December 17, 2017

“For you we face death all day long”

Church bombing in Telskuf, Iraq, 2007

By Chaplain Mike

A current article in Foreign Policy magazine by Eden Naby and Jamsheed K. Chosky makes the following startling observation:

There is now an alarming possibility that there will be no significant Christian communities in Iraq or Iran by century’s end.

The statistics are sobering:

  • The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that between 300,000 to 400,000 Christians have been forced out of Iraq since 2003.
  • Though Iran’s population has swelled from 38 million to 72 million people since the mid-1970’s, the number of non-Muslims has dropped by two-thirds. This includes members of the Assyrian Christian Church, whose population has dwindled from 100,000 to 15,000.
  • Christians made up about 20 percent of the region’s population a century ago and now account for about 5 percent.

Hard-line mullahs and fanatical groups such as al-Qaeda view the Christian communities with suspicion, seeing them as supporters of western “crusaders.” The latest incident occurred Sunday, when suicide bombers belonging to the “Islamic State of Iraq” screamed, “Kill!” and stormed Our Lady of Salvation Church in central Baghdad. The attackers stormed the church where 120 worshipers were gathered, took hostages, and brutally killed those who resisted in any way. When an Iraqi emergency response team raided the building in an attempt to free the captives, the invaders set off suicide vests, causing even more carnage. It took two more hours to bring the situation under control. At least 58 people were killed and 75 wounded.

“This is tragic for Christians and for all of Iraq,” said Chaldean Bishop Shlimon Warduni. “If we had a government and laws and people all over the world to help us it would be much better.”

In August, the U.S. government took notice of the ongoing and increasing persecution and passed Resolution 322, which, in summary,

Expresses the sense of the Senate that: (1) the United States remains deeply concerned about the plight of specified vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities of Iraq; (2) the U.S. government and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) should urge the government of Iraq to enhance security at places of worship in Iraq, particularly where religious minorities are known to be at risk…

Earlier this month in Rome, the Vatican held a two-week summit on the crisis.

In their article, Naby and Chosky give some background about these Christian communities and the duress that they have been facing in recent days:

…the massacre in Baghdad is only the most spectacular example of mounting discrimination and persecution of the native Christian communities of Iraq and Iran, which are now in the middle of a massive exodus unprecedented in modern times as they confront a rising tide of Islamic militancy and religious chauvinism sweeping the region.

Christians are the largest non-Muslim religious minority in both Iraq and Iran, with roots in the Middle East that date back to the earliest days of the faith. Some follow the Apostolic Orthodox Armenian Church. Others subscribe to the 2,000-year-old Syriac tradition represented mainly by the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq and by Aramaic speakers widely known as Assyrians in both Iraq and Iran.

A Christian Science Monitor article quotes Rev. Douglas Yousef al-Bazy, who worked with the slain priests from the besieged congregation:

“It’s really terrible,” he says. “The people who did this want to kill the church – the priests who served them and the people and even the building. We lost our best friends there. When someone dies we say there is a reason, but actually when they are killed – when they kill young people, young priests, they are trying to kill our future.”

“Those who say we are safe, that we can live peacefully in Iraq, they are liars,” says Father Douglas, who was kidnapped in 2006. “But we will stay in this country because still there are Christian people here and we still have a mission here.”

A Prayer for Enemies (from the Orthodox Christian Foundation)

Lord Jesus Christ, Who didst command us to love our enemies, and those who defame and injure us, and to pray for them and forgive them; Who Thyself didst pray for Thine enemies, who crucified thee: grant us, we pray, the spirit of Christian reconciliation and meekness, that we may heartily forgive every injury and be reconciled with our enemies. Grant us to overcome the malevolence and offences of people with Christian meekness and true love of our neighbor. We further beseech Thee, O Lord, to grant to our enemies true peace and forgiveness of sins; and do not allow them to leave this life without true faith and sincere conversion. And help us repay evil with goodness, and to remain safe from the temptations of the devil and from all the perils which threaten us, in the form of visible and invisible enemies. Amen.

Comments

  1. Steve Newell says:

    Consider this question: For the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ, they were much safer under the government of Saddam Hussein then they are now. It is better to live under a dictator that allows the safe practice of the faith then to live under the chaos that now allows enemies of the one true faith to kill them and destroy their churches?

