A recent column by Ross Douthat, a usually conservative columnist for the New York Times, brought to the fore a topic that is generally ignored by American media and politicians: the evolving extermination of Christians in the Middle East. Ross Douthat’s column refers to the Middle East’s “friendless Christians.” And that’s exactly what they are. One would have expected the country that presents itself to the world as the great Christian super-power (“in God we trust,” remember?) would have been in the forefront of defending Christians in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Sudan, and other areas of the Middle East. But that has not been the case. Indeed, the eradication of Christians in Iraq happened after the 2003 invasion. Why?
Ross Douthat’s article does not explore all the reasons for the failure to defend Christians in that part of the world, but gives enough summary statements of fact to begin to give us some idea. Neither the Left nor the Right come out well in his well-reasoned comments. Read it, it’s short enough. The US and NATO were far more eager to help Bosnian Moslems in the 1990’s than they are to help Middle Eastern Christians. Our own Elizabeth Prodromou has written extensively on the plight of Christians in the Middle East and you can read some of her comments here.
The French philosopher Régis Debray put it well: the victims are too religious to excite the left and too foreign to excite the right. The American Left has shown little interest in defending Christians, given the Left’s generally negative attitude toward Christianity. But what about the Left’s legendary defense of “human rights”? Shouldn’t that motivate them to speak out against the extermination of whole Christian communities? And is there any excuse for the American Right, who claim to stand for Christian values? What is their problem? The main concern of the Right is, of course, Israel. And then there are the Evangelicals, who are committed to Israel because of their belief in what they call “the Rapture.” Israel is their ticket out of the world, when they are taken (“raptured”) up to the clouds where they can enjoy watching the rest of “unsaved” humanity suffer! Sick, right?
Make no mistake about it. This is not a marginal cult with a few hundred members. These are the beliefs of perhaps 50 million American Evangelicals, probably more. And these are people who vote, and they are people who control the airwaves in many parts of the country, and they pour huge amounts of money into political and media campaigns in support of Israel. They love Israel; not really because they love Jews, but because Jews and Israel play the main role in their apocalyptic scenario. According to this scenario, Israel is going to be savagely attacked; and then Jesus will come down – not to save Jews, but the Evangelical Christians! And after the Evangelicals are taken (‘raptured’) away to safety in the clouds, the Jews will be left on earth to be tormented, together with everyone else, during what Evangelicals call “the tribulation”! It is the most self-serving, most obnoxious form of Christianity the world has ever known. And it’s homegrown right here in our midst. And, of course, it’s all fantasy.
So Christians in that part of the world are being offered as sheep to the slaughter so that we can continue our unquestioning support of Israel and so that Evangelicals can prepare for their “rapture.” Indeed, many Evangelical organizations and churches actively work against peace in the Middle East. They want war, because only war will bring the return of Jesus, and thus their ‘rapture’. So because of their mythology, these people care nothing about Palestinian Christians. And you won’t hear them speak out in defense of Christians in Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Egypt, or anywhere else in that part of the world; only Israel matters to them. I also care about Israel and the Jews, but not to the exclusion of everyone else – and certainly not in the sick way of the “Rapture” people.
This is tragic. Christians have no strategic importance for the Western powers, and so they are being sacrificed in pursuit of bigger game. The game that the US and NATO are about to pursue in Syria is extremely dangerous. Support “moderate” rebels in Syria? Who are we kidding? The objective is one and one only: depose Assad. Regime change is the goal. And what will be the result? Wholesale slaughter of Syrian Christians, just as it was in Iraq. Why does no one talk about these things? Why do we not learn from past mistakes?
Why do we not learn? Because we don’t want to. No one cares about Christians in the Middle East. They are “collateral damage.” Graphic images are available all over the Internet. Here are two that are not as graphic as others.
“Jesus wept” (John 11:35). And Jesus has wept throughout the ages as people were led to the slaughter by imperial and ecclesiastical powers. And Jesus is weeping today. Does Mohammed weep, seeing the horrors of terror carried out in his name? I don’t know, and I really don’t care, because I don’t believe in Mohammed or any Muslim mythology, just as I don’t believe in the sadistic Jesus of Evangelical “rapture” believers. I believe in the Jesus who wept. Jesus “is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus doesn’t change from being the compassionate Savior of the world.
Jesus wept 2,000 years ago. Don’t tell me Jesus cared for Lazarus, but doesn’t care for the slaughter of millions today. Don’t you dare tell me that Jesus is different today. Don’t you, Mr or Ms Evangelical, dare tell me that Jesus only cares about you and is just waiting to lift you out of the horrors of this world. On his last night with the disciples, Jesus prayed to the Father: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Anyone who prays differently and asks to be “raptured” out of the world is a blasphemer and is making Jesus a liar.
Is God protecting the Christians of the Middle East? Or is he only protecting us comfortable Christians of the West? If God has protected us, let’s be grateful for the freedom and relative security that we enjoy. Let’s be grateful for living in a country where we are free to worship God and Jesus without fear of torture or decapitation. Let’s be grateful, but let’s not stop at our own safety. We must speak out for those who can only be defended by us and our voices. Jesus will hold us accountable for failing to defend the least of his brothers and sisters. I love the NRSV translation: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Anyone who wants to debate who is a member of the family and who is not clearly does not know Jesus.
Many of the Christians being slaughtered in the Middle East are Orthodox Christians. But I do not limit my concern to Orthodox Christians. All persecuted Christians are members of the family of Jesus; and hence my family. I feel powerless and I’m sure you do too. But I can educate for a start and share my own education with anyone who reads this. Action may follow from some of us. Perhaps you, the reader.