BLOG 264 August 3, 2015
Even though the Christian faith was born in the Middle East, with the rise of ISIS and similar extreme movements, its very survival now hangs in the balance. In a parallel vein, Christian ethics are under assault in Eastern European countries. Seldom has the future of Christianity faced such assault as today.
Since l968, I have traveled across the entire Middle Eastern sector many times. During this period, I visited many churches. Most were of the Orthodox persuasion while a few were Roman Catholic. Some Lutheran and Baptist Churches were around but not many. Since then the Evangelical branch of Christianity has become enamored with Israel and Jewish thought. Nevertheless, all of these groups are taking it on the chin.
When ISIS conquerors an area, non-Muslims are given three options: convert, pay a heavy tax, or be killed. Their target is “the people of the book:” Christians, Jew, or Zoroastrians. Most are now running for their lives as the Middle East empties of Christians.
Christianity came to Iraq in the first century. The Apostle Thaddeus traveled to Mesopotamia preaching the gospel. Today Iraqi Christians call themselves Assyrians, Chaldeans or Syriac. Different names for their common heritage in the Mesopotamia kingdoms of long ago. Many of these churches are still divided by doctrinal differences that extend back to the earliest centuries of the Christian era.
Where the Christian faith once made up 14% of the population, it is now down to 4%. In Iran and Turkey, believers are now almost completely gone. In Lebanon, Christians once were 78% of the population, but today they are only 34%. The rest have left the country. Fear continues to drive people out. While the Assad regime once protected Christians, today over 600,00 fled the country out of fear as groups like the Nustra front, rebels, and now ISIS approach their cities. The so-called Arab Spring only made matters worse. ISIS’s goal of eradicating all memory of Christianity and other religious groups is destroying churches, shrines, and highly important relics from the past. ISIS also seizes young women and holds them for ransom or gives them to their fighters as slave-wives. In turn, these captives are often traded back and forth among their soldiers.
Making matters worse, the current Washington administration refuses to call the religious persecution by its rightful name. The description of Christian persecution always has the name Christian removed. When ISIS executed Egyptian Copts, the Obama administration called them “Egyptian citizens.” The silence about obvious religious persecution doesn’t help the persecuted
While not nearly as brutal, In Europe, countries like Slovakia are experiencing growing secular pressure to denounce centuries old Christian values. The right of individual conscience is under attack. Called “sexuality training” grade school children are exposed to contraception and abortion alternatives. Children ages 12 to 15 learn about prostitution and pornography while taught to be wary of the influence of “religion on decisions regarding sexuality.” While various churches have different positions on these issues, the point is that secular assaults seriously undermine Christian teaching.
Christians are being hit hard. Can you imagine the Middle East without a Christian population? It’s possible.