    • MelissaTheRagamuffin says:

      I’ve been saying THAT since before the war started.

    • Complicating that question is that, while Hussein’s government practiced relative religious tolerance, it was also engaged in genocide, kidnappings, torture, and other human rights violations. Yes, it is now much more dangerous for Christians now, and I mourn for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted and killed. Does that mean that it was better before?

      Sometimes I don’t know what to think.

      • Cipher,
        I’m with you on this one. At least with the Christians who died there is the hope of heaven. We never do know though what God’s purposes are. I recently translated and published “The Knights of Rhodes” by Bo Giertz, and he delves into these questions in that book as another group of Christians claiming God on their side, were defeated by a different group of Muslims.
        God pulls victory out of defeat, he shames the strong with weakness.
        Who knows? This could ultimately be the undoing of Al qaeda. Perhaps from the blood of Martyers the seed of the church sprouts to life? Maybe fellow Iraqi’s begin to be confronted by the dispicable actions carried out in their name, and begin to know true repentance.
        But to say that things are now worse because Christians are being slaughtered rather than before when Muslim’s were being slaughtered doesn’t exactly seem to be the Christian way of thinking.

      • MelissaTheRagamuffin says:

        Maybe it takes a monster of the order of Sadaam Hussein to keep those extremist factions under control. Not to mention – how many Iraqi’s did our government kill during the war? Is it okay when we do it trying to establish order, but not okay with the established governmetn does it?

        • Do I really hear you saying that it’s better to have a ‘monster’ in control, than to attempt to establish good in the world? While I do not think that the US has handled this situation well at times, I shudder to think that evil is necessary.

          The question should NOT be one of numbers. While proportionality is a criteria in most arguments for just war, it is not the only criteria. We must argue for right or wrong based on more than that.

          Your argument makes it seem that order is the only thing that matters, and that the method that establishes order with the least amount of death is the right method. That theory would lead to some very twisted views of government.

          • *Do I really hear you saying that it’s better to have a ‘monster’ in control, than to attempt to establish good in the world?*

            That’s been the essential operating assumption of United States foreign policy going back to 1804, when we tried to replace the leadership of the Tripoli pirates. Jefferson and Adams were key in that effort.

            *Your argument makes it seem that order is the only thing that matters, and that the method that establishes order with the least amount of death is the right method.*

            Wow. That is incredibly rich. Incredibly privileged. It’s like a wedding cake made out of pure buttercream arrogance. Like we should decide how much death is equalled by how much disorder. Like we can sleep well at night knowing that, no matter how much death stalks Iraq, we deposed their dictator and everything that depended afterward is an acceptable loss. Like Iraqi civilians are exactly the same as American soldiers and so a loss of either one can be chalked up as a sacrifice upon the altar of liberty (vis. Lincoln).

            Nice.

  2. Steve Newell says:

    A followup question: There have been many Christians in Palestine who have suffered under the hands of both Muslim and Israeli. What should our position be? For example, the Lutheran Church that my family attended for many years supports Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem West Bank. This Church provides both social, educational, medical and most important spiritual support all people in the name of the Triune God.

  3. “There is now an alarming possibility that there will be no significant Christian communities in Iraq or Iran by century’s end.” – I would suggest that because that is our worldly observation, it is possible that “the most significant” Christian communities in the world may be the tiny ones left in Iraq and Iran. I do not say that to make light of the situation. Only too highlight that God’s ways are not our ways. And it may be that the greater threat to genuine faith in Him is the American worship of money and rights that I, myself succumb to daily. Again, not making light of the situation at all. Prayers for these Christians who worldly experience I have so little in common with; but by our Savior have so much in common with.

    • I should have left the word American out. I’m not being down on America and greed is obviously a problem everywhere. It was just a descriptor of me and my struggle.

    • I can imagine the Christian communities left in these countries being similar to the Jewish ones in Egypt. Less than two hundred people per city, but still strong in their faith. Whether or not that is significant, I suppose is a question of definition. Significant in numbers, no. Significant in faith, yes.

