The tragedy in Baghdad, resulting in the loss of so many innocent lives, has focused attention once more on the plight of the Christian population of Iraq in particular, and of the Middle East in general.
Once unchallenged as an integral historical part of the region’s cultural and religious fabric, they are now marginalized and threatened to the point where many have simply left. This is one of the consequences of the so-called War on Terror, which was, like many others, unintended but entirely foreseeable.
The savagery of the attack is matched by its accompanying rhetoric, with the al-Qaeda affiliate terrorists describing the church as a “filthy nest … which has been long taken by the Christians of Iraq as a headquarter for a war against the religion of Islam.”
This is the kind of rhetoric that characterizes all too much of the output of militant broadcasters and internet rabble-rousers – and it is given fire and wings by the appalling statements and actions of people like Pastor Terry Jones, who was only just dissuaded from hosting a Burn a Koran Day at his church. This, too, makes it hard to be a Christian in the Middle East.
The grief of the relatives of the Baghdad dead, and the effect on the Christian community as a whole, will not be covered by the world’s media. These things happen in Iraq, after all.
The contrast between their experience and the care and concern shown for the victims of the 7/7 bombings in Great Britain, who are reliving their experience in the current inquest, is very striking. Who will listen to these Iraqi stories among so many others? Who will care when there have been so many deaths? But their hurts are no less real, and their needs are just as great.
There are human stories to be told, and we should remember and pray for the victims when the rest of the world forgets.
But one result of this terrible attack will be to make Iraq’s Christian community even more insecure and even more inclined to leave. There are implications in this tragedy for gospel strategy to which we cannot be indifferent.