The triple tragedy of Christian persecution in Middle East
The Associated Press
Pakistani Christian worshippers prayed Sept. 23 in a special mass for the victims of a suicide bombing in Peshawar. The brutal assault killed many worshippers the previous day.
Published: 10 November 2013 05:42 PM
Updated: 10 November 2013 05:56 PM
Coptic Christians joyfully waited outside the Virgin Church in Cairo for the bride to arrive. … Instead, bearded men on a motorcycle pulled up and fired. … “We heard gunfire and ran outside to find people and children lying on the ground swimming in their blood,” said Father Sawiris Boshra.
Reuters, Oct. 21
Christians in the broader Middle East, it seems, are in the crosshairs. In September, two Taliban suicide bombers rushed All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan, as worshippers exited. One exploded his bomb outside, one inside. Eighty-two people were slaughtered. In March, two churches and about 100 Christian homes were ransacked in Lahore.
Today, millions of Christians and other religious minorities are facing vile persecution. Many Christians are struggling to escape from the countries where their ancestors have lived for two millennia. The human tragedy unfolding in these countries is profoundly disturbing. But the tragedy extends beyond the suffering of individuals and families.
Next month in Rome, Georgetown University, in partnership with Baylor University, will showcase the findings of a two-year study on Christianity and freedom. Three dozen scholars will assemble to discuss what Christians have contributed to freedom and prosperity in their own countries, and, implicitly, what will be lost if those countries are emptied of their Christian populations.
The countries include Egypt, where the holy family fled when Jesus was a baby. Many Christians now are exiting Egypt in the wake of the badly misnamed “Arab Spring.” In August alone, scores of churches were torched, some of them dating to the fifth century.
They include Syria, Paul’s destination when he was called by Jesus. Today, many Syrian Christians have fled, fearing the prospects of an Islamist regime. One village, Maaloula, is one of the last places on Earth where Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is still spoken. In September, it was overrun by Islamist terrorists.
In Iraq, Christians once enjoyed a fragile stability under Saddam Hussein, but since his fall they have been targets of fierce persecution. The Christian presence in Iraq, as elsewhere, is rapidly diminishing.
Christian communities have helped shape the history and culture of the Middle East. Indeed, Christian minorities the world over have contributed significantly to the societies in which they live. In China, Vietnam, India, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan and throughout Africa, Christian schools have dramatically increased literacy. Christian development agencies and NGOs reduce poverty, provide clean water, build hospitals and clinics, and teach young mothers how to care for their children.
Perhaps most importantly, and most ironically, Christians have brought to the Middle East and elsewhere the ideas and institutions of freedom. While Christianity has its own mixed history, it has in the modern era championed equality under the law, economic opportunity and religious freedom for all people. If Middle Eastern countries continue to repress and expel their Christian populations, the fading prospect of stable, free societies will virtually disappear.
A final tragedy is this. The United States does not appear to see the national security implications of a Christian-free zone in the Middle East. The current administration fears that it will alienate Muslim populations if it is seen to protect Christians. In fact, to be consistent with our values, the United States must support religious freedom for everyone, not just Christians.
But Christians are part of “everyone.” And the reality is that they, as well as the institutions and habits they bolster, are important elements of stability in the Middle East. American diplomacy, notoriously religion-averse, must wake up: Religion in general — and sometimes Christianity in particular — is a vital part of the world diplomats engage in defense of American interests.
Among the distinguished speakers at our Rome conference will be Archbishop Louis Raphael Sako, the Chaldean patriarch of Iraq. The title of his speech: “Christianity Matters: What the Middle East Will Lose if Christians Flee.”
It is a profoundly important question, one we fail to address at our collective peril.
Baylor University President Ken Starr may be contacted through Office_of_President@baylor.edu.