In Jordan, reports are mixed as to just how good relations are between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority. What's clearer is that the stronger divide is between native Jordanians and the many Palestinian refugees.
The two locals we spent the most time with, our tour guide and our bus driver, represent both differences.
Petra is Jordan’s most popular tourist attraction, and it’s in an area where many poor Bedouins live. So you’re never far from a vendor of some kind, though once you get into the park a ways their wares get a bit tamer. But neither Indiana Jones tote bags nor simple camel-bone beads can distract you from what you’re seeing in the ancient Nabatean city.
On Saturday I broke off from the tour group and went to Fuheis, a town of 20,000 outside Amman. Fuheis is an anomaly in Jordan: it’s almost entirely Christian, majority Orthodox with many Catholics and a smattering of evangelicals. My companions for the afternoon were from the smattering, a pair of Baptist converts.
Jordan has complained to a United Nations agency after Canada refused to seize a display of Dead Sea Scrolls at a recent exhibit in Toronto.
Jordan says the ancient manuscripts, which had been on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority, were stolen from a museum in East Jerusalem that Israel seized from Jordan during the Six-Day War of 1967.
King Abdullah II of Jordan has given a plot of land to the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem for construction of a church and retreat center at the much-visited Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan site, where, according to tradition, Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist took place.
On a recent trip to Jordan, no one directing my tour group objected to my meeting with Christian evangelicals. But the evangelicals were nervous. They are carefully conforming to the role that Jordan has given them: providing social services and avoiding activities that could invite government suspicion—like preaching or distributing Bibles. Publicly they state, “We’re not here to change anyone’s religion, we’re here to help people.”“Still,” one of them added later, “If I get five minutes with someone I’m going to share the gospel.” There are few stories of Jordanian Muslims converting to Christianity. Evangelical missionaries explain that it takes time, but they also seem frustrated that the Jordanian government hasn’t recognized their efforts to moderate their language and behavior.
Support the Christian Century
The Century's work relies primarily on subscriptions and donations. Thank you for supporting nonprofit journalism.