  4. “and people all over the world to help us it would be much better.”
    In 2003, I stood at the edge of a manioc field overlooking Vietnam’s Ia Drang Valley where both my father and the father of the girl I was with died. I was the fortunate one — I had been old enough to remember my father. She was on six months old when her father died. I hear her cries ring in my head everyday “Why? Why? For what?”
    It’s the question I implored every audience I stood in front of to consider when we began waging this war in Iraq. For what?
    We carry our wars to people, declaring that God is on our side, while we destroy the homes and livelihoods and houses of worship, making refugees of them all. After the blood-letting, we bring our wounded home, bury our dead and argue over the money it will take to fix our veterans and someone else’s country.
    We didn’t bring Democracy to Iraq. Freedom can’t be forced upon another, or it’s not freedom now is it?
    We have destroyed this country and these people.
    Who exactly are the godless people here?

  5. I’m not going to give American foreign policy recommendations here. I always thought the Iraq war was badly conceived and that it would end up being America’s Ulster (if the lessons of history don’t sink in, our species is really up the creek).

    I will just ask for prayers on behalf of my fellow Catholics who were murdered – and that’s what it was, pure murder – on Sunday (and the Syrian Catholic Church is in communion with Rome, so they’re Eastern Rite and I’m a Latin Rite Catholic) in this month of the Holy Souls.

    Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them, and may they rest in peace. Amen.

    • Amen and amen.

      And special protection to those bishops and priests who risk much to provide the sacraments to their flock.

  6. For historical perspective, check out the works of Philip Jenkins.

  7. I’m not an expert in nation building, but it seems to we allowed a democracy to bloom before having the culture set up for a liberal democracy that includes the concept of rights and limitations on the government. They have a constitution, allegedly protecting religious minorities. But without the respect of the people, the constitution is only a piece of paper. Plus it’s not like the government has done most of the killing, they’ve only been complete ineffective in stopping it, whether by intent or inability, I’m not sure.

    At this point in time, the most important thing, I think, is for the remaining Christians and other religious minorities to emigrate to safer areas. Syria, Jordan and Lebanon are all possibilities, but may not be wise at the moment. Europe or the US would be good possibilities. One would wish that the international Christian community could raise the money to settle them en masse somewhere so they have less of a chance of losing their community or heritage.

    • Steve Newell says:

      To your point, there must be the concept of minority rights and individual rights.

    • You can have an overall culture that is ready for liberal democracy, but if you can’t get the country secure enough for it to thrive, it will never happen. And security is kind of tough to maintain when you’re a foreign occupying force…imagine if troops were here. Just saying…

      Saddam was a monster, but to some extent, that might have been the only thing that kept Iraq from decending into Chaos before we invaded. (think post-Tito Yugoslavia) Saddam even joked before the invasion that if America ever invaded, dealing with the Shia in the south would be enough to make us want to give it back.

      • cermak_rd says:

        Except dealing with the Shia has been the easy part for us. They are the majority. They will rule the land (as frankly, they should have been all along), hopefully with some tolerance toward the non-Shia in Iraq. I think a lot of the Shia on Sunni violence has been revenge for the sins of Sadaam and his Sunni henchmen. A lot of the Sunni on Shia violence has been sour grapes that they don’t get to rule anymore despite the fact that they are in the minority. Christians are victims because they’re associated with America for some odd reason. I haven’t heard much about other religious minorities in Iraq. I would guess they’d have some Zoroastrians and Bahai, but I’m not sure.

        • I don’t know if I would call it easy, plus I think that we’re just beginning to see the extent of it…we didn’t think about increasing Iranian influence…

          But you are right. I was being lazy in my description because of how complicated the fighting and history of fighting in Iraq really is.

          One of the biggest reasons to shake our heads is that U.S. officials didn’t seem to realize the long long long history of foreign fighters in Iraq. Iraq was always the meeting ground and road for foreign fighters (especially Fallujah) and then we were surprised when we took away Iraq’s strong leader and all these foreign fighters flew in!

  8. I grew up very near that part of the world as an MK and I can tell you that the bulk of US foreign policy there has been odd at best and utterly misguided and marked by hubris at worst for most of the last 40 years. Bright spots have been few and far betwen. The war in Iraq was a needless venture that, by pursuing an unattainable ideal in an unrealistic fashion, has ultimately replaced a lesser evil with a greater one, and at enormous human and material cost to all.

    At the same time, I weep but do not despair for the Kingdom of God in these places. The church throughout history has survived every conceivable government, and it will survive this one. God is working in Muslim lands and a lot of it will never make the news, but the spirit is moving in various places. Please keep praying for these nations and the believers there, and act to reduce the harm to Christ’s people in whatever way you are able.

