Genocide of Christians in Middle East and Our Indifference

A great source of shame during the rise of Nazism were the many warning signs of Jewish persecution. Often nations like the United States limited the number of Jewish refugees. The reasons included anti-Semitism, the desire to play it safe politically and desire to save money. As a result many thousands died needlessly.

Similar oppression is happening to Christians throughout the Middle East. From 1910 to 2010 the number of Christians in the Middle East – in countries like Egypt, Israel, Palestine and Jordan declined. Once 14% of the population, Christians now make up roughly 4%. In Iran and Turkey they’re all but gone. In Lebanon long a Christian stronghold, the population has shrunk from 78% to 34%. Over this period many have been killed and many more forced to migrate as the result of civil unrest and religious intolerance.

photo of exhausted Christians

One of the unintended consequences of the invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2002 was the destabilizing effect on the religious and ethnic minorities that make up the region. As bad as Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Assad of Syria were, their secular political parties provided protection from extremist elements. While there were great injustices perpetrated by both dictators, they did provide for freedom of worship.

The political destabilizing in Iraq and now Syria has unleashed long simmering animosity between two branches of Islam, Sunni which makes up 80% of Muslims world wide and Shia which comprise the balance. Their infighting has resulted in the rise of extreme elements such as ISIS. ISIS is committed to ethnic and religious genocide, persecuting Christians along with other ancient ethnic/religious groups (Yezidis, Druze, Zoroastrians). Each group has suffered but according to the United Nations, Christians are being particularly targeted.

photo of persecuted Christians

A typical story is that of a young mother named Rana whose Christian village in northern Iraq was captured by ISIS. Rana’s husband was murdered, she was sold to be an ISIS wife and her 3-year-old daughter, Christina was sold to another ISIS family.

While this tragedy unfolds most Christians outside the Middle East are indifferent. The reasons for our indifference include: Desire by progressives to not to be seen as disrespectful of Islam; the siding of Christian conservatives with Israel.(Many eastern Christians support Palestinian rights, alienating them from western evangelicals); most Christians in the West have never experienced persecution; a growing secularism in the West. Such factors tend to separate us from the daily reality of Eastern Christians.

Since the invasion of Iraq 50% of Christians have fled the resulting political instability and infighting between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Many fled to Syria. Now with the civil war in Syria 2/3 of the 600,000 Christians in that country have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan.

Since the time of Christ these communities of faith (Assyrians, Chaldeans, Orthodox, Copts, Marists) persevere. Now according to the UN commission on human rights, many are at risk of being wiped out. How do we Christians in the West respond? Too often we offer a collective shrug and barely remember to offer a prayer.

Note: To learn more about the oppression of religious and ethic minorities in the Middle East go to:
https://www.facebook.com/DemandforAction And, commit yourself to the daily practice of praying for the needs of our sisters and brothers in the Middle East Christian and other persecuted minorities. Let us pray too for the well being of the many moderate and innocent Muslims who have suffered under the heavy hand of extreme groups like ISIS. May our hearts and minds expand so that the pain and hopes of others, becomes our pain and hope too.

End of Christians in the Middle East?

In 1997 a Scot named William Dalyrmple wrote a book called ‘From this Holy Mountain’. He travelled in the footsteps of a Christian monk, John Moschos, who lived in the 6th century. Moschos went on pilgrimage to Christian monasteries in what are now the modern day countries of Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Egypt. It was a time when the Christian majority was giving way to the growth of Islam.

Travelling in 1997 aided by the journal of this 6th century monk, Dalyrmple visited those same monasteries. A minority continued to flourish (particularly in Greece and Egypt), most however hung on with a few caretakers or in ruins. What he found was an uneasy coexistence between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority. But what seemed inevitable given the trajectory was a time when no Christians would remain in their historic homeland.

One area where Christians were thriving in 1997 was Syria, with approx. 20% of the population being Christian. Given that Syria was ruled by a secular dictatorship of the Assad family, minority groups including Christians were paradoxically allowed freedom of religion. The Christians worried what would happen to their fragile freedom if the secular dictatorship were replaced by Islamic extremists.

Now we see an unintended consequence of the destabilizing of the Assad government (as with the ouster of Saddam Hussein in Iraq). The vaccume of power has unleashed widespread persecution of Christians. In today’s news it was reported that 150 Assyrian Christians were kidnapped by ISSIS (Islamic State) in NE Syria.

Assyrian Christians have been a community since the first century and are referenced by the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 5:13. They have survived persecution throughout their history including an attempted genocide by the Ottoman Turkish Empire in 1915. As a people they have fled from place to place seeking freedom to worship and walk in the way of Jesus.

Assyrian Christian

Today more Assyrian Christians live outside the middle east than within their ancestral lands. Even today they speak Aramaic which was the language that Jesus was believed to have spoken. For those of us who are Christian this little known group is a living link to the earliest days of the church and to Jesus himself.

Dalyrimple in his 1997 journey found holy places venerated by both Muslims and Christians where both groups lived and worshipped together. This was particularly true around places of healing and fertility where saints were venerated. Such places of common ground had occurred since the 6th century but now are rare.

Now Islamic extremists such as ISSIS have twisted Islam to fit their message of intolerance and hatred. If left unchecked a day may arise in the foreseeable future when there is no longer a place for minorities such as Yazides, Bedouins or ancient Christian sects such as the Assyrian Church. When that day comes all of humanity will be diminished.

Join me in praying for these 150 kidnapped Assyrian Christians and for all who suffer intolerance and persecution. Let us pray and work to build bridges of understanding and hope.