Cover Story

Faith, Development and the Lebanese Uprising

Guest contribution by Ekkardt Sonntag

What does religion have to do with the uprising in Lebanon in recent weeks?

Nothing and everything both seem to be valid answers. “Nothing” seems true as I talk to Lebanese partners, colleagues and friends during the first days of the movement. The mood is positive to enthusiastic. The uprisings, a response to an economic crisis as a result of mismanagement and corruption, have spread quickly beyond sectarian borders in this religiously diverse country. The people appear to be speaking with one voice, regardless of religion.

Yet, “everything” seems true because, well, it is Lebanon. The elaborate confessional political system allots high ranking offices to representatives of the main religious groups (a Christian President, a Sunni Prime Minister, a Shia Speaker of the House and so on), and many or most aspects of life are marked by a clientelist mentality that runs along religious sectarian lines.

As the events continue, my social media feeds fill up with the respective discourse. The Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant church leaders issue a common declaration. The academic dean of the Arab Baptist Seminary debates with people in the streets.  Hezbollah calls for abstention from the protests, yet some of their “thugs” are held responsible for the few moments of violence in the peaceful movement. The Sunni Grand Mufti speaks in favour of a technocrat government.

As I visit Beirut during the third week of the uprising, voices from the faith and development community include positive surprise at the multi-church declaration but also scepticism that religious leaders co-opt the revolution for ultimately sectarian ends. And there is the ever-present fear of violence.

One religious leader praises the relative freedom of speech in Lebanon, sometimes still dubbed as “the only democracy in the Middle East.” The country was indeed regarded the only free parliamentary democracy in the region apart from Israel but lost this status in the eyes of Freedom House when it entered into civil war in 1975, and, since then, never regained it. Still, it is part of many Lebanese’ hope for a post-sectarian future. While the sectarian system takes credit for relative stability, the post-war generation now hits their 20s and, with no first-hand experience of the war, are ready to turn the page, even if it means entering uncharted waters.

What does this mean for the faith and development nexus? Working for Danmission MENA recently, I was impressed with partner organizations such as Adyan and FDCD and their high degree of reflection and capacity for faith-based development programs. Highly developed discourse and practice is the upside of the multi-faith DNA of the country.

Once a month I travel between Beirut and Amman. In Jordan’s 95% Sunni Muslim society the discourse is entirely different, but a stronger state and a royal family supporting the cause leads to organisations such as RIIFS. Working in both contexts, I sometimes wonder where Lebanese sophistication in faith and development coupled with a more stable and supportive state would take us. There is always something to dream about.

A Lebanese Instagram account called “Thawra [Revolution] Crushes” has picked up an unlikely mandate: protestors can post photos of people they met fleetingly during the protests, hoping that someone might tag and connect them. Why did 18-year-old Alaa Khattab establish this account? Her explanation seems a bit of a jump for the uninitiated, but completely intuitive for anyone acquainted with the religious landscape of Lebanon: “[It] was to break the walls between us. Between Christians. Druze, Muslims, everyone,“ she explains.

Is it too much to hope the same from a faith and development perspective?


Based in Amman, Jordan, Ekkardt Sonntag works as a freelance consultant, researcher and teacher on faith and development, Middle Eastern culture and theology, and interfaith dialogue and practice. He holds a PhD in Contextual Theology from the Chair for the Church in Islamic Contexts at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.


Religious Literacy Academy


Writing about Evangelicals in a short newsletter text is a daunting task, because to be Evangelical means different things to different people, to different churches, in different national contexts.

In recent years, the term “Evangelicals” has hit the headlines in the context of the last US election. Particularly, the term “White Evangelicals” has been used as a ‘winged word’ to describe a group of Christians in the United States of America (USA) that adhere to expressively conservative, sometimes even fundamentalist, values.

Nevertheless, this is only part of the story and not even the most representative part although the headlines would appear that way. The word “Evangelical” has a different meaning in the US than it has internationally. Furthermore, in terms of statistics, according to Pew Research Center, Sub-Saharan Africa has the greatest concentration of evangelical Christians (13% of sub-Saharan Africa is evangelical) and the largest share of the world’s evangelicals (38%). The World Evangelical Alliance, the global umbrella body of Evangelicals, states that the global community of Evangelicals encompasses 600 million members. This makes them the second-largest religious group after the Catholics. This group, however, could not be more diverse. Alan Jacobs, Professor of Humanities at Baylor University (Texas) even states that Evangelicalism is not a denomination, neither a single tradition. Rather, he says, it is a “complex and fluid movement dedicated to the renewal of Christianity, largely among Protestants[1].

Originally, the term was used to describe the 18th-19th century religious reform movements and denominations that resulted from the revivals that swept the North Atlantic Anglo-American world. These revivals were led by persons like John Wesley, the English evangelist George Whitefield (1715-1770), and American preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). By the 1820s, Evangelicals dominated the American Protestant scene, and played a major role in reform movements such as abolitionism and prohibition[2].

