In William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a drunken jester named Trinculo declares, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” This familiar expression has oft been adapted to the political arena: “Politics makes for strange bedfellows.” Indeed, the twisted manipulations of political warfare can lead former enemies into convenient beds of agreement.
Yet Trinculo’s statement is not meant to highlight the peculiarity of such sleeping arrangements as much as it is intended to focus their necessity. Misery made it impossible for Trinculo to survive a terrible tempest without snuggling up to a monster for security. Necessity called him to action.
Perhaps necessity has raised a spiritual tempest of misery to such a degree for Christians suffering persecution that strange bedfellows are beginning to emerge once again. Hundreds of Christian leaders have joined together to sign a pledge of solidarity and call to action on behalf of Christians suffering persecution in the Middle East (particularly in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq).
As Nina Shea points out, this pledge was signed by a host of Christians across both the lines of denomination and lines of doctrinal conviction:
Some 200 Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leaders have signed on — from Catholic Cardinal Wuerl, to National Association of Evangelicals’ chair Leith Anderson, to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church to Armenian Orthodox Archbishop Oshagan Cholayan.
The pledge describes some of the atrocities Christians face in these countries:
- Christians, including some clergy, after being identified as such by their names, identity cards, or some other means, have been beheaded, shot execution-style or otherwise brutally murdered. Clergy have also been killed for their peace-making efforts or simply as personifications of the Christian faith.
- Untold numbers of Christians, including bishops, priests, pastors, and nuns, have been kidnapped and held for ransom.
- Young women have been abducted and forced to convert to Islam and marry their captors.
- In some instances, Christians have been told to convert to Islam or be killed; some have been forced to pay protection money.
- Muslim apostasy and blasphemy codes and standards for dress, occupation and social behavior are being enforced for Christians, as well as for Muslims, in some communities.
I agree that Christians and all people of “good will” ought to voice their concerns and call others to action. Government leaders and concerned citizens alike ought to care for oppressed and suffering people. Christians in particular have an obligation before God to care “especially” for the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). Our own faith family is suffering these atrocities; thus we must not remain unconcerned.
There are other concerns, too, that must not be forgotten. The list of signatories seems short on theologically-minded evangelicals. Evangelicals rightly hesitate locking arms with those (like Katharine Jefferts Schori) who advocate for doctrine and ethics contrary to the Scriptures. Some on the list of signatories advocate for abortion rights, gay marriage, and errant ideas related to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. These are matters of utmost importance.
Somehow, evangelicals must find a way to act on matters of utmost urgency without compromising doctrines of utmost importance. The severity of Christian persecution pushes unity and action on behalf of Christ’s followers into the urgent need category. Our brothers and sisters urgently need our prayer, support, advocacy, and physical care. They need for us to advocate on their behalf with one voice against the horrific crimes of persecution.
If evangelicals of good will cannot join with liberal professing Christians (or vice versa), then, by all means, let them advocate separately. But advocate we must. We must pledge our support. We must minister. We must call other professing Christians to action. We must obey the command of Hebrews 13:3: Remember the persecuted.
I, for one, am not comfortable with an Orthodox vision for icons and intercession of the saints. I’m uncomfortable with Roman Catholic instructions on justification and congruent merit. I reject liberal Christianity’s capitulation to the sexual revolution. Yet, I am very glad that these groups are speaking out against the atrocities of persecution being perpetrated against the body of Christ around the world.
As the tempest of persecution rages against Christ’s flock, let us be sure—whatever our doctrinal convictions—that we are found very near to our fellow Christian soldiers, regardless of who else may have drawn near to help. Our obligation is first and foremost to Christ Himself. And He is present with His suffering sheep. Are we?