Presbyterians In Egypt

Mere Orthodoxy recently published an essay of mine detailing part of the history of Anglophone missions in Egypt and investigating the role of American Presbyterians there. I conclude by asking what American Presbyterian activity in Egypt has to teach American Christians today.

Writing a report of his time as a missionary in Egypt, Andrew Watson had this to say about Egypt’s Christians: “In general, the Copts are a simple-minded, devout, religious people, with great reverence for the Scriptures.”[1] The stated goal of this nineteenth-century mission had been to convert Muslims to Christianity, so it is striking that Watson and his fellow American Presbyterians wound up attempting to convert the Coptic Orthodox to Protestantism. Their attempts to convert the Coptic Orthodox contrast sharply with the attitudes of the English Protestant missionaries who preceded them. [2]

The British and American missions were, admittedly, similar in several respects: both worked—or intended to work—for the eventual conversion of the Muslim population in Egypt, both focused on education, and both were self-consciously Protestant and saw one another as co-religionists.[3]

There was, however, one glaring difference of approach between the English and the Americans: the English missionaries wished to strengthen the Coptic Orthodox Church’s structures and educate her priests (admittedly, to make them more Protestant in theological orientation), but the Americans hoped to convert the Coptic Orthodox to Presbyterian Protestantism.

So what was it about the Scripture-revering Egyptian Christians that Watson and his American colleagues found wanting?

Read the rest over at Mere Orthodoxy.

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