    • I wonder if some good that might come out of this is that those who have been inciting hatred against Christians will reconsider their words. The stated reason for this attack was that the Coptic church in Egypt is imprisoning a couple of priests’ wives who allegedly converted to Islam and torturing them to reconvert to Christianity. I think that these accusations are baseless but the Egyptian media has used them to stir up a lot of anger against the Copts.
      But after the attack on this church in Iraq–and a statement from Al-Qaeda that all Christians are now legitimate targets–the tune in Egypt has changed, at least temporarily. There have been public statements denouncing anyone who threatens national unity and even the Muslim Brotherhood (I think of this group as “the scholars of jihad”: they’ve [mostly] stuck to political activism, but their writings have provided the theological justification to Al-Qaeda and similar groups) have said that it is a Muslim duty to protect all monotheistic places of worship.
      Egypt is the cultural heart of the Arab world, so if this tragedy results in less slander against Christians in that country, it could lead to less violence against Christians across the Middle East.

    • What’s an MK? (sorry, I just don’t recognize the abrieviation)

  9. Steve Brogan says:

    Christians have been letting the Moslems walk all over us. We can’t depend on the government to protect Christians. (Who knows what Obama really believes.) What we need is a private organization that will defend the rights of our fellow Christians. Maybe hire mercenaries to deal with countries like Egypt and Indonesia. Make them think twice before touching one of us! Hell, for that matter we’ve got Moslems right here in this country, who curse us to our faces. Let’s show THEM how it feels.

    We need to bring back the spirit of the Crusaders:

    Onward, Christian Soldiers
    Marching as to war
    With the Cross of Jesus
    Going on Before

    • I hope that’s sarcasm; the approach in the prayer Chaplin Mike posted is much more Christ-like.
      Sure, let’s stand up for our fellow Christians and our faith, but let’s do it non-violently, with advocacy, polemics, and push-back against the encroachments of Islamic law at the UN (defamation of religion resolutions) and in various countries. Not with mercenaries or “street action”.

  10. FollowerOfHim says:

    It’s long been a source of irony for me that the ongoing emigration of Christians from the Holy Land, where the pressures are significant if well short of the catastrophes in Iraq or Iran, merits absolutely no mention from Christian Zionists, who, for the most part, simply want to the Jews to return to the Holy Land so that they can ultimately…..become Christians.

    In fact, I’d suggest that while Christian Zionists are as appalled as any other Christians at the massacre last Sunday in Iraq, aspects of their thought tend to keep them largely oblivious of the very existence of native Christianity in the Middle East in general, until such unhappy events occur.

    • A-freakin-men

      I am continually baffled at how Christian Zionists don’t seem to be aware of how many Christians there are now in Palestine, and how many more there used to be. Much of the Palestinian resistance has been led by Christian Arabs since the beginning…but that get’s no attention. It’s much easier if we portray the conflict as between Muslims and Jews.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Palestinian Christians have to take it from both sides — the Israelis are against them because they’re Palestinian, and Palestinian Muslims are against them because their Christian. It’s Semitic Tribal Blood Feud over there, and there’s only one way those end.

    • Word. I have a nephew who worked in Ramallah for a number of years, so I learned a lot about the plight of believers both there and in Israel proper, as well as some of the appalling behavior of Israel — all things that never made the news or the Christian media here in America. There’s an enormous amount of filtering that goes on, and I for one believe it to be sinful inasmuch as it prevents us from knowing the truth.

  11. This is a tragedy.

    But I think it also needs to be said that we need to remember how many Mosques have been bombed by local insurgents and jihadists since 2003. And for that matter, by U.S. forces as well. Iraqi civilian deaths have been criminally underreported in the U.S., and it kind of bothers me that we only pay attention when we find out they’re Christian.

    Christians are starting to suffer more now, and have suffered more since we invaded, but Muslim civilians have always been, and are still the biggest target for Al Qaeda and other jihadists.

    • I think you would be hard-pressed to find many actual examples of mosques being bombed by U.S. forces. Having deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, I can tell you that we went over the top to protect mosques, even if it meant that terrorists escaped or that Iraqi or American troops were in danger. Mosques only became targets if terrorists were actively using them to fire from.

