What Is the Media Really Hiding from Us?


Years ago (like back in the ‘80’s), I came across a very important fellow with long hair and knickers. Francis Schaeffer, author of How Should We Then Live (and a host of other great books) proved to be prophetic in many of his warnings to the western church. One of the warnings which demonstrated Schaeffer’s prescient gift was his admonition to beware of the power of mass media.

Persecution Resources Updates newsRush Limbaugh and others have made a healthy lump of dough pointing out media bias in America’s newsrooms. Who any longer doubts the leftward inclinations of most reporters at the New York Times or CNN? What Schaeffer pointed out, however, was not simply that biased reporters beget biased reporting. He noted how biased editors, too, would mean biased narratives. In other words, the problem with media bias is not simply how news gets reported; the problem is also what news gets reported. Our real media curse is more the latter than the former. Here is what I mean.

Media bias—in the sense of catching the slant on how news stories get reported—is easy to spot in an internet world. When the U.S. embassy in Libya gets attacked, there are mainstream reporters covering it, but there are also numerous conservative websites and news sources covering it from a different perspective. One who wishes to get the most accurate story will be wise enough to read both accounts and settle the matter of bias for himself. This form of biased reporting is easily correctible with a little due diligence.

The more serious form of bias occurs when we ask questions about what stories are actually covered in the first place. For instance, consider today’s “Top Headlines” from NBC News (as reported on the NBC Today Show home page).[1] Here are some of the “top” stories:

  • An inside look at Joran van der Sloot’s prison home.
  • A story of how Tom Brokaw got an interview with Gorbachev.
  • How to protect your cloud backup storage (so old photos of you in the nude don’t end up all over the internet as they allegedly have with Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton).
  • The U. S. targets an air strike against the terrorist who carried out the Kenya mall attack.

There are even more stories further down the page—such as a celebration of two men finally able to marry one another in Minnesota.

But what stories are NOT mentioned here? Let’s name a few headlines the news editors might have missed:Christian persecution Mosul Iraq

Many more stories could be added to the list. The point is that we can’t assume that “News” is what the news people say it is. All news is filtered news. What is the filter that determines which news gets through? For us, it must be Christ, who is the fullness of Him who fills all in all. All things are from Christ and for Christ—even the news. Perhaps it’s okay—or at least understandable—that mainstream reporters and editors would forsake the suffering of Christians, but Christ has promised that He never will. Because we are His flock, we must not forsake our brothers and sisters either in their time of greatest earthly need.

[1] Accessed September 2, 2014: http://www.today.com/

Why the Mark Driscoll Deal Is Not a Big Deal


As we crowded into the square area designated as the living room, our group of Christian believers talked mostly of our families and of news and events in the Christian world. This was a reunion of sorts, as the people gathered here had not been together in one place for more than a year. It was, in so many ways, a sweet remembrance of shared lives.

Persecution big deal for ChristiansThe conversation only enhanced the sweetness of the hour, but the conversation wasn’t always sweet. The route the conversation took back to sweetness traversed a crooked trail. Our first conversation centered on the trending events of social media. Immediately, we discussed Mark Driscoll and Acts 29. Why? Because that is what everyone in the evangelical world was talking about.

One of the young women in the room had been stuck unexpectedly in an office with nothing to do, so she had spent the day before reading all the articles related to the Driscoll “controversy.” She reported that the controversy did not seem as major as Tweets and Facebook posts made it sound. Another young woman agreed and particularly lamented the lack of detail that accompanied most of the articles she had read. She mentioned a particular article from a Christian magazine which linked to accusations and commentary, but did not link to the actual statements from Acts 29.

The more we talked, the more realized that we were talking about very little. In fact, the group agreed unanimously that we, too, had become guilty of tabloid Christianity. We fell prey to the titillation of scandal. One of our “stars” was falling. Speculations of the fallout were morbidly thrilling to our minds. Then we came to our senses. We realized that Mark Driscoll—even in this current flurry of news—is not a big deal.

Our attention turned at that point to some of the stories in Christianity which are—or should be—really big deals:Christian persecution Mosul Iraq

Men, women, and children are being beheaded on sight if ISIS believes they are Christian.

In Nigeria, more than 2,000 women have become widows because their husbands loved Jesus Christ unto death.

