A post-election lesson for Americans from Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church

AP Bishop Tawadros will be ordained Nov. 18, 2012, as Pope Tawadros II. He will be the spiritual leader of … Continued


Bishop Tawadros will be ordained Nov. 18, 2012, as Pope Tawadros II. He will be the spiritual leader of a community that increasingly fears for its future amid the rise of Islamists to power in the aftermath of last year’s uprising.

The election is over and now the real work begins. Today is not fundamentally about Republicans and Democrats. It is not about winners and losers. It is about us, the American public and how we will be best served by those in elected office.

We endured not only a closely contested election, but one marked by a torrent of high-priced of polarizing ads which leave in their wake, a deeply divided nation even though the contest is over. Now the real work begins, indeed.

Will we be one nation, or will we simply continue the same fights in new settings. Will Congress continue to be a paralyzed battleground even as we confront serious challenges on virtually every important issue we face as a nation?

How we answer those and similar questions will probably have more effect on our lives than the people we elected yesterday. And rather amazingly, we would do well to look to another electoral process which unfolded this week, for some wisdom about how best to proceed. We should look eastward to the Coptic Christian community in Egypt and their election of a new patriarch, Pope Tawadros II.


Egyptian Copts and clergymen walk past an election poster with pictures and names of the three candidates, Father Raphael Ava Mina, left, Anba Tawadros, center and Anba Raphael, right and Arabic that reads “the structural elections, November 4, 2012,” following the papal election ceremony at the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo on Nov. 4, 2012.

The 60-year-old, English-trained pharmacist born as Wagih Sobi Baqi Suleiman, became the head of the Coptic Church when a blindfolded child picked his name out of a bowl. A crazy way to determine who should lead a community with millions of members, or a brilliant process which builds unity and commitment to the new leader regardless of who he is? The latter. I will explain.

The process by which the Coptic Church selects a new pope begins by assembling a long list of potential patriarchs, a list which is then narrowed by a vote in which more than 2,000 church leaders participate.

Ultimately, that list is shortened to three names, all of which are written down and placed in a bowl. Following three days of fasting and chanting, a child is selected to reach into the bowl and draw out the name of the person who will serve as the new leader.

The process is meant to reflect divine intervention in the selection process, with the faithful affirming that the ultimate choice is made by God, who directs the little boy’s hand to the “correct” choice. This process also demands an additional understanding – one that works whether one is Coptic or not, believes in God or not, and one which would serve us well as we wake up this morning in the United States.

For the process to work, Copts must believe that any of the three names that are placed in the bowl are people who are capable of leading their church. They may prefer one over the other, but if they did not accept that whatever their preference may be, each man was worthy of serving as pope, they would not see the hand of God in each case, as they do. Now imagine applying that assumption to our own elected officials.

Regardless of how we feel about the outcomes of Tuesday’s election races, what if we admitted that in each case, and especially in the race for president, the two candidates made our own version of that short list, and then their names were placed in a giant electoral bowl? The fact is, each man is capable of leading our nation, and now that one has been chosen, we should spend more time figuring out how to come together as one nation regardless of how we feel about the outcome.

Whether one calls it the hand of God, the will of the majority, or anything else, the bottom line remains the same. A winner was chosen from two legitimate choices, and now it is up to us to come together around that choice and be one nation, much as the Coptic community is coming together around their new pope. I hope that we rise to that challenge, and wish both victors the best of luck.

Brad Hirschfield
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  • Jsalama_3

    The main difference between the choosing of our pope, and the choosing of our president is this: the pope doesn’t get a paycheck, he receives no money, his dinner consists of bread, olives, oil, that’s it. He has no intention of becoming the richest man. Whereas on the other hand, a president of a very powerful country can become corrupt and desire wealth over politics.

  • GeorgesLemaitre

    God does two things: He wills something or He permits something. He wills all that is good, true, and beautiful because it is His work; He permits evil, because from evil He can turn it into good.
    God permits Obama. Obama will go down in history as the scourge of the nation, but in the meantime, America will be tried and purified and hopefully will survive. Obama might see to late that this was not a divine mandate, but a divine warning for him to change his ways.
    Where is the proof in this point of view? Consider that Ceasers have fallen but the Catholic Church still remains. (Although this is an article about the Copts, we need to get to the bottom line of the Christian Fatih: the Catholic Church is the True Church).
    Obama is just one amongst many Ceasers, and it’s too bad he has the unenviable ambition of trying to kill the Catholic Church. Pray for him but resist worshipping him.

  • GeorgesLemaitre

    God does two things: He wills something or He permits something. He wills all that is good, true, and beautiful because it is His work; He permits evil, because from evil He can turn it into good.
    God permits Obama. Obama will go down in history as the scourge of the nation, but in the meantime, America will be tried and purified and hopefully will survive. Obama might see to late that this was not a divine mandate, but a divine warning for him to change his ways.

    Obama is just one amongst many Ceasers, and it’s too bad he has the unenviable ambition of trying to kill/maim/re-shape into his image Christianity (mainly the Catholic Church– good luck with that. Neither Nero nor Hitler succeeded).

    Pray for our mortal, error-prone, old President. He now faces the second-term curse, the snowballed effects of his mistakes in the last four years, and his old buddy narcism.

  • nancydancer

    The Church is INCREDIBLY wealthy – no salary needed

  • aby2

    The Egyptian Copts are the inheritors of a 7000 years old civilization that dazzles the world till this date. Their ancestors were building the Pyramids and the many stately temples when the rest of the world were living in caves and on trees.

