Amid killings and kidnappings, can Christianity survive in the Middle East?
By Greg Botelho, CNN
Updated 2:51 PM ET, Fri February 27, 2015
(CNN)Christianity was born in Bethlehem, in what’s now the West Bank. It took root among people like the Assyrians, who flourished in ancient Mesopotamia. It soon found a home in places like modern-day Turkey.
In other words, Christianity traces its past squarely to the Middle East.
But do Christians have a future there?
Recent headlines provide ample evidence for skepticism. It’s hard to ignore the depravity of ISIS beheading 21 Egyptian Christians on a beach in Libya. Nor can one shake off stories of women and children among the 262 Christians captured by ISIS in Syria, one of several horrors faced by Christians in that nation and neighboring Iraq.
They’re not just feeling the heat from Islamic extremists: Just this week, police in Jerusalem said they suspected radical right-wing Israelis were to blame fordefacing a Greek Orthodox seminary in Jerusalem with slurs maligning Jesus.
All this strain, all this chaos has shrunk the percentage of the Middle East’s once-sizable population of openly practicing Christians.
While no one is saying what’s happening — especially given the savagery of ISIS — isn’t alarming, that doesn’t make it surprising. The Middle East has changed a lot since the first millennium A.D. for Christians. It has also changed a lot over the past century: The percentage of Christians relative to the Mideast’s overall population has gone from 13.6% in 1910 to 4.2% in 2010, and it’s expected to drop even further, according to religious demographers Todd Johnson and Gina Zurlo.
“What we’re seeing right now,” said Baylor University historical theologian Philip Jenkins, “is the latest phase of something that has been going for 100 years, pretty much.”