Regarding (American, White) Christian Persecution

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The Atlantic recently ran an article on the idea of Christian persecution in America. Citing a recent report, Emma Green notes that nearly 8 out of 10 white evangelical Protestants “believe they are subject to religious discrimination in the United States.”

While this isn’t surprising or new (the persecution narrative is an old line in evangelicalism) it still warrants some discussion. The fact that we (white Christians) believe ourselves to be suffering from persecution points to the great deceit that has befallen the white church. The tenants of our Christian faith are plastered all over our monuments, laws, and politicians— a large majority of which are (literally and figuratively) white. This says nothing of the fact that claiming persecution spits in the face of those who face true religious persecution across the globe. And it should be pointed out that, ironically, those who are fleeing actual religious persecution are some of the refugees to whom we, as a country, have historically closed our borders.

I am not the first one to suggest that to those for whom the privilege is the norm, equality feels like oppression. Nor do I absolve myself from this critique. As long as I value my welfare and my freedom over the rights and well-being of the other, I will never truly be free. Instead, I enslave myself to the fallacy that my values, my security, and my beliefs are what matter. Encountering contradicting conversation (let alone legislation) feels threatening when I hold my comfort as absolute and sacred. It’s a shame that I often do this while also claiming to be an advocate of Christ’s love, all the while Christ is to be found well beyond the gates of my privilege.

I’m a white American Christian; this article is about my demographic, my posture and my tendencies. And it makes me sad. It’s a testimony to why so many in my generation would rather be spiritual than Christian. The hypocrisy is too much to bear. My hypocrisy is too much to bear. It’s so much easier for me to yell “persecution!” than to see the shifting tides of culture as an opportunity to reflect and reexamine. I am not saying I shouldn’t take a stand for what I believe in. But our dogma is cheap if its chief concern and expression is our personal well-being.

We must fix this. If we are going to claim any allegiance to Christ’s love, then we need to make the banner under which we fly not one of “hear us!” but “hear THEM!” When we use our voice to advocate only for ourselves, we lose the voice of Christ, whose voice was always for the other.

If we’re going to bemoan the loss of something, let’s bemoan the loss of our ability to speak with Christ’s voice, not the so-called loss of our freedom.

 

 

Violence Isn’t The Only Solution To the Iraqi Genocide

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ISIS executes members of the Iraqi National Army. Photo from CNN.com

During the Winter War of 1939 & 1940, the entire Finnish population of Karelia, some 422,000, people were evacuated to avoid potential civilian slaughter. In May and June of 1940, Operation Dynamo removed 339,000 British and French troops from Dunkirk, France, shuffling them across the English channel before they were annihilated by oncoming German tanks.

More recently, from August to October of 1990, Air India found its way into the Guinness Book of World Records for the most people evacuated by a civilian airliner. They removed over 111,000 people from Amman to Mumbai via 488 flights over a span of 59 days. In 1999, the Kosovo War resulted in 800,000 refugees sweeping into other parts of Europe and even Israel, where locals opened up their homes and took them in. 

Right now, there’s approximately 40,000 Iraqi civilians facing dire circumstances at the hands of ISIS. The above examples are just a few of the many which prove that humanity is capable much larger evacuations than what it would take to prevent a genocide in Iraq. And yet, America has chosen to continue with it’s standard operating procedure which entails bombing the enemies and dropping a few humanitarian supplies.

And if you take a sweeping glance through social media, you’ll see insurmountable support for the use of violent intervention and the belief that more killing is the only solution to saving the scores of civilians fleeing the wrath of ISIS:

“Kill ISIS!”

“They deserve to be slaughtered like pigs!”

“They (ISIS) need to be fought…with great abandon.” 

But violence is not the answer. It shouldn’t be and it can’t be.

 

Or have we forgotten the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr?

“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

How about Mahatma Gandhi?

“Permanent good can never be the outcome of untruth and violence.”

“There are many causes I would die for. There is not a single cause I would kill for.” - Mahatma Gandhi
“There are many causes I would die for. There is not a single cause I would kill for.” – Mahatma Gandhi

 

Or what of Jesus Christ?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ ‘But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven'” (Matt. 5:43-45)

How about Paul? And the Levitical law?

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:18-19, cf. Duet. 32:35)

Have we forgotten that those who live by the sword will die by the sword? And are we unaware that, in a cruel twist of irony it is often innocent civilians who will die as a casualty as well?