One Somali Christian couple fled persecution and oppression in their homeland. They ended up in a refugee center in Kenya, where they were found by Islamists who shot them several times, leaving them for dead.

More than 1,500 Christians have been slaughtered mercilessly in Homs (Syria).

All over the world, Christians are persecuted severely.

As our little fellowship scanned the Christian world scene, we concluded that the stories which fill our Twitter feeds and satisfy our need for a social buzz are not necessarily the same stories that deeply burden heaven. The saints around the throne, we are told, cry day and night, “How long, O, Lord!,” in an urgent expectation of Jesus returning to avenge the blood of his saints.

So, if we take our cue from the New Testament, we will remember to join heaven both in our rejoicing when sinners repent (Luke 15:10) and in our crying for justice when saints are oppressed (Revelation 6:10) . With all due respect to Mark Driscoll and other stars who stumble, we have much bigger issues to occupy our time and our Twitter feeds. Let us pray for our leaders when they are leading and when they are stumbling. Let us pray for the ones whose stories briefly capture our imagination. But, by all means, let us remember our brothers and sisters who are ill-treated since we ourselves are in the body.

Christians Can’t Trust Chariots or Horses


The people of God seem always to struggle with exactly how to relate to powerful governments. Israel hated her slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh, but promptly wanted to go back to Egypt after landing in the wilderness. At least in Egypt she could have melons. This longing to go back to Egypt and trust in her chariots and horses haunted Israel of old. Thus, the prophet Isaiah later warned (Isaiah 30),

Christians Under Pressure Persecution1“Woe to the rebellious children,” declares the LORD,

            “Who execute a plan, but not Mine,

            And make an alliance, but not of My Spirit,

            In order to add sin to sin;

      2Who proceed down to Egypt

            Without consulting Me,

            To take refuge in the safety of Pharaoh

            And to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

      3“Therefore the safety of Pharaoh will be your shame

            And the shelter in the shadow of Egypt, your humiliation.

When the cultural vessel of our existence becomes pressurized by the heat of persecution or political oppression, faith will rise like the steam of boiling water seeking the quickest, most natural outlet. The question for us is what is most natural? Where does our faith rise? What is our outlet under pressure? Two recent responses to the crisis in Mosul, Iraq have me thinking about this question.

On the one hand, there has been a call from the Italian Bishops Conference to pray for the persecuted church.  And, on the other hand, there has been a sizable protest in Australia specifically on behalf of Christians in Iraq. Without being critical or cynical, we might clarify what is our faithful response to the crisis of Christian persecution in Iraq and around the world.

In Italy, the bishops have drafted a plea for the Church throughout Europe to pray on behalf of suffering saints around the world. The statement is powerful in its indictment of slothfulness concerning our suffering sisters and brothers:

‘If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him ‘(Rom 6:8). These are words that we should also shake the conscience of our Europe, which has become distracted and indifferent, blind and dumb to the persecution which today has claimed hundreds of thousands of Christian victims”.

While the document rightly focuses attention on Christians in Iraq and Nigeria—two of the absolute worst places for Christians right now—it perhaps wrongly appeals for Christian action on the basis of human rights, history, and culture.  From the Italian bishops,

Faced with such an attack on the foundations of civilization, human dignity and human rights, “we cannot remain silent. The West cannot continue to look the other way, under the illusion of being able to ignore a humanitarian tragedy that destroys the values ​​that have shaped it…

This statement is not at all false. In fact, Christians must engage culture and improve (like salt and light) the civilization in which it exists. Yet, Christians must own as first priority the fame of Christ and the spread of His kingdom. Our appeals, then, should first be for Christ’s reputation instead of western values. While we can and should join as cobelligerents with the Italian bishops advocating for aid on the basis of a “humanitarian tragedy,” we must pray for Christ to be exalted through the witness of His faithful saints. We must pray that our suffering sisters and brothers would hold fast to that which has been given to them because Christ is coming quickly and bringing his reward to those whose garments are not stained with the sin of the surrounding society.

While Christians should advocate politically for religious freedom for all, we should also remind each other to recognize the difference between Christian persecution Mosul Iraqreligious freedom and persecution. The Constitution speaks of religious freedom; the New Testament speaks of persecution. One is a human right, the other a divine blessing.

