Book Review: The Spirit of Peace by Mary Gray

This review orginally appeared on the Independent Catholic News

Book: ‘The Spirit of Peace’ by Mary Grey
Rebecca Tinsley

‘THE SPIRIT OF PEACE: Pentecost and Affliction in the Middle East’ by Mary Grey Sacristy Press, 2015-05-17 In 1922 Christians made up 51% of the population of Jerusalem. Now, only 2% of Palestinians are Christian. In “The Spirit of Peace” the theologian Mary Grey explores the decimation of this ancient community, linking it with the recent sectarian cleansing of Christians from Syria, Iraq and Egypt. “They discovered they were invisible,” she concludes, “unacknowledged, dismissed, denounced or forgotten by fellow Christians throughout the world, especially in the United States.” Yet, Grey also puts their suffering in the wider context of the Palestinian people, whom, she believes, have endured a terrible injustice, robbed of their land and homes in 1948 Nakba or catastrophe, struggling to survive in refugee camps, or under pressure from Israeli expansion ever since. Grey travels throughout the Middle East, visiting Christians and Muslims, hearing how they co-existed in mutual respect and even harmony, until recently. She believes the deterioration in relations in Palestine began when Hamas won the election in 2006: the desecration of churches and targeting of clergy followed. In Egypt, where the Christian community has halved, Grey observes that once the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood took power after the Arab Spring, attacks escalated dramatically; police stood by as churches were destroyed and people were killed. A week before a referendum on whether Egypt should adopt a constitution based on sharia law, 50,000 Islamists marched through the city of Assiut, chanting “Islamic, Islamic despite the Christians.” Crowds threw stones at Christians to stop them voting. “Men on horses rode around wielding swords in Christian districts of Assiut evoking images of Muslims conquering Christians in the early years of Islam,” Grey reports. But surveying the dismal treatment of Christians throughout the Middle East she also points the finger of blame at Saudi Arabia, funding terror and intolerance, spreading their hate-filled Wahhabist ideology. Nevertheless she finds brave Muslim-Christian-Jewish interfaith groups staking out common ground and building bridges. Grey makes the point that women play a significant role in these groups, and laments how little media attention is paid to their courageous initiatives. She also draws a line connecting the stoicism and determination that inspired the early, persecuted Christians with Middle Eastern Christians and more generally Palestinians today. She concludes, “Theology and spirituality should never be left to fanatics and fundamentalists.”

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