Have we forgotten?

Violence as a solution to violence is like pouring dirty water into a wound in an attempt to prevent infection; it may seem like we’ve accomplished something, but really we’ve made the problem infinitely worse.

After all, as Benjamin Corey and numerous others have pointed out it was the United States’ implementation of violence that put Iraqi Christians in this situation to begin with. When we invaded Iraq and disposed of Saddam Hussein, we created a power vacuum in a dangerously unstable area of the globe. The chaos and frustration the United States experienced when trying to stabilize Iraq were red flags to the endless problems that would await the struggling government upon our withdrawal. History textbooks do not leave one much to hope for what occurs violence precedes power vacuums in unstable areas (do I need to bring up World War I followed by the economic instability of the 1920’s in Europe?). Years before the last Yankee boot left Iraqi soil, shadows of what would follow appeared in reports that conditions for Christians in the country had significantly worsened with the instability brought on by the war. 

And yet, here we are again, calling wrath upon our enemies and refusing to believe that there’s any solution other than violence.

But why isn’t evacuation an option?

Look, I get it. I know it’s not as easy as landing a Boeing 747, opening the door and asking everyone to get in a line according to seat number. Evacuations are difficult, they cost money, they take time and there is a risk that violence might be involved. Plus, where would we take all the refugees? Heaven knows, Americans don’t really like immigrants.

It’d be a messy situation. But don’t pretend dropping bombs isn’t just as messy, just as expensive and just as hazardous. The difference is we don’t deal with the effects of bombs dropping half a world away; our hands don’t get dirty. But if we evacuate refugees to our country, they might.

And that’s my real issue with this whole dilemma. Excuse me for being cynical, but I have to wonder if we actually care about what’s happening to these people, if we actually care enough to find a solution that doesn’t involve the quick and easy ‘kill’ button.

Because, as it stands, we don’t care enough to follow Christ’s command and pray for our enemies, to demand that our government sends our tax dollars towards an something better than just dropping bombs. We don’t care enough to support something like an evacuation, enough to be willing to open up our homes, our towns, and our cities in order to house these people in our own country. The atrocity is on the other side of the world and as long as we drop bombs and take names to lift up in our Sunday morning prayer hour, then that’s where it will stay. Only God, after all, can judge the dead. But we’d actually have to house the living if we evacuated them.

Violence towards ISIS isn’t the only solution to what’s happening in Iraq. We are not helpless save for the option of directing our missiles and hate towards ISIS. There are other options, better options, options that involve praying for the people we really wish were dead, opening up our homes to refugees, opening up our minds to the possibility of taking these people into our country. There are options that involve dropping our weapons and thinking of creative ways in which we might help those in need without more bloodshed and more killing. Things like this has been done numerous times before, so why not now?

There are solutions to the Iraqi genocide that don’t involve violence, solutions that honor Christ.

It’s time we start considering them. It’s time we start caring like Christians.

This past week, the United States started making humanitarian air drops of food and water to refugees stranded in northern regions of Iraq. Photo from NBC.com
This past week, the United States started making humanitarian air drops of food and water to refugees stranded in northern regions of Iraq. Photo from NBC.com

The Face of REAL Persecution

Taken from an IS video, this photo shows Iraqi prisoners, including what appear to be children, piled onto trucks before being driven off for execution. Photo from Anglican Communion News Service
Taken from an IS video, this photo shows Iraqi prisoners, including what appear to be children, piled onto trucks before being driven off for execution. Photo from Anglican Communion News Service

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. 

Displaced Iraqis from the northern town of Sinjar flee to the mountains, seeking refuge after Islamic State extremists seized their hometown and vowed to execute them. Photo from New York Daily News
Displaced Iraqis from the northern town of Sinjar flee to the mountains, seeking refuge after Islamic State extremists seized their hometown and vowed to execute them. Photo from New York Daily News

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.

Continue to pray for the war in the Gaza strip, as the violence continues there.

Pray for the American church, that we would be awakened from our apathy and united with the global church in their sufferings.

 

Lord, hear my prayer,
    listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
    come to my relief.

Psalm 143:1

 

 

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The Arabic letter N is a sign of solidarity with Iraqi Christians. The symbol – meaning Nazarene, or Christian – is being painted on Christian homes by IS supporters to mark them out for attack; and is now being adopting by Christians around the world as an act of support.