Jordanian Evangelicals Push for Official Recognition by Government

Evangelicals in Jordan have a new leader. They just don’t have anything official for him to lead yet.

Five denominations, including Baptists, Assemblies of God, Evangelical Free, Nazarene, and Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) churches, met a month ago to elect Habes Nimat as president of the Jordanian Evangelical Council. They comprise 57 churches total.

“I would like to believe that they chose me because I am a team player,” said Nimat, who has led a CMA congregation in the capital city of Amman since 2017. “I have good relations with the evangelical society, the local society, and they know my work with Christians of all denominations.”

Established in 2006, the council is the fruit of nearly 100 years of evangelical outreach in Jordan. Numbering roughly 10,000 individuals, evangelicals remain a small minority among the 2.2 percent of Christians in Jordan’s overall population of 10 million, almost exclusively Sunni Muslims.

Nimat will need to rely on these good relations to achieve the most pressing evangelical concern—legal recognition of the council as an official Christian denomination.

Jordan currently recognizes 11 Christian denominations: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Anglican, Maronite Catholic, Lutheran, Syrian Orthodox, Seventh-day Adventist, United Pentecostal, and Coptic.

They are organized into the official Council of Church Leaders (CCL), which functions as a government advisory body. The prime minister will confer with the CCL on whether or not to admit new representation.

“We have been working on registration for many years as one body,” said Nimat, “but so far, we have not heard an answer from them, neither positive nor negative.”

Representation on the CCL entitles the denomination to seek a royal decree to form an ecclesiastical court for family affairs—marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Currently the evangelical churches work primarily through the Anglican Church to register such documents with the government or go through the civil court system.

But relations with the traditional churches of Jordan have not always been friendly. According to the 2018 US State Department International Religious Freedom Report, some CCL leaders complain about “recruitment efforts” of the members by evangelical churches. Others say the evangelicals disturb interfaith harmony with Muslims, complicating relations with the government and security services.

This is exactly why an evangelical council is needed.

“The government sees our five churches as evangelicals, but they don’t know who to deal with,” Nimat said. “Many pastors feel they are free to do what they want because there is no legal authority.”

Individual churches have cultivated relationships with organizations in the West, without regard to denominational leadership, let alone a national council, he explained. Well-meaning foreigners, unable to register their organizations independently, then bring money, programs, and ideas about evangelism under the umbrella of a local church.

Because it is a church, the government treads carefully, Nimat said. But if trouble comes up, there is no recognized entity for officials to turn to, resulting in confusion. Traditional churches have a patriarch, bishop, or other hierarchy. Evangelical churches tend to be fiercely independent.

Often known collectively as the “American churches,” Jordanian evangelicals have made great strides in respecting the red lines of the culture.

“Don’t cause trouble for the police, and they will leave you alone and expect you to take care of your own problems,” said Philip Madanat, a political consultant belonging to the Baptist denomination. He noted the government treats many Muslim organizations the same way. “I evangelize wherever I go, amicably, and in personal contact with people I know. I’m 57-years-old and nothing has ever happened to me.”

Madanat explained that some evangelical ministries present the gospel at the same time they offer relief to needy individuals. This is often viewed as manipulation by the larger society.

Certain offenses can compel the security services to get involved, as has been the case when foreign workers are expelled.

Inaction on official church requests may not be from persecution, however, but fear of risk.

“The government has too many other headaches to care about the evangelicals,” he said. “An official may not want to open a file that is unusual to him, when it could impact Jordan’s image in the outside world.”

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Source: Christianity Today