      I would agree with your main point whole-heartedly though, that the ‘jihadist’s’ are largely responsible for the deaths of civilians in Iraq even though the majority of those civilians have been of their own faith, and I think that it’s important to keep that in focus. While America’s actions did lead to instability in the region, the responsiblity for the horrendous number of civilians deaths should be on those who caused those deaths. Holding America morally responsible for the vast majority of them is like holding a doctor morally responsible for the pain and blood loss during cancer surgery. Surgery may be ugly and painful, but can still be a morally good thing, despite complications.

      There have been times when the U.S. has been morally culpable (like abuse in Iraqi prisons, murder of civilians), and justice should be sought (and has been many times) in those cases. But, to naively assign blame for all civilian deaths in Iraq since the invasion to America is to ignore the twisted evil that is Islamic terrorism.

      I pray that the blood of the Christian martyrs in Iraq would make a fertile ground for the gospel of Christ in Iraq, that the peace found in Jesus would lead many away from the spiritual blindness and evil that causes so much pain.

      • Yeah, I wasn’t saying that U.S. forces have made a habit of intentionally blowing up mosques. But can you imagine if Iraqi forces accidently bombed even one church in America? It doesn’t need to be intentional and systematic to be a big deal.

        And while the majority of civilian deaths have been the result of insurgents, that does not remove American guilt. If I know there is an escaped murderer loose on your street and yet decide to remove all of the doors to your house and he comes in while I’m there and murders your whole family, am I not responsible for their deaths as well? He did the killing, yes, but if I had left your doors in place, your family would still be alive.

        The U.S. is completely morally culpable for all of Iraqi civilian deaths. Not U.S. soldiers, but U.S. policy makers, and to some extent, U.S. civilians, who pushed to go to war in Iraq in the first place.

        And we do hold doctors responsible for gross negligence if he doesn’t follow proper procedure. If you decide that you don’t have time to sterilize everything before surgery and the person later dies, are you not morally responsible for their death? Or is it just the infection?

        • Yes to being held responsible for gross negligence, but I think I disagree with you that the majority of civilian deaths in Iraq were/are because of gross negligence. While I certainly think that hindsight affords us the ability to think we should have done things differently, that’s vastly different from gross negligence.

          What I mean is that I think your escaped murderer analogy is flawed. Of course if I removed the doors, then I would be culpable. But, I think the analogy is more like whether police who arrest/remove a viscious murderous gang from the streets are responsible for the deaths that occur when a rival gang decides to take over the neighborhood. Some of those deaths may not have occurred when the whole neighborhood was under the heavy-fisted ruler of the gang leader (who had killed many in the past), but does that make the police culpable?

          As I posted earlier and farther above, I think numbers of deaths is not the main factor in the determination of morality in this case. It is possible that the moral thing to do might even lead to more deaths than the immoral thing to do in certain situations.

          Most likely then, we’ve got a fundamental disagreement on whether or not this war was just. I do however, strongly agree with your statement that it bothers you that we only pay attention when it’s Christian deaths. But, I think that’s why we went to war in the first place – to remove the original gang.

          Perhaps our concern is the same: I just apply the concern to the reason for the war, and you apply the concern to the results of the war?

  12. No one has mentioned yet, unless I missed it, the book From the Holy Mountain, by William Dalrymple.

    http://www.amazon.com/Holy-Mountain-Journey-Christians-Middle/dp/0805061770#_

    Far from suggesting that American meddling has caused sudden, recent decline in the fortunes of Christians in Iraq and elsewhere, Dalrymple links that decline to centuries of negligence and outright hostility by western Christians to those same eastern believers.

    How many of us did anything prior to 2002 to help Christians in the middle east or anywhere in the muslim sphere?

  13. I still remember back in 2003, one of the teachers at my high school gave a devotional in a staff meeting about how the Christian churches in Iraq were protected by law. She challenged out very conservative (military-town) Christian sentiments and support of the Iraq War because I think she and others foresaw that something like this would happen. It was prophetic….yet she was ignored and summarily run out of the school by those that disagreed with her (and thought she was a terrible Christian for being against the Iraq War). She was courageous to stand up and speak about it.

    A similar exodus of Christians has been happening in the Palestinian Territories for many years…yet we Western Christians also ignore that as well.

    I regret being so critical of her.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Well, at least when there’s no surviving Christians left in the Umma, turning the keys in the missile silos should be a little easier on the conscience.