External and Internal Pressures Faced by Christians in the Arabian Gulf

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Walter Johnson


Lay or ordained Christians who come to the Gulf area, on company transfer or through a church, will encounter a variety of external and internal pressures that will impact their Christian witness. These pressures may be all for the good. The external pressures of having to adapt to the new culture may help weed out religious bias from genuine religious conviction while the Islamic social and religious restrictions can help sharpen Christian apologetics. Additionally, internal pressures within the Christian expatriate community, with all its cultural and denominational diversity, can help clarify one's theology.

Both Bahrain and Oman, countries where I enjoyed the privilege of ministry over the last two years, are in the Arabian Gulf. Oil-rich countries, they are monarchical in government and tribal in outlook. The oil has brought change quickly here during the last fifty years, particularly in Oman. Bahrain and Oman have raced to develop the infrastructures common to developed countries, and this race has necessitated an influx of huge labor pools. While the government filled technical, military, and advisory jobs primarily with Westerners, the grunt work (the bulk of the task) was carried out by Asians. Even so, there is in these countries scant public acknowledgment of the expatriate contribution. There is instead a plan to replace expatriates by nationals as quickly as possible.

In recent years the internal political pressures to provide greater employment for their own nationals have forced Bahrain and Oman to attempt to "Bahrainize" and "Omanize" many jobs. Certain sectors (banking, for example), have progressed well towards this goal but entry level jobs in the service and construction sectors do not attract Gulf nationals. As Jordan before them, Gulf countries are discovering that there is an absolute minimum number of expatriates below which they cannot go without affecting productivity.

This fact virtually assures a continuing expatriate population in these two countries for the next decade. Only the "complexion" of these groups will change as more and more Asians, working for lower salaries, take the jobs of Westerners. Since many of these people are Christians, the church in numerous denominational expressions will continue to be a part of life in the Gulf. Christians here will always face a variety of external and internal pressures, and the struggle will be to adapt in the non-essentials while retaining the essentials of the Christian witness.

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How to Cite
Johnson, W. (1996). External and Internal Pressures Faced by Christians in the Arabian Gulf. Reformed Review, 50(2), 118-126. Retrieved from https://repository.westernsem.edu/pkp/index.php/rr/article/view/1315
Christianity and other religions -- Islam; Islam -- Relations -- Christianity; Religion and culture -- Middle East