  • Coptic for ever

    The Coptic christian orthodox church defended the true faith for years till the personal desires of some Bishops in Europe lead to the birth of Catholic church. Orthodox oriental churches has life in it more than the Catholic church and especially the Egyptian church.
    The orthodox christian church is the true church.

  • Kingofkings1

    I think a similar method should be adopted in our schools: a teacher should bring a child younger than 4 yrs age for a few hours and have the child pull out the names of x number of children who pass and y number of children fail his or her class. This has to be better than our current sorry state of education in the country

  • PhillyJimi1

    Do you really believe what you say?

    You say god does 2 thing. He wills it or he permits it. Well don’t pull a muscle in you arm patting yourself on the back for that gem of wisdom.

    As if there is a 3rd alternative that you missed. You seem to have covered all logical bases with that one. I can say the magic invisible bunny rabbit named Joe that lives on the moon controls the Universe. This is true because Joe will all things and Joe permits all things. No one can prove me wrong because I have covered every possible logical outcome.

    If you think, (opps of course you’re not thinking since you believe on faith) that your god does all things then he does nothing. Try circling both True and False on a test and see if you get the answer right. You can’t say well it is either True or False therefore I am right.

  • PhillyJimi1

    You might want to check with the Chinese.

  • PhillyJimi1

    NO, NO and NO again. This is a really stupid article! America is a secular democracy. Getting our knuckles bloody every 4 years is very important. The ugly process is very important and it shouldn’t be easy. America wasn’t built by a people who were happy to sit back and let fate just take its course. The American system isn’t wrong or broken it is kind of crude but it works and works very well.

  • aby2

    I have checked and found the following: “The written history of China can be found as early as the Shang Dynasty (c. 1700–1046 BC.”
    This is a long way from 7000 years.

  • quiensabe

    Your right about one thing, Rabbi Hirschfield, after many days of fasting (or gorging) and chanting, a group of children selected the new leader we now have.

  • kingdavid20

    Just a thought on the fasting comment, the Coptic Orthodox “fasting” is not abstinence from food altogether but rather from products that come from animals. We basically adapt a vegan diet during certain parts of the year in order to weaken our bodies, to gain self control to avoid sin and get closer to God. So basically, there isn’t a reason to be eating more than we do on a regular day.

    Concerning the children, the Church (as in the historical church, not the church today), chose to have a child (less than 6 years old) because the child is innocent. The child hasn’t gone into the world, he isn’t biased to the candidate. With this, we completely put our faith in God’s choice as he is the one who ultimately chooses the final candidate. The child didn’t select the Pope, God did through the child.

  • quiensabe

    God works in mysterous ways, kingdavid20.

  • KimaKalph

    it’s one thing to have spirited and passionate debates, but another to start demonizing your opponents, which is exactly what happened by both parties in this campaign. The result is a polarized nation. There are many who truly believe that one candidate is a complete fool and the other is a great gift to America. The article makes a very valid point that the American people shouldn’t see one person as a complete idiot and the other wise, but that both could have run the nation, but you RESPECTFULLY disagree with one candidate and agree with another.

  • KimaKalph

    it’s one thing to have a spirited and passionate debate, but another to demonize your opponent, which is exactly what both parties did in this campaign. The result is a divided nation, with many believing that one candidate is the greatest man ever and the other candidate is the biggest fool on earth. Shouldn’t we instead have a campaign and the mentality that both candidates are capable of being POTUS, but that you RESPECTFULLY disagree with one and favor another?

  • KimaKalph

    Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. You argue that faith is a basic cop out for all answers, but everyone believes in something. For those that are atheist, they rely wholly on science for their answers and believe science alone can explain it all. Those who are religious contribute the creation of science to God.

    People have not seen with their own eyes air or gravity, and yet it is accepted and difficult to contend against. The layman doesn’t know how vaccines or medicine work, but they have faith in the doctor giving it to them. We don’t know what the future of the nation holds, but we have faith that the POTUS will do the right thing.

    Faith is something everyone has. Religious people and non-religious alike. We use evidence to help support the faiths. No one will stop you from believing in a bunny rabbit, but you won’t go far with that faith.

    However, I do agree with you that it is wrong to say that God allows everything. CS Lewis said it pretty clearly: “If you choose to say, ‘God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,’ you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words, ‘God can.’ His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. There is no limit to His power.

  • samih

    Always coptic orthodox church was a beacon , people all over the world look and learn , monasticism and pure sprituality launched from EGYPT and now the church give a lsson <<

  • PhillyJimi1

    I DID comment on the article about having a kid pick 3 names from the hat as a good idea for America to pick their next President because some people happen to believe in a deity. I think that is a bad idea.

    I don’t have to respect anyone’s ideas if I deem the idea to be very stupid. I don’t expect you or any other fellow citizen to “respect” an idea that they think is stupid.

    If people can’t allow their selves to objectively determine fact from fiction with this past election, that is their problem not mine. I voted for Obama. If Romney had offered a new approach to protecting the public from the problems that happened on Wall Street that created this mess I would of voted for him. If Romney explained how he was going to create 12 million jobs I might of voted for him. If Romney hadn’t flip flopped on many issues I would of considered him.

    I didn’t hate Romney. I think he is a decent person. He made valid points and I am not in love with Obama but I felt Obama was more truthful or at least consistent with his actions and message.

    Look we’re all big boys and girls here. It is healthy to debate and for it to get a bit heated. I am afraid we’re becoming a bit too PC and it is only cowardice showing.