Persecution should not surprise of us; Jesus warned us this would happen to His followers. For Christians in America, persecution has been increasing in recent years (and picked up speed during the Obama administration), but compared to what is happening to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, it is still small. Christians here may have their businesses ruined and lives disrupted, be pressured to deny tenants of their faith or suffer financial and social consequences, but they won’t be beheaded or have their churches destroyed (not yet anyway). Our own government (and even church leaders) have made things worse or turned a blind eye to the tragedy occurring in the Middle East.
Under the Obama administration’s foreign policies and actions, the plight of Middle Eastern Christians was not a priority to say the least: genocide was ignored and little if any aid offered. US actions in places like Libya and Syria may have increased the reach of ISIS and destabilization of those areas and led to more persecution of Christians and other non-Muslim minorities. Even the recent disappointing air strike by Trump’s military, it has been argued, increased the risk to Christians in the area (Assad, more secular than ISIS, doesn’t have destroying infidels at the top his list of objectives).
Sadly, the American Church has also not helped the situation. According to Stephen Herreid, the USCCB’s efforts to resettle refugees in the US and support open-borders style immigration, are in direct conflict with Middle Eastern Christians.
Over the years, a pattern has emerged that can no longer be ignored: The rhetoric of many American bishops is consistently at odds with the pleas of Christian leaders in the Middle East. It is a scandal for American bishops to disagree with the persecuted Church during the course of a years-long, genocidal attack…
Just after ISIS’s first brutal conquests in 2014, Bishop Denis Madden, then Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, warned that recent atrocities “intensify our duty to speak out…” He warned not about radical Islamism, but about the “Islamophobia” that was “on the rise” among Christians, whom he censured for “using our religion as an excuse for slander, bigotry or other inhospitable acts.”
More recently, American bishops have combined their enthusiasm for lenient border policies and their concerns about Islamophobia into a single emphatic stance: Advocacy for mass migration from the Middle East. Many bishops protested and condemned President Trump’s executive orders on migration and refugee resettlement. A common theme was that the orders constituted a “Muslim ban,” and that it was irrational and xenophobic to pause and reassess the mass migration of mostly Muslim refugees from Jihad-afflicted countries.
In any case, the resettlement programs that these bishops supported (and now vociferously defend) have been extremely neglectful of the most vulnerable minorities targeted by ISIS. A shocking figure that was widely reported last year: fewer than one half of one percent of Middle Eastern migrants settled in the U.S. were Christian. The numbers of other targeted minorities such as Yezidis have been comparably miniscule.
In striking contrast, see how leaders of the Middle-Eastern Church respond:
Just after fleeing his diocese with those of his flock who were lucky enough to survive ISIS’s conquest, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Amel Shimoun Nona of Mosul warned the West, “Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future.”
Western Christians were “welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims,” but “Islam does not say that all men are equal,” he said. “Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.”
Bishop Bawai Soro of the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle in San Diego, himself a one-time refugee from Iraq, recently wrote a column at The San Diego Union Tribune in which he commended President Trump’s efforts to increase border security. “Open borders and easygoing immigration policies are what could inflict the U.S. with the fire that has been burning in the Middle East for centuries,” he wrote. “Today’s Europe is a good lesson to America.”
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil… approved of President Trump’s plans to prioritize religious minorities who are at the greatest risk, and was offended by protests against what many American bishops called a “Muslim ban.” …
“Obviously in the long run, [Trump’s executive order] will make it easier for those from our community who wish to move to the West. And while I hope most of our people will stay, I must respect the decision they make for themselves, especially after what they have endured… There were no protests when Syrian Christians were only let in at a rate that was 20 times less than the percentage of their population in Syria … [It] is very hard for me to understand why comfortable people in the West think those who are struggling to survive against genocide, and whose communities are at extreme risk of disappearing completely, should not get some special consideration. We are an ancient people on the verge of extinction because of our commitment to our faith. Will anybody protest for us?”
Referencing the stated requests of the Middle Eastern Church for aid, not to relocate people, but to help the Church to stay put and not be eradicated, Herreid summed up the situation:
Given the amount of rhetoric about refugee resettlement from clerics in the U.S., it’s easy to slip into the habit of automatically associating care for refugees with migration. But when Middle Eastern clerics speak of intervening on behalf of refugees, they are much more often advocating for a) decisive military action against ISIS, and b) funding and supplies to aid the Middle Eastern churches that care for refugees who wish to return to their homes after the destruction of ISIS.
In fact, judging from the consistent pleas of Syrian and Iraqi clergy, American clerics’ emphasis on mass immigration may even be in direct competition with the dire financial needs of the Middle Eastern Church. (Imagine if U.S. bishops asked the Trump administration to allocate some portion of their $91 million in refugee resettlement contracts to meet the needs of the Middle Eastern Church!)
Family Research Council also touched on the suffering of Middle Eastern Christians today and its connection with the US:
This weekend, as we celebrate the most significant Christian holiday of the year, the Resurrection, churches in Egypt — which have been the target of Islamists — will either meet in secret or be forced to forego meeting altogether. The Coptic believers make up one of the oldest Christian churches in the world, dating back to 55 A.D. As ISIS’s reign of terror spreads throughout the Middle East, some may be tempted to think the terrorists and the tyrants have won, that Christianity is in retreat. Such a notion couldn’t be farther from the truth…
Whether it is persecution by Islamists, communists, and atheists — or prosecution by liberal governments, nothing will stop the truth of the gospel from transforming hearts and minds and communities and countries. Why? Because of what we will celebrate this weekend — the resurrection of Jesus Christ…
Equipped with this confidence, we should be bold in not only living out our faith in Christ but sharing it as well. As we have been reconciled to God through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, we are to share the truth of reconciliation with the world. This weekend, as we gather in our churches, we must pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being persecuted for nothing more than being followers of Jesus. But we must do more than pray. We, as a nation, cannot wash our hands of contributing to the record levels of Christian persecution worldwide, as identified by Open Doors USA and others.
Both our domestic and foreign policies over the last eight years have aided ISIS’s bloody march across the Middle East. It’s critical that we redouble our efforts to root out the hostility towards Christians here at home. Otherwise, it sends a message to the tyrants and terrorists abroad that it’s open season on Christians. The message is clear: if our own government won’t protect the rights of Christians here at home, why would we protect the lives of Christians abroad?
I am hopeful that the message is about to change under the new Trump administration.
Today is Good Friday, the saddest day of the Christian year and yet full of hope because we know the Resurrection is coming. Can we also hope that the tide against Christians might soon turn here at home? Or abroad? Perhaps it is right to choose hope, but the current state of things has been a long time developing and will likely take a long time to reverse and in the meantime many will suffer (and die). If even the church leaders are not willing to fight for our brethren and have become misguided followers of “social justice” who cannot even recognize the enemy, our fight will be even longer and harder.
In a Lenten devotional, I recently read that pessimism and cynicism are not of the Holy Spirit, but rather that hope and optimism are. Hope is a virtue of course, but this seems rather simplistic to me (and rather like seeing the world through rose-colored glasses). The hard truth may be that yes, we can hope in Jesus and that yes, He has overcome the world — but that hope may not be fulfilled until the End. Today is about the Cross and Suffering, even if the future holds the Resurrection. Whether we succeed or not, to be faithful is the important thing. It is encouraging to remember that when the state of the world seems fairly hopeless.