Dr Harry Hagopian explains the reasons behind the Middle East Matters show.
Every time I visit Premier Christian Radio, it is almost like entering a different world! Or is it?
I was properly introduced to Premier Radio in 2010 when Marcus Jones and I started presenting the once-monthly “MENA Analysis” where we explored together the dynamics of what observers or pundits at the time were dubbing the Arab Spring. Our hour-long programme focused on events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria as much as it teased out the contradictions in Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Lebanon or Jordan.
The hour was anthropological, political and communitarian. It was also investigative, questioning, critical and spiritual. But all those dimensions were unfailingly approached from a Christian faith prism since that after all is the ethos of the station. True, Marcus comes from a Welsh Evangelical background and I hail from a more conventional (some would describe as orthodox) Christian upbringing. So some people wondered whether the twain shall meet during this monthly hour! Nonetheless, I felt that we were both committed to the same Lord and Saviour although we came at it from differing perspectives and benchmarks.
Marcus and I are now doing a series of four special editions that are not many light years away from our earlier long-running series. However, we decided to call this run “Middle East Matters” where we choose a theme for half an hour and then continue for the other half with a periscopic overview of other issues impacting the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf / GCC regions. Perhaps Syria, Egypt, Qatar, or the sacred cow - for some Jews, Christians and Muslims - that is Yerushalayim or Jerusalem or al-Quds!
But let me return to attitudes to our common faith!
Just as Marcus and I might have different ways of witnessing to our faith or interpreting its fundamental tents, it is important to remember that the same disparities apply between the millions of Premier Christian Radio listeners and the 10 million Arab Christians who hail from those countries that Marcus and I explore together every first Thursday of each month. Christians in the Middle East are not guided by the Word of Scripture alone but also by common witness since their societies are pluralistic, multi-faith and heterogeneous. They are by and large not literalists and their faith is made incarnate not so much by the words of prophets alone but by their actions too. This is perhaps why I often stress (and sometimes tiresomely so) that my own Christian manifesto - as an Armenian who traces his faith back to 301 AD - focuses on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This is also why I perhaps feel comfortable with those who are not like me - whether culturally, politically or religiously.
Marcus is a friend. But he is also my accomplice in pushing the envelope of our own stereotypes and identikits. Incidentally, I had the same healthy osmosis with James Abbott, who runs the IT World of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, when we did 101 episodes of “Middle East Analysis” many moons ago. James often asked me to say a few words in Arabic, or Hebrew, or even in my native Armenian, in order to broaden the way in which we Christians in the UK relate to our faith and to underline the catholicity of our beliefs despite the fact that we have different traditions, rituals and practices.
In a nutshell, “Middle East Matters” is a pontoon bridge between Christians like those who listen to Premier or publish Christianity magazine (that I for instance find at times a tad pietistic) and those Christians who have a more mystical perspective of the Christian faith (and that is not about incenses alone!) and who - like me perhaps - keep harping endlessly about the Sermon - or the Beatitudes.
However, isn’t this hair-splitting by me? When I go to Premier Radio, I should not look at the men and women working there as inhabitants of a different planet. Rather, I should remind myself that we might disagree on some manifestations of our faith but we surely agree that its bedrock - Jesus Christ - is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8) even if He were not a blue-eyed blond man! However, I hope that those working at Premier feel the same although it is hard - for them and for me - to climb out of our boxes.
An ecumenical concept, koinonia, denotes a Christian fellowship or communion with God or, more commonly, with fellow Christians. Can we take a leaf from this Greek term? Listen to “Middle East Matters” not from your own comfort zone but more challengingly from that of the neighbour and of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25–37). After all, that too is part of struggling together to be devout Christians!