June 23, 2017

The Sentimentality that Blinds Us

People stand among debris at the site of a bomb attack at a marketplace in Baghdad's Doura District

A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

– Matthew 2:18

Churches and Christians in the U.S., by and large, focus on all the wrong battles.

In our relative prosperity and ease, we are concerned about minor irritations that annoy us and ignore the person right outside our door lying in a pool of blood taking his last breath.

Contrast the cacophonous furor over the recent suspension of a reality TV star with the almost absolute silence about the Christmas Day bombings near churches in Iraq.

According to the BBC, 35 people were killed in Christian areas in Baghdad. However, it is not only this one incident that should break our hearts, but the fact that nearly one-half of Iraq’s Christians have fled the country since the U.S. invasion of 2003. These are the “unintended consequences” of our “just war” against terrorism. And the Church (at least here in the U.S.) is silent.

Some of the world’s Christians have taken notice. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, did not let this go unnoticed in his Christmas sermon:

Today, singing of Bethlehem, we see injustices in Palestine and Israel, where land is taken or rockets are fired, and the innocent suffer.

We see injustice in the ever more seriously threatened Christian communities of the Middle East. The Prince of Wales highlighted their plight last week. Even this morning a church in Baghdad, where there have been Christians since the 1st century, was bombed and 15 more people testified to their faith with their lives. Christians in the region are attacked and massacred, driven into exile from an area  in which their presence has always been central, undoubted, essential, richly contributing, faithful.

Some American believers, like Michael Newnham of Phoenix Preacher, have given praiseworthy support to an effort to release Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor and U.S. citizen being held in a prison in Iran. But Michael also notes how we here in the free world may support our own while almost completely ignoring articles such as this one, chronicling the massacre of Christians in Syria.

To us, Bethlehem and the land where biblical history was spawned has become little more than Christmas sentiment which gives us the opportunity to become grinches who growl when people don’t honor the cultural perks to which we’ve become accustomed.

We’re 2000+ years behind in our understanding that the first people to know Jesus have kin that continue to worship under Herod’s rapacious rule.

Rachel is still weeping for her children there. Why are we not?

* * *

For further reading: A Real Cause for Christian Outrage at her.meneutics.

Comments

  1. David Cornwell says:

    Some of the Christian churches that go back centuries in Palestine include Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Melkite, and Roman Catholic. Some claim roots going back to Pentecost. There are also more recent Palestinian churches.

    Some followers of Darbyism refuse to even consider the legitimacy of these churches, let alone pray for them.

  2. Mike, thank you for this. The link to her.meneutics is excellent. I am repenting.

  3. “Churches and Christians in the U.S., by and large, focus on all the wrong battles.”
    Grabs popcorn

  4. Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

    It may be because I run in Anglican circles that have some interesting influence almost equally from Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Reformed voices, but I’ve heard quite a bit about the plight of the Syrian Christians and other Christians from the Middle East, usually in the form of a call to prayer and a rebuke for ignoring these same plights. With the exception of the Reformed voices, all three of the others (Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox) tend to be more globally networked, and thus when things like this happen, it happens to people that we know, or people that know people we know. I think that helps keep us from the kind of myopia that leads to the blind sentimentality.

    • Good point. When we see ourselves as part of one holy and apostolic church around the world, our perspective on what happens elsewhere changes.

      • Isaac/Obed says:

        It’s not just the bigger perspective, but also the actual people we know. It’s one thing to hear about a church in a sister province. It’s another for their bishop, who’s buddies with our bishop and with whom our pastor has broken bread to talk about churches under his care.

  5. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > Churches and Christians in the U.S., by and large, focus on all the wrong battles.
    > In our relative prosperity and ease, we are concerned about minor irritations that
    > annoy us and ignore the person right outside our door lying in a pool of blood
    > taking his last breath.

    And from he “right outside our door” we end up in the Middle East? I’m sorry but this as wrong – because it is equally as hopeless and ineffective – a focus as `the culture wars`. There is nothing a church in the USA can do about totalitarian regimes or racism and bigotry in foreign lands other than making some noise. Making noise can be good; but when making noise becomes the focus… you just end up back in the culture wars of a different flavor [on the `Left` I’ve seen this aplenty – who can possibly weep the most ardently for the most desperately persecuted – as nearly a competition; and aghast at those who don’t “care” as much. It’s the thought that counts, right?].

    Meanwhile “right outside our door” the door is a world we can see, touch, smell, a world which sees us and which we can see. Maybe nobody is bleeding to death, so it is not so dramatic, but it is a world the Church and the Christian can actually touch.

    I’ve been involved in letter writing campaigns, etc… and all that this good. But do not let it become another safely distant and disinfected moral crusade. It is something one can spend a few minutes a day working on which a few couple-of-hour blocks here and there — and then the other several hours of every day.

    • Thank you for this. I am getting quite weary of being scolded like this. I may be relatively “privileged” on a worldwide scale, but I am not so powerful or privileged on the scale of my actual life that I can do much more than pray and send a dollar or two to the needy. Apparently that means I should stop engaging with cultural and social issues closer to home, or something, and sit around dourly admonishing myself for not Doing Enough.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > Thank you for this. I am getting quite weary of being scolded like this

        Note that I am not putting down this sentiment or concern; only the `the alternative focus` part. This is a very legitimate concern, the suffering should always be recognized in prayers and thoughts.

        > but I am not so powerful or privileged on the scale of my actual life that I can do much more
        > than pray and send a dollar or two to the needy.

        I understand the feeling.

        > Apparently that means I should stop engaging with cultural and social issues closer to home, or
        > something, and sit around dourly admonishing myself for not Doing Enough.

        I do not believe anyone here means that; but giving oneself a vacation of sorts might be appropriate.

        The refreshment, IMO, can come however by not really bowing out but attending *primarily* to smaller things one can actually be more engaged with. There are “cultural and social issues” much “closer to home” than most people see, and they are smaller, more on a human scale, and involve interacting with people [which helps in not falling into the helping-is-by-shouting mold].

    • I’m simply asking that these sufferings of our brothers and sisters be thought about, talked about, studied and prayed about with the same seriousness as some of the issues we focus upon. Perhaps your response represents one reason why they are not. We Americans tend to think that when someone brings up a subject like this we are being asked to DO something — we’re being asked to fix it. I don’t know if we can do anything or not, and “fixing” is not in our control. But for heaven’s sake, throw a lament into your prayers and corporate worship now and then.