It’s three AM in the morning and I hear a dog bark down the street. I turn over in the night and feel my wife next to me in bed, hear my children sleeping in the next room. Suddenly, there’s a loud bang, the door to our house is kicked open, lights flash into our house and masked men yielding guns charge into the room. I jump out of bed and one of them slams the butt of his rifle into my face. My wife cries and lunges for our children, but a man grabs them and begins dragging them outside. There’s yelling, my children are crying. I hear similar shouts coming from the other houses. I hear my neighbor’s wife screaming in terror.
I try to push through to my wife, but another rifle butt hits me in the eye and I cannot see out of it. I am on the ground and I turn over, trying to stand up when another blow hits my good eye and I see only darkness. I crawl on the floor, blood pouring from my face. Lord, hear our prayer. I am trying to reach the sound of my screaming children. I feel two sets of hands take me by the ankles, and pull me out of the house, dumping me in the yard. I hear the sound of a pistol loading behind my head. Lord, hear our prayer. I hear my children screaming. I feel the muzzle position itself at the base of my skull.
Lord of mercy, hear my prayer.
The situation in Iraq has gone from dire to hell. ISIS, which now calls itself simply the Islamic State, claims that it “can do anything now that the world is just looking at Gaza”. The Vicar of Baghdad, Reverend Canon Andrew White has issued an impassioned plea for prayer and support as the ISIS onslaught against the minority Christian community increases and worsens. According to some unconfirmed reports, up to 1500 people have been killed by ISIS already.
This is not to say that we should not be concerned with the events of the Gaza Strip; Christians should be praying fervently for both situations. But the worsening crisis in Iraq should draw on the heartstrings of Christians in particular because the killings in Iraq are not due to war or political disputes, they are religiously based slaughterings. Christians, as well as various other religious sects, are facing unprecedented persecution. And they need our prayers.
As American Christians, news of the sufferings of our brothers and sisters should awaken us to the realities of the world we live in. And it should not just sadden us, it should convict us. Because American Christians have a terrible habit of crying wolf when it comes to religious persecution. Even when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in a controversial judicial decision this past July, many Christians were quick to remark that the whiplash faced by the media had taken some form of persecution. Shortly thereafter, Fox News Host Gretchen Carlson came out and warned that America’s increasingly anti-Christmas spirit promoted Christian persecution. When President Obama signed an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, Christian author and radio talk show host Michael Brown called it throwing “religious- in particular Christians- under the bus”.
In far less official and undocumented cases, I’ve had numerous conversations with fellow Christians in America when they refer to the “persecution” they face from the government for not being allowed to pray publicly in school or because of the remote possibility of losing their second amendment rights. Others of us may mention persecution not at the hand of the government but of peers: we are mocked, looked down upon or viewed as intellectually inferior. All these things are unfortunate and discouraging. But none of this is persecution. This is “being in the world but not of the world.” It’s being a Christian.
And when reading of the horrible events taking place in Iraq we ought to be humbled into prayer and drawn into the grateful realization of how well off we really are. In truth, we ought to be a little bit ashamed of ourselves. Because the American tendency of labeling our standing in society as “persecuted” is akin to standing next to a cancer patient in the hospital and complaining about a chest-cold.
I am not saying we don’t go through difficult times or that there are not some people reading this who are not facing depths of despair: but if they are it’s not because of persecution. Mislabeling any hardships we face displays great ignorance and great insensitivity and diminishes our ability to properly minister to our brothers and sisters in their greatest moments of need. It betrays the fact that, on a practical level, we care more about our political standing and whether or not we’ll be allowed to buy ammunition at Wal-Mart than the fact that some of our brothers and sisters are falling asleep tonight not knowing if they’ll awaken with a nozzle to their foreheads.
I say this as a reminder to myself as much as anyone. I say this to awaken myself from the apathy that haunts me into caring more about updating my Iphone than praying for the persecuted church, more about what type of shoe I will wear today and whether or not 1500 Christians in Iraq are slaughtered while I sleep. It would make for an awful day if my boss yelled at me and berated me publicly for my faith. That would be a good day for an Iraqi Christian; at least they and their family would still be alive. At least they would still have their house, their possessions and a safe place to sleep.
We are not persecuted in the United States. Take a moment today to read about Christians in Iraq and Syria. Take a moment to read the plea from the Vicar Of Baghdad. Then bow your head, picture yourself as a sibling, parent, child in the Iraq church. Feel their pain, their vulnerability, their suffering for the sake of Christ. And for a moment, let us try and put aside ourselves and be unified with them.
Pray for the the church in Iraq and Syria who are facing dire persecution at the hands of ISIS.
Pray for people everywhere who are persecuted for their beliefs.
Lord, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.