The exodus of Christians from the Middle East has been garnering a great deal of attention — so we asked sociologist Dr. Bernard Sabella to take a closer look at some of the causes, in a web-exclusive essay for ONE magazine:
The percentage of Christians living in the Holy Land has decreased from 10.7 percent in 1890 to 1.4 percent in 2010. There are three principal explanations for this: First, the local Christian community has a relatively lower population growth compared to the rest of the population; second, the ongoing political conflict and instability; and third, the dire economic and social consequences of a prolonged political stalemate.
Christian families in the Holy Land are relatively small, with an average size of four to five members, compared to Muslim and religious Jewish families, which average one and a half to two times as many children as Christian families. During the decade 2000 to 2010, Christian numbers remained the same because of lower birth rates and the emigration of Christian youth.
The 1948 Arab-Israeli war left its impact on the Holy Land’s indigenous Christian population — 60,000 of its members became refugees (among the total 726,000 refugees) and 30,000 were displaced within the boundaries of the new state of Israel. Thanks to the assistance of the various churches and the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, many of the refugees, irrespective of religious background, were able to recover and resume their lives.
If 1947 is taken as the base year, when the Christian population was at 143,000, population experts would expect the figure to have doubled naturally by 1980 and to have reached the mark of 400,000 or more by 2010, assuming a growth rate of 2 percent per year. To the contrary, the present figures indicate the disappearance of six out of every ten Christians since 1948. Some would argue this is strictly due to trends of demographic nature. But in reality, these matters alone do not explain the steadily declining numbers, particularly in the occupied Palestinian Territories.