As Christians continue to feel the pressure of persecution in Nigeria and Iraq, the steam of faith should rise up through the prayers of believers to Christ in heaven.  Our hope is anchored there, in Him—not in America’s chariots or the U.N.’s horses—not in Europe’s civilized past nor in the present “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” We must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who lives to make intercession for us.

(To be continued…)

3 Ways to Stand for Religious Liberty without Falling for a Political Agenda 

The Difference Between Religious Freedom and Persecution

Why Christians Must Fight for Religious Liberty

Timeline of How Christians Were Eliminated in Mosul, Iraq


I don’t remember what I was doing on June 10th.  It was a regular work week for me. Since then, I have done some planning for the Fall 2014 semester,Christian persecution Mosul Iraq and I have made a couple of trips to the airport so my kids could travel to see family. All in all, nothing much has changed for me and my family since June 10th.  But we don’t live in Mosul, Iraq.

Below, I have copied a letter from the Jubilee Campaign, along with a sobering timeline produced by the Assyrian International News Agency.  This timeline surveys the diabolical work of ISIS since June 10th.  In six weeks, the tangible signs of Christian presence have been eliminated: Church buildings, homes, actual Christians, and even a Christian cemetery—all gone.

(From Jubilee Campaign)

Courage is needed now to stop the genocide of Christians in Iraq.  Congressman Frank Wolf gave a floor speech declaring the expunging of Christians from Iraq as Genocide.  Please listen to him.  You can find his speech here.  Meanwhile, the Assyrian International News Agency reports that All 45 Christian Institutions in Mosul Destroyed or Occupied By ISIS.

TIMELINE OF ISIS’ ATTEMPT TO ELIMINATE CHRISTIANS FROM MOSUL

(From Assyrian International News Agency)

Timeline of ISIS in Mosul

Posted 2014-07-29 15:57 GMT

The Arabic letter “n” (inside red circle), signifying “Nasarah” (Christian), on a Christian home in Mosul.(AINA) — The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) captured the city of Mosul, Iraq on June 10. Almost immediately thereafter it began to drive Assyrians out of Mosul and destroy Christian and non-Sunni institutions. Here is the status as of July 29:

  • There are no Assyrians/Christians remaining in Mosul, all have fled to the north, to Alqosh, Dohuk and other Assyrian villages.
  • All Christian institutions in Mosul (churches, monasteries and cemeteries), numbering 45, have been destroyed, occupied, converted to mosques, converted to ISIS headquarters or shuttered (story).
  • All non-Sunni Muslim groups in Mosul — Shabaks, Yazidis and Turkmen — have been targeted by ISIS. Most have fled.
  • Water and electricity have been cut off by ISIS. The water shortage in the areas surrounding Mosul is now a full-blown crisis. Residents have been forced to dig wells for drinking water. Water tankers are providing some relief.
  • Mosul is now governed under Sharia law.
  • 50,000 Assyrian residents of Baghdede (Qaraqosh) fled from fighting between ISIS and Kurds. Nearly 80% have returned.

The following is a summary of the events that have unfolded in Mosul.

