New association seeks more rights in Israel.
A group of mainly Arab evangelicals in Israel held their first convention and established the Evangelical Church Council in Israel on April 16. The convention, bringing together some 500 participants from 51 churches and evangelical organizations, including Campus Crusade and the Bible Society, took place near Shefa-Amr in Galilee.
"It was the first time Arab evangelicals in Israel came together in a convention," Botrus Mansour, general director of the Nazareth Baptist School, told CT. "The main objective of the convention was to bring all evangelicals under one umbrella and to get recognition of the group by the government."
Evangelicals in Israel want their own recognized courts, he added, for personal status issues such as marriage and divorce. Right now, recognized churches such as the Orthodox, Catholic, and Episcopalian-Anglican have special courts that handle such matters, while other Protestant churches must obtain a special permit for marriages they carry out. And their congregants must change their church affiliation to one recognized by the court if they wish to divorce.
Mansour said the process could take several months to a year. Conference participants also agreed to ask collectively for more rights from the Israeli authorities, including tax exemption. They pledged to cooperate more closely in ministry and agreed that they need to appoint a spokesman to represent evangelical interests.
Mansour called the convention "a good fresh start with positive intentions." Others agreed.
"We have a lot to do," newly elected council member Monther Naum told CT. "Until recently, evangelicals tended to work independently, but we need to coordinate our efforts and establish our identity and status here. We hope to put the evangelical church on the map and have others know that something like this exists in Israel."
Another group, the United Council of Churches in Israel, consists mainly of expatriate evangelical churches, the largest of which is Baptist. Messianic fellowships also belong to the council.
According to Operation World, there are approximately 11,000 evangelicals among Israel's 6.2 million people. Their annual growth rate of 2.5 percent is about double the annual population growth rate. A significant proportion of evangelicals—about 3,000 of them—come from Russia (most being Messianic believers). Christians of all denominations constitute about 2 percent of the Arab population.
By Dale Gavlak in Jerusalem and Amman | posted 5/16/2005 12:00AM ‘Christianity Today Magazine’