The Christian population in much of the Middle East “is becoming a shadow of its former self,” due to atrocities and forced expulsions, according to the International Religious Freedom Report. As persecutions of Christians persist in the Middle East, many are wondering why America, as a predominantly Christian nation, isn’t doing more to help.
The militant extremist group ISIS has issued an ultimatum to Christians in Iraq: "Convert to Islam, leave, or die," according to The Week. In the Syrian city of Homs, wrote the International Religious Freedom Report, the Christian population has dropped from 160,000 to about 1,000. In a January study from the Pew Research Center, Christians were persecuted or harassed in more countries than any other major religion.
While persecution of any religion is wrong and should be stopped, wrote Jay Michaelson of the Daily Beast, it is interesting to note the lack of American response to this particular crisis because so many Americans are Christians themselves.
“Where is the outrage?” he asked. Michaelson listed a few possible reasons, including simple inaccessibility. “It’s hard to find a good intervention in Syria or Iraq — let alone China. Most of the places that are bad for Christians are bad places for everybody,” he wrote.
Michaelson believes that this issue should teach American Christians, specifically conservatives, what it really means to be discriminated against for being a Christian.
“The oppression of Christians abroad could be a much-needed reality check for those complaining about the War on Christmas,” he wrote. “It could remind them of what religious liberty is: not the freedom to discriminate, but freedom from discrimination, violence, and worse.”
But American Christians haven’t been silent on the issue, wrote Jonathan Merritt of The Week, and he cited several strong statements from conservative evangelicals speaking out against Obama for his inaction. However, the issue is not only the president’s responsibility, according to Merritt.
“The Obama administration's pullout from Iraq has doubtlessly contributed to this crisis,” he wrote. “But these evangelical pundits fail to recognize that Christians in Iraq have faced extreme persecution since well before Obama took office. And though admitting it may taste bitter, evangelicals themselves must share the blame for the persecution of their brothers and sisters.”
Merritt went on to write that the anti-Christian state of the Middle East now is the result of many factors, including the initial widespread evangelical support for the war in Iraq.
“All of these (varying political) actions — yes, all of them — have transformed Iraq into an incubator for anti-Christian Islamic extremism,” he said. “Many American evangelical leaders — even those who now want to shift all blame to their political opponent — supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq, actions that contributed to the mass persecution of our brothers and sisters. And these leaders should be pleading for forgiveness, not pointing fingers.”
The U.S. is not the only country that should be re-evaluating its motives, according to Italian newspaper editor Ernesto Galli della Loggia. His article was translated into English and posted on the blog Rorate Caeli. In addition to other factors, he wrote, “Europe is afraid.”
“It fears Arab Islam,” he continued, “Its power of economic blackmail linked not only to oil anymore, but now also to an extraordinary financial liquidity. At the same time, and above all, it fears the ruthless terrorism, the so many guerrillas that claim to be inspired by Islam.”
Europe fears antagonizing Islam, he wrote, but it also has developed an apathy towards Christianity that Loggia compares to anti-semitism.
“In a Europe pervaded by secularization, in a Europe whose spiritual sources are rapidly running dry based on the disdain decreed against every humanism, in fact it cannot but be established a fatally necessary connection between indifference towards Christianity and anti-semitism,” he wrote.
Ethics professor Paul Vallely also addressed the issue of antipathy towards Christians in his article in The Independent. According to Vallely, Western powers are growing more secular and trying to leave their Christian roots behind.
“In the UK, it is socially respectable among the secular elite to regard Christianity as weird and permissible to bully its followers a little … (despite the) unquestionable assertion that Britain's culture is formed by Christian values,” he wrote as an example. And partially because of this ongoing Western identity crisis, “The world's Christians fall through the cracks of the left-right divide — they are too religious for liberals and too foreign for conservatives.”
The Western world deals with “comparatively trivial new stories about receptionists being banned from wearing religious jewelery or nurses being suspended for offering to pray for patients' recovery,” he wrote.
“(But) the reality of being a Christian in most of the world today is very different. It only adds to their tragedy that the West fails to understand that — or to heed the plea of men such as the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal when he asks: ‘Does anybody hear our cry? How many atrocities must we endure before somebody, somewhere, comes to our aid?’ ”
Bethan Owen is a writer for the Deseret News Moneywise and Opinion sections. Twitter: BethanO2