Lost in so many of the headlines regarding the Syrian civil war, the emergence of ISIS, the American response, etc. is the tragic decimation of the church in the Middle East. Some are beginning to write about this. Just last week, Ross Douthat of the NY Times and Peggy Noonan of the WSJ addressed their concerns (“The Middle East’s Friendless Christians” and “The Genocide of Mideastern Christians”). It remains to be seen if these, and articles like them, will have any impact on our political will or the attention of our churches.
Ten days ago, the evangelical communities of Lebanon and Syria, in an unprecedented act, sent an urgent appeal to believers around the world. They announced a “state of emergency” in order to preserve what remains of a Christian presence “and to circumvent its complete demise.” Listen to this paragraph:
“The issue of Christian presence in the Middle East has gone beyond the stage of calling for equal rights and protection from persecution. It has become a cry of warning before further events cause the annihilation of Christian presence in the Middle East.”
It is their hope that we, the church, will raise awareness, inform law makers, work for a long term strategy, send needed resources, and pray. If not, we may look back upon the grim history of Christianity’s disappearance from the Middle East.
Douthat is not so hopeful that the beleaguered Christian communities of the ME will gain visibility or support. The political left associates Christian faith with dead white male imperialism and is not inclined to be sympathetic. Christians in this region of the world do not have the influence to impact America’s strategic class. They are “too scattered and impotent to offer much quid for the superpower’s quo.” And those conservative Christians on the right are not so interested in the plight of ancient churches like the Eastern orthodox, Maronites, and Copts.
Speaking as an evangelical, it is time we become more concerned, more vocal. Jihadists are systematically de-Christianizing the Middle East. They will only be further emboldened if we say nothing. They will continue on their mission if all we speak are empty words. It’s not that our church, Village, has it all right, but we have been working closely with groups in parts of the Middle East, sending both resources and people. We can see that those on the ground are coming to the breaking point of capacity to minister to the steady stream of refugees. Nearly one-third of the populace in Lebanon are people who have been uprooted and have sought some degree of security.
There are churches in parts of Beirut that are having an amazing ministry to Muslims, showing the love of Christ to desperate people. They need our help. There are Christians traveling every day to the Bekaa to distribute supplies. They are weary and need our encouragement. I have spent time in house churches in Aleppo. I have sat with nervous believers in Damascus, hearing their amazing stories of conversion. Further south, I have met young, enthusiastic followers of Jesus. They need to know they are not forgotten.
Our God is not a helpless bystander. Everything in Scripture tells me His heart breaks for all who are oppressed. God’s Word also tells me that we have the capacity in Christ to do even greater things (John 14:12; Eph 3:20-21). Somehow, we have to come together and fearlessly unleash God’s power.
In his, The Call, Os Guiness put it this way: “Faith in Christ will regain its decisive authority in the modern world when we who follow Christ fear God more than we fear the powers of this world.”