  • June 10: ISIS captures Mosul, occupies the Assyrian village of Qaraqosh, enters the St. Behnam Monastery, bombs an Armenian church (story).
  • June 12: ISIS issues Islamic rules for Mosul (story).
  • June 14: Assyrian, Yezidi and Shabak Villages come under Kurdish Control (story).
  • June 15: Kurds attempt to remove an Assyrian council leader in Alqosh and replace him with a Kurd (story).
  • June 18: ISIS Cuts Off Water, Electricity, Destroys Churches (story).
  • June 19: ISIS destroys statue of the famous Arab poet Abu Tammam (story).
  • June 21: ISIS begins imposing a poll tax (jizya) on Assyrians in Mosul (story), orders unmarried women to ‘Jihad by sex’ (story), destroys the statue of the Virgin Mary at the Immaculate Church of the Highest in the neighborhood of AlShafa in Mosul, as well as the statue of Mullah Osman Al-Musali. Shiite Turkmen in the villages of AlKibba and Shraikhan flee after receiving threats from ISIS. ISIS arrests 25 village elders and young men who are Turkmen in the village of AlShamsiyat; their whereabouts is still unknown. (story) ISIS orders Christian, Yazidis and Shiite government employees not to report for work in Mosul (story).
  • June 23: ISIS Rape Christian Mother and Daughter, Kill 4 Christian Women for Not Wearing Veil (story).
  • June 25: ISIS limits water from the plants in Mosul to one hour per day. Residents in surrounding areas are forced to dig wells (story).
  • June 26: Kurds Clash With ISIS Near Assyrian Town East of Mosul, forcing nearly 50,000 Assyrians to flee (story).
  • ISIS begins confiscating the homes of Christians and non-Sunni Muslims. ISIS rounds up many of the security agency members of the police and army in Sabrine Mosque and asks them to declare “repentance” and surrender their weapons and other military equipment. After doing so, all of the prisoners are tried and sentenced according to Sharia law and executed. ISIS has prevented delivery of government food rations to Tel Kepe and other areas not under their control (story).
  • June 28: ISIS kidnaps two nuns and three Assyrian orphans. They are eventually released (story).
  • July 3: ISIS seizes the house of the Chaldean Patriarchate and the house of Dr. Tobia, a member of Hammurabi Human Rights Organization and an Advisor to the Governor of Nineveh on Minority Affairs and General Coordinator with International Organizations (story).
  • July 8: ISIS Removes Cross From Church in Mosul (story).
  • July 10: ISIS bars women from walking the streets unless accompanied by a male. Nearly all barber shops and womens’ salons are closed (story).
  • July 15: ISIS Stops Rations for Christians and Shiites in Mosul (story).
  • July 17: ISIS issues statement ordering Christians to convert or die (story).
  • July 18: ISIS in Mosul marks Christian homes with the Arabic letter “N” (for the word Nasrani, which means Christian) (story).
  • July 19: ISIS plunders Assyrians as they Flee Mosul; families march 42 miles (story).
  • July 22: ISIS and Kurds clash near Assyrian town, 2000 Assyrian families driven from Mosul (story).
  • July 25: ISIS destroys the tomb of the Prophet Jonah (story).

© 2014, Assyrian International News Agency. All Rights Reserved.

How to Pray for Christians in Iraq (4 Ways)


Thank you all so much for your willingness to stand with our brothers and sisters in Iraq. Many of you have been using the Arabic “N” symbol below on your Facebook or Twitter profile to show your concern for Christians being targeted for extortion and/or extinction by soldiers of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  God bless you for identifying with our brothers and sisters under attack.

Christian persecution mosul IraqOthers are understandably cynical about simply changing a profile pic as a reminder to pray. You think it’s too small of a gesture—that we must do more. And of course you are right! We all share some of that same attitude, I think.  Our American “can-do” mentality begs for a place to direct our anguish. We want to “do” something about the situation.  I spoke with a zealous young man today who graciously—yet excitedly—challenged me to “do something.” “We have to do something. Tell me what to do!” He cried.

My first response was to embrace his angst wholeheartedly. We really must do something. Our Christian brothers and sisters have been marked for death.  Their wages have been stolen.  Their homes and their homeland is now instantly closed to them. If they stay, they will be killed. If they leave, they will lose everything they once relied upon—houses, cars, money, jobs, friends. The situation is brutal.  Surely we can do more than pray!

And yet, upon further reflection, I reminded my young friend that prayer is no small thing. We ought not too quickly dismiss its potential for saving our fellow saints.  As James reminds us, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).  James uses the example of Elijah whose prayers both caused and cured a drought in Israel which lasted 3 ½ years.  Imagine—a man with a nature like ours altering meteorological phenomena for more than 1,000 days in a row!  (Talk about man-made global warming!) James could have chosen many other examples such as the prayers by Israel which brought about her Exodus from Egypt and Egypt’s destruction:

Christianity Today Mosul Christian Persecution #WeAreN

Mosul Christian Home (source: Christianity Today)

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help.  Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.  And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” Ex 2:23-25 (ESV).

