

L.Nelson said...

It's definitely time to remember President Monson's plea to us when he first became President of the Church. He asked that all members pray that nations will open to the teaching of the Gospel. I don't know the near-term outcomes of all this unrest, but those of us who were around in the late 80s never thought that Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union would ever have missionaries, members, and temples either.

I do know that those individuals that I have met from the Middle Eastern countries have been among the most spiritual and receptive people I have met.

Nathan said...

Perhaps you'd be interested in reading this post we just posted yesterday:

The Gospel Will Flourish in Egypt and a Temple Will Be Built There

John Pack Lambert said...

I will go so far as to speculate that the immediate outcome of political turmoil in the middle east may be worse conditions for the Church in the nations involved. While it is hard to see how the position of the Church could be worse than the no teaching Muslims or Egyptian nationals rules in Egypt, at least the Church can legally meet, which might be a privalege denied by the new regime.

The fact that the current regime in Afghanistan will still put people who convert to Christianity on death row leads me to the conclusion that there needs to be much more than a regime change to open these lands to the preaching of the gospel.