The Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon has issued a “state of emergency,” hoping “to preserve what remains of the Christian–and moderate non-Christian–presence in the East, and to circumvent its complete demise.”
They stated that “the issue of Christian presence in the Middle East has gone beyond the state 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.”
Writing in solidarity with leaders of the Eastern Christian churches and some Islamic groups, their letter is to the worldwide Protestant and evangelical community, noting that the actions of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) verges “on being a bona fide genocide.”
Their statement is being circulated at a time when Western and some Middle East governments are cobbling together war plans to defeat ISIS and to redress the situation in Syria, where the civil war has resulted in a death toll approaching 200,000 and created over 3 million refugees.
Regrettably, misunderstanding about the plight of Christians in the Middle East is widespread in the United States.
Sen. Ted Cruz’s unfortunate remarks at the recent “Defense of Christians” conference are but one example of the lack of understanding about Christianity–and Christianity in the Middle East.
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat rightly notes that the Christian community in the Middle East has had “a fatal invisibility” in the West.
He identifies three reasons for this: (1) the political left really doesn’t see Christians as persecuted; (2) the right really doesn’t get Orthodox Christianity in the Middle East and thinks only of Israel; and (3) the foreign policy class doesn’t think the Christian minority is large enough to matter.
Given these dynamics, the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon addresses the statement to Protestant and evangelical churches and organizations worldwide.
Two of the signatories are Baptist friends of mine: Elie Haddad, president of Beirut’s Arab Baptist Theological Seminary; and Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development.
They are well-known to EthicsDaily.com readers. EthicsDaily.com has hosted both in Nashville.
Their call for action from the church is straightforward:
First, contact government and other decision makers about the situation in the Middle East. Raise awareness with them about the “immanent dangers,” encouraging action that ends the forced displacement of civilians from their countries of origin, halts “indiscriminate murder,” and stops financial and arms flow to radical groups.
Second, fashion a strategy to fund and strengthen educational and social institutions to spread the values of religious pluralism, human rights, justice and peace.
Third, send more humanitarian aid for victims of ongoing violence.
The letter said that evangelical and Protestant Christians “must work towards strengthening our sustainable joint communal living with our Muslim brothers and sisters in spite of the widening confessional conflicts and the ever-growing cycle of senseless violence.”
What can goodwill Christians tangibly do to respond positively, quickly?
First, speak up. Make sure every conversation you have–in church and the public square–about President Obama’s war plan against ISIS includes a word about how Middle East Christian leaders are warning that their communities are at risk of annihilation.
Third, pray each Sunday in church for Christians in the Middle East. It is simply amazing how many Western Christians are unaware of a Christian community in that part of the world. Prayer raises awareness and creates solidarity.
Fourth, educate church members about the existence of the evangelical and Protestant communities in the Middle East. Share this link to a Skype interview with Alia Abboud, director of development and partner relations for the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development, about efforts to aid Syrian refugees.
Fifth, prioritize support for humanitarian efforts with gifts through Baptist World Aid.
The statement is clear. The plight is grave. American churches have an abundance of opportunity to make a difference. What will we do?
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.