God knew! Are we to wonder whether God—now that Jesus and the Holy Spirit have been more clearly revealed—is still near and dear to His people? May it never be! Jesus Himself swore that He would never leave nor forsake His people (Hbrws 13:5) and that He would be with them even to the end of the age (Matt 28:20).  And so the all-powerful, all-knowing God of infinite love remains faithfully concerned for His people and capable of accomplishing great things on their behalf. With that in mind, we can (and must?) pray in at least these four ways:

Fervently from the heart.  Our prayers must be urgent, zealous, fearful, yet fully-fired with faith. Think of it this way: What would you do if you came home from work this evening only to discover that a gang had captured your sister and informed her that she had 24 hours to pay a ransom or die?  Would that not be a fiery trial that would cause you to cry out to God on her behalf? Would you not shriek with horror and beg for mercy? Fiery trials no doubt beget fiery prayers. There is a sword at the throat of our family. Pray!

Second, Despairingly—from a position of weakness. This may sound odd, but I take my cue from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11,

For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

Notice how Paul admitted being excessively burdened—beyond any human strength. Is that not the burden our brothers and sisters are under now in Iraq?  What earthly power is (a) willing to save them and (b) able to save them?  Some (like the U.S. Military) seem able but not willing.  Others perhaps are willing but not really able.  So, where are Christians to turn?  As we pray for our brothers and sisters, we should pray from the position of complete and utter despair of human deliverance.  In that position, Paul says, we find our sure hope of trusting not in ourselves but in God who raises the dead!

Third, Victoriously—as though Christ has truly been raised from the dead. Who could ever have imagined that eternal life would spring from the humiliating execution of a stricken, smitten Jewish carpenter?  And yet, our Christ has been raised from the dead!  The Apostle Paul took courage and believed in his own deliverance from the mouth of death because of the Resurrection life of Christ.  Pray for our brothers and sisters to move from the Christian persecution Mosul Iraqdespair of their current situation to the victory of Christ’s Resurrection.  God is no less able to deliver today than he was when Paul was preaching the gospel in Asia (and the Middle East). So pray to God that he would raise the dead to new life in Mosul, Iraq. Pray for the current loss to be made gain.  After Stephen was martyred (Acts 7), the early church was scattered on account of the increasing persecution. Nevertheless, the gospel went forth with power everywhere the Christians fled.  Even so, God’s gospel will triumph somehow. Pray for His people in Iraq to trust God’s purposes by faith.

Fourth, Effectively—as though you expect your prayers to affect much. The prayers of saints saved Paul’s life. Why not now? Why not the lives of those in Mosul, Iraq?  If, as we see in 2 Cor 1:11, the churches were able to secure Paul’s release from certain death, then why would not be possible today for our prayers to be the very means God uses to deliver Iraqi Christians from what appears a certain death? Is our God no longer able to deliver? Surely, God is no less powerful now than He was on the day He delivered Daniel or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!

My friend and I talked about how we would love to help others learn to pray for the persecuted church. We will continue thinking about our prayers for the persecuted, and we hope to be providing much more helps in the future, Lord willing. So, stay tuned…

Why that Odd Facebook Symbol Is So Important


Christian persecution Iraq Maybe you have seen this little wine-cup looking symbol on your friend’s Facebook page and wondered what it means.  It means Christians are being targeted for death in Mosul, Iraq.  I am so thankful that someone thought to create symbol sent through Social Media to call attention to the plight of Christians suffering genocide in Iraq.

The symbol apparently started circulating in Lebanon and has caught on around the world. The symbol is actually an Arabic “n,” which is what ISIS soldiers in Mosul have used to abbreviate Nazara, a term for Christians in the Middle East.  Basically, those whose homes are thus marked are subject to death, unless they (a) convert to Islam or (b) pay an oppressive tax to stay alive (all explained here).  Here is how one report details the horror:

On Monday, which was normally pay day for municipal workers in Mosul, state workers were ordered not to pay the Christian employees. ISIS also forbid food to be distributed to Christian or Shiite families.

One state employee told the Arabic news outlet Ankawa that he was “warned that if he gives rations to Christians and Shiites, he will be charged and prosecuted according to Sharia law.”

The pressure continued later in the week, when ISIS cut off electricity to homes owned by Christians. The following day ISIS soldiers Christian persecution Mosul Iraqreportedly painted “N” on the doors of Christians to signify that they are “Nazara,” the word for Christian. Shiite homes were painted with the letter “R” for “Rwafidh,” meaning rejectors or protestants.