Today, Evangelicalism crosses denominations within Protestant Christianity. For example, the Presbyterian, Brethren, Baptist, Methodist or Pentecostal traditions among others can all be considered part of this Evangelical movement.

In 1989, Professor David Bebbington from the University of Stirling (Scotland) presented one of the most well-known definitions of Evangelicals. His definition is also known as the Bebbington quadrilateral and encompasses four elements: Conversionism, or the belief in the necessity to be “born again”, i.e. to experience a “spiritual re-birth”; Biblicism, a reverence to the Bible and the understanding that all essential spiritual truth can be found in its pages; Crucicentrism, the centrality that Evangelicals give to the Atonement, the saving death and the resurrection of Jesus, that offers forgiveness of sins and new life; and lastly Activism, the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed with effort and in diverse ways such as preaching, mission service and social action.

Overall, Evangelicals follow various forms of worship practices and are rather flexible in this regard, because for many the building of the service is not sacred and services take place in auditoriums or multipurpose rooms with few religious symbols. The service is usually run by a Christian pastor and  begins with a time of worship featuring contemporary music. This music, because of its modern ‘pop’ nature has become famous even among non-Evangelical communities. Moreover, Evangelicals are known for their mega churches with sometimes global reach. Due to extensive missionary activities in the last two centuries, the Evangelical community has grown enormously in sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region as well as Latin America. In countries such as Brazil, Nigeria and South Korea, mega churches attract thousands of visitors every Sunday. Globally, evangelical NGOs or community organizations run a large number of schools, kindergarten, hospitals, relief and development projects, as well as theological seminaries, bible schools and universities. Moreover, they run media outlets such as Christianity Today, and TV channels of which the US broadcasters are most well-known.



Featured Actor

Side by Side: Faith Movement for Gender Justice

In March 2015, Christian Aid invited 45 participants from international faith-based organizations, ecumenical networks and faith institutions to London for a consultative workshop to discuss ways of strengthening the global faith movement for gender justice. The outcome of the workshop was the establishment of Side by Side, a movement of people from across the globe, working together to establish gender justice.

Side by Side envisages a world where “people are free from cultural and interpersonal systems of privilege and oppression, and from violence and repression rooted in gender inequality.[1] According to Side by Side, gender-based inequality and violence is a significant barrier to sustainable development. Patriarchal structures of power, harmful attitudes and practices, gender discrimination and inadequate protection of gender-based violence victims are deeply rooted social norms that are exercised in many communities at societal, community, household and individual level. With around 80% of the world’s population claiming to adhere to faith, Side by Side understands that faith leaders have a crucial role to play in addressing gender injustice.

Therefore, member organizations are implementing a structured series of interventions aiming to shift values, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors and practices among individuals, within communities and institutions. Interventions include: developing a more focused and coordinated faith response to gender injustice, building awareness, capacity and commitment among faith leaders to identify and challenge existing gendered social norms, empowering female faith leaders and women of faith to become champions for gender justice, enabling faith leaders and faith-based organizations to engage at national, regional and international level to recognize, prevent and respond to gender inequality and finally, building an evidence base for the efficacy of faith institutions in gender justice.

The member organizations of Side by Side have developed contextualized toolkits and resources for people working with local communities and churches to combat gender injustice at local level. For example, Tearfund developed ‘Reveal’, a collection of tools such as information sheets, activities, Bible studies and good practice guides for “revealing and addressing hidden issues, revealing guidance and support for community actions and projects, and revealing what the Bible says”. The Biblical Association for the Church of Ireland (BACI) published a themed Bible study ‘2013 Lent Bible Studies - Gender Justice’ and Christian Aid Nigeria, working in partnership with the Gender Awareness Trust and the Development and Peace Initiative, developed the toolkit ‘Improving the Choices and Opportunities for Adolescent Girls’ for Christian and Islamic faith leaders in Nigeria to address challenges faced by adolescent girls on issues of early marriage, education, reproductive health services and economic empowerment.

As a result, Side by Side anticipates to see a more strengthened community level faith responding to gender injustice and legal systems recognizing, preventing and adequately responding to gender injustice. Subsequently, gender inequality will no longer be considered acceptable under any social, political, economic, religious or cultural circumstances.


For more information, the above mentioned resources and contact details visit their website or follow them on Twitter or Facebook.




Faith and Development in the next 60 days

20 - 21 November 2019
The Insights Forum – Working with Religious Actors to Build Peaceful and Stable Societies, Nairobi, Kenya
Hosted by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, the Insights Forum will tackle the question “How can we better evidence the impact of working with religious actors to build peaceful and stable societies to practitioners and policymakers?”

