May 12, 2014
By John Stonestreet, Breakpoint
What could bring together Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders from around the world to speak with one voice? Persecution—like Christians haven’t seen for centuries.
Just a few days ago, my Colson Center colleagues and I presented the “Vicar of Baghdad,” Canon Andrew White, with the 2014 Wilberforce Award for faithfully discharging what’s surely one of the most dangerous pastorates on earth.
On Wednesday Canon White went to Capitol Hill for a press conference called by Congressman Frank Wolf, a longtime champion of religious freedom, and Democratic congresswoman Anna Eshoo. Joining him were the Catholic Archbishop of Washington, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the Archbishop of the Armenian Apostolic Church in America, and representatives from the Southern Baptist Convention, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, and the National Religious Broadcasters.
Prison Fellowship CEO Jim Liske, who spoke at the press conference, tells me that this almost Nicene show of unity looked every bit as odd as it sounds.
But these representatives from across the Christian world were on the Hill not to defend the deity of Christ, but the lives of His people. They started with a pledge of solidarity and a call to action signed by over 200 other Christian leaders. It’s a call that, in part, demands the U.S. government take seriously the desperate plight of Christians in the Middle East.
Now folks, Eric Metaxas and I have told you before on BreakPoint just how serious this persecution has become in many countries. Some of the world’s oldest Christian communities—many tracing their heritage back to the Apostles—are now facing extinction at the hands of Muslim extremists. In particular, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt have seen unprecedented spikes in violence against Christians.
In recent months, several clergymen were kidnapped or murdered in Syria and entire Christian towns have been ransacked in the midst of the ongoing civil war. Fifty-eight believers were massacred at Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad last year, and in Egypt dozens of ancient Coptic churches have been torched, Christian-owned businesses and hotels have been attacked, and believers who remain fear daily for their lives.
As Canon White, whose own congregation in Baghdad has dwindled, says, “I can’t say [my people should stay] anymore. Because if they stay, they’ll die.” In fact, the Christian population in the entire Middle East has plummeted to a mere 40 percent of what it was just three years ago. It’s no exaggeration to say that we’re in the midst of a Christian exodus on a level never seen before in history.
But what can we do? Well for starters, we need to identify with those in the crucible. They are our brothers and sisters, and like the Christians whose support Paul enlisted for the persecuted church in Jerusalem, we need to make their suffering ours. We can decide to be our brothers’ keepers. Or we risk losing them.
“We feel forgotten and isolated,” agreed Baghdad’s Catholic Chaldean Patriarch, Louis Sako. “We sometimes wonder, if they kill us all, what would be the reaction of Christians in the West? Would they do something then?”
Well something is being done. Not only does this new pledge declare the solidarity of American Christians with our persecuted brethren, but it calls Washington to get off its hands and treat this as what it is: one of the greatest human rights crises of our time.
Congressman Wolf and Congresswoman Eshoo have already co-sponsored legislation calling for a Special Envoy on Middle East Religious Minorities. The bill, HR 301, overwhelmingly passed in the House, but is now stuck in the Senate.
There’s never been a better time to call or write your Senator and encourage him or her to prioritize religious freedom. Remind your Senator of this pledge, and what a universal Christian consensus it represents. We’ll have contact information for you at BreakPoint.org.
And of course, pray. Pray that those who embrace Christ in the Middle East would find safety, that their suffering would win others to Christ—and that Christianity would not perish from the land of its birth.
The persecuted Christians in the Middle East are our brothers and sisters; they need our help and encouragement.
Pledge of Solidarity and Call to Action
Canon Andrew White – Vicar of Baghdad – receives Wilberforce Award
American Christians pledge solidarity with persecuted Christians in Egypt, Iraq and Syria
Nina Shea | Fox News | May 7, 2014
USCCB General Assembly – 2013 November – Presidential Address
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan | USCCB.org | November 11, 2013