As a result, nearly the entire population of Christians in Mosul have fled, leaders say.

While I feel for the Shiites, too, and hope that we will advocate for them as well as for the Christians who are suffering, I feel compelled to join the movement to put an arabic “n” on my Facebook profile for a little while. It will remind me to pray if nothing else. But it will also keep the symbol out there for the world to ask and answer gravely serious questions.

By the way, I changed the symbol to red because the doors in Mosul are reportedly marked with red (perhaps to symbolize blood, “death to this house”–kind of a morbid reversal of the Passover markings!)

What Happens When a 1,600 Year Tradition Ends?


Persecution Iraq Christians ISISThere are two traditions that have recently ended.  The contrast between them is astounding.

Traditions are interesting things. Our traditions anchor us to the past while guiding us toward the future. They act as handrails along our paths, offering us both security and a sense of affirmation as we continue walking life’s road. Too often, in fact, we are so comfortable in this walk that we forget—or simply fail to realize—the presence of tradition.

And then something happens. The tradition is threatened, or taken away. Our senses are shocked, as we experience the full, paralyzing thud of a tradition ended.

A couple of years ago at Auburn University, a tradition was threatened when Harvey Updike, a rabid Alabama fan, poisoned the live oak trees at Toomer’s Corner. The tradition of rolling the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner after an Auburn football victory moved from “threatened” to “altogether lost,” as the Spike 80DF poison which Updike used did its work, leeching the life from the root system of the trees.

Before the trees were completely dead and taken away, the university along with the city of Auburn—indeed most of central Alabama—held one last rally to roll the oaks at Toomer’s Corner.  You can see the spectacle of this tradition ending by watching the video below. (I believe my daughter, an Auburn student, is somewhere in the mass of humanity captured by the robotic camera.)

No one knows when or exactly how the tradition of rolling the oak trees began, but how it ended is now obvious to all. And most folks—even the Auburn Football Traditionsmajority of Alabama fans—understand that something precious was lost when the live oak trees at Toomer’s Corner finally died.

Yet, it must be said (despite the images in the video) that throwing toilet paper into oak trees in central Alabama is a small tradition. The tour guide who introduced me to the trees (when they were still alive) suggested the tradition was at most 100 years old (probably less). And the tradition had to do with football, which, contrary to the primitive emotional purgations of Saturday afternoons in the fall, is not a life or death matter.

The tradition of ringing church bells in Mosul, Iraq, on the other hand is a life or death matter. It has to do with the life and death of Christ.  This tradition has been incalculably more significant than rolling oak trees with toilet paper.

First, the tradition of ringing the bells signals the serving of Mass—an Orthodox Christian tradition—in a predominately Muslim culture. At the very least such service is courageous. At its best, the service is an offering of Christ to those who understand their need for an atoning sacrifice.[1]

So, second, because the tradition concerns the gospel of Christ, it is a matter of life and death—eternally speaking. The church tradition also represents a heritage and a way of life for thousands and thousands of Orthodox Christians who have inhabited the Middle East for more than a millennium.

Third, the tradition of ringing the church bells for Mass in Mosul, Iraq, has been a more significant tradition because of its age and endurance.  The tradition began closer to Paul’s ministry than to ours. There was no hint of a USA or a Soviet Union or France or even England when this tradition began. Week after week, the bells have rung.  Week after week the Mass has been served.  These church bells have been ringing for one thousand, six-hundred years–that’s 83,200 weeks. And now they’ve stopped.

As of June 15, church bells ring no more in the ISIS-controlled[2] area of Mosul, Iraq. Violence against Christians there has almost ensured that the Orthodox Christian tradition will soon no longer be found in that ancient place. Over the last decade, approximately 90% of Christians have fled from their homes, business, and church buildings in Iraq as a result of the intense persecution they’ve suffered.

And yet, the bells went quiet so silently. There was no last hurrah to say good-bye.  Indeed, the scene in Mosul was the exact opposite of that found at Auburn. At Auburn, people swarmed in masses to make the final TP offering. In Mosul, people ran away by the thousands.  At Auburn, TV crews parked with satellite towers and provided aerial coverage. In Mosul, like the church bells, everything got very quiet. No one seemed to notice. But the Orthodox Christian tradition ended.

