Middle Eastern Christian migrants replacing one minority status for another?

Middle Eastern Christians migrating to the West are facing the challenge of moving from being a minority in predominantly Muslim societies to a minority in post-Christian countries, leading to feelings of isolation and separateness from their host populations, according to a study by Fiona McCallum published in the Journal of Church and State (Spring). In the study, consisting of in-depth interviews with 50 active members of congregations and six focus groups at sites in London and Scotland, McCallum found that Middle Eastern Christians often expressed surprise that the UK was so secular, especially since they believed they were leaving behind their minority status in their home country to become part of a Christian majority in the West. Early on in their move to the UK, the respondents were in contact with British churches, since they tend to rent already established church buildings, and noticed the thinning ranks of white Christians attending these congregations.

While there was a steady supply of church buildings for these immigrant congregations to rent, the low level of churchgoing by native British caused trepidation that they had exchanged one minority status for another.

In the Middle East, political secularism has been valued by minority Christian communities for providing them with tolerance and a measure of autonomy from Islamic regimes. But McCallum reports that these Christians tend to see such secularism in the UK in a negative light, as giving rights to minorities, from Muslims to the LGBTQ community, while disregarding their own faith and culture. “The view that the United Kingdom is a hostile environment for people who openly identify as Christians is one shared by Middle Eastern Christians when discussing their narratives of political secularism at the political level,” she adds. Similar to the patterns found in studies of young Muslims in Europe, second-generation Middle Eastern Christians tend to affiliate with their religious identity first before ethnicity and race. In fact, the Christians McCallum studied tended to adopt a subcultural lifestyle in the UK similar to that which they had in the Middle East, focusing life around family and the church. While a few may have had ties with Christian student associations and other groups, these communities were marked by an “internal focus on strengthening the community by meeting the needs of their youth through communal, primarily church auspices…[in an effort to] counteract any contradictory ideas and values associated with the British secular society….”

(Journal of Church and State, https://academic.oup.com/jcs)