23 - 24 November 2019
UN-Habitat Faith-Based Urban Thinkers Campus, London, UK
UN-Habitat’s World Urban Campaign, together with the World Evangelical Alliance, the Urban Shalom Society, and local partners are hosting a series of Faith-Based Urban Thinkers Campuses around the world aimed at encouraging faith communities to work towards flourishing urban environments. The conference will be held under the theme “Faith and the Path Towards a Better Quality of City Life”.

2 - 3 December 2019
UN Climate Change Conference COP25, Madrid, Spain
The UN COP25 will take place bringing together the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Multiple side events will be hosted by faith-based actors and their work against climate change.

4 - 6 December 2019
First iDove Intercontinental Youth Forum in Southeast Asia, Jakarta, Indonesia
Initiated by the African Union Commission and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the forum will help understand violent extremism in the regional context and will introduce different means of preventing violent extremism by drawing on the soft power of religion and dialogue.

16 - 19 December 2019
Faith for Earth – Engaging with faith-based organizations to achieve the SDGs, Nairobi, Kenya
Together with UNEP and the UN Task Force on Religion and Development, the Faith for Earth Initiative hosts a workshop with the aim to develop the capacities of United Nations staff and partner faith-based organizations to capitalize on the intrinsic relationship between faith and religious beliefs and environmental sustainability.


Insights and Perspectives

Video: Introducing the Faiths for Forest Campaign, 2019.

The Faiths for Forests campaign was launched by the Interfaith Rainforest Alliance on 22 September 2019 as a contribution to the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit, kicking off a global faith-based movement of mobilization, education and advocacy around halting and reversing tropical deforestation. The campaign also advocates for the rights of indigenous peoples and forest communities that are on the front line of the fight to halt and reverse tropical deforestation.

Infographic: The Influence of Faith-Based Organizations

This infographic by the United Nations Environment Program’s Faith for Earth Initiative shows the influence of faith-based organizations. It covers the influence of FBOs in education and health as well as financial institutions and funds and habitable land surface globally.

Case Study: Inclusion through Dialogue – Promising Practices for the Integration of Refugees and Migrants in Europe, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, 2019.

As a European-wide platform, the Network for Dialogue was initiated in 2018 by KAICIID in order to bring faith and civil society actors from around Europe together to promote dialogue and develop more effective recommendations for social inclusion policies for migrants and refugees in Europe. The booklet includes 11 promising practices of Network for Dialogue members from seven European countries, addressing the main challenges as well as recommendations.

Report: Empowering People and Ensuring Inclusiveness and Equality: Multifaith and United Nations’ Collaboration, UN Task Force on Religion and Development, 2019.

The 2019 Kofi Annan Faith Briefing was held during the High Level Political Forum and guided by the theme, “empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality: the role of UN and multifaith collaboration.” It served as an opportunity to continue to build a shared UN system legacy of UN-FBO consultations and to serve as a forum for information, celebration and consultation around partnerships with FBOs directly around the work of the UN.

Paper: Tatala le Ta’ui a le Atua – Rolling Out the Fine Mat of Scripture, Mercy Ah Siu-Maliko, 2019.

This paper presents a series of Bible studies originated as part of a project for the New Zealand Institute for Pacific Research on Church Responses to Gender-Based Violence Against Women in Samoa. It is rooted in the importance of being relational in the Samoan culture and embraces the belief that the self takes its form from maintaining relationships.

Study: Faith and Freedom: The role of local faith actors in anti-modern slavery and human trafficking – A scoping study, John Frame, Mia Tuckey, Lili White, Emma Tomlin, Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities, 2019.

This scoping study explores the programs and initiatives of local faith actors in their response to modern slavery and human trafficking in the Global South. It brings together evidence from a review of over 200 pieces of grey and academic literature and 14 interviews with practitioners.

Faith in Development Monitor (FiDM)

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Der Faktor „Glaube“ erfährt zu wenig Beachtung in der globalen Entwicklungszusammenarbeit. Und das, obwohl menschliche Entwicklung untrennbar mit Weltanschauung verwoben ist. Die Gesellschaften und Kulturen, in denen Entwicklungsprojekte umgesetzt werden, sind tief von Glaubenseinflüssen geprägt. Gleichzeitig zählen religiöse Organisationen zu den ältesten und wirkungsmächtigsten Akteuren der globalen wie lokalen Entwicklungszusammenarbeit. Der Faith In Development Monitor leistet einen Beitrag dazu, (1) die Relevanz von Religion für die internationale Entwicklungszusammenarbeit zu verdeutlichen, (2) Religionskompetenz unter Praktikern und politischen Entscheidungsträgern zu erhöhen und (3) aktuelle Entwicklungen im Themenfeld „Religion und Entwicklung“ nachvollziehbar zu erklären.

Unter dem Motto „500 Sekunden für mehr Glaube an Entwicklung“ erscheint alle zwei Monate der kostenfreie englischsprachige Faith In Development Monitor.


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