The Chaldean Catholic Church’s Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, in Kurdish-governed northern Iraq, is reported as saying that for the first time in 1,600 years there was no Mass said in Mosul on Sunday June 15.   

 

 

[1] I am neither Roman Catholic nor Eastern Orthodox. Thus I do not ascribe to the presentation of the Mass. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the Mass is—in one sense or another—a presentation of Christ (either in offering or, as in my tradition, a remembrance).  It is a weighty matter of eternal significance.

[2] ISIS stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Does Persecution Create Strange Bedfellows?


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.

Christian persecution middle eastPerhaps 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.

    Nina Shea Hudson Christian Persecution

    Nina Shea

  • 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?

Arab Spring More Like Kentucky Spring


Spring is supposed to be the time of blossoming life. Flower buds burst forth with petals gleaming white against the grassy green canvas of trees and lawns.  Purple, pink, and yellow splash

Spring Flowers

throughout the portrait we call spring.  It is springtime.  But in Kentucky, spring has brought violent storms, tornadoes, and rain.  Lots of rain. Historic deluges of rain rarely seen in these parts since the days of Noah.  Spring is supposed to be colorful and sunny, but it has proved, instead, to be dull and rainy.

Such is the way this spring has gone in Kentucky.  But we have no reason to complain.  As bad as the weather has been around here lately, the problems we have are nothing compared to those of Christians suffering through the so-called “Arab spring.”  If we think the storm clouds are hanging low over our horizon right now, we ought to think about what is happening to our brothers and sisters throughout Arab lands.

In Egypt, where many in America were celebrating the rise of “democracy” and demanding that Mubarak resign, Christians now face a bleak future indeed.  The Muslim Brotherhood is wielding political clout like a Saif al Din, seeking to enforce Shariah law on all Egyptians, including Christians.  If you want to know how destructive Shariah law is for non-Muslims, read this Andrew McCarthy piece.  The “progress” of the Islamic direction of the “New Egypt” has Christians Coptic Christian Persecutionbegging  to leave Egypt, even though there were Christian churches in the country before Islam ever existed.  One Coptic Christian leader says that he is already receiving hundreds of calls each week from Christians trying to flee from Egypt.

Egypt isn’t alone. In Iraq, the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Baghdad was bombed on Easter Sunday.  In India, more than 15,000 Christians took to the streets of Mumbai on Good Friday to protest the continuing persecution of the saints in India.  Christians in Orissa, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and other provinces have endured hundreds of violent attacks since 2008.

For a rundown of the persecution of Christians in Palestine and the Middle East, see here.  There is no shortage of persecution for Christians around the world this spring.  Even as the rain continues to fall in Kentucky, we should recall that the real storm is falling on our fellow believers in Muslim areas of the world.  The “Arab Spring” which was supposed to bring greater freedoms through the spread of democracy is turning out to be more of a Kentucky spring, where one violent storm is followed by another.

Bush, Jesus, and Egypt


Bush, Jesus, and Egypt: How Democrats, Republicans, and Christianity Are Doing in the Middle East
by Gregory C. Cochran

In speaking about the Democrat Party, Gov. Mitch Daniels in his recent speech to CPAC said, “Our opponents are better at nastiness than we will ever be.  It comes naturally.  Power to them is everything, so there’s nothing they won’t say to get it.”   Believe it or not, he is speaking of something fundamental to the Democrat Party—not the nastiness.  I don’t mean here either to slander the Democrat Party or exalt the Republican. I hope only to explain the difference between the two parties and, in so doing, demonstrate how the two approaches are being played out in the Middle East.  In other words, I want us to understand better the political movements in America and Egypt.  History is offering us a teachable moment through current affairs in Egypt.

Many Republicans share Gov. Daniels’ disdain for democrats, while many democrats, likewise, despise the republican tendency to resist change and to “impose” values on others.  While nastiness is not endemic to either party, the other factors—a thirst for power by democrats and an imposition of values by republicans—are quite natural to the respective political parties.

Here is what I mean. By nature, democrats support democracy, meaning democrats believe in a majority rule.  What has to happen for the democrats to rule, then, is for the democrats to be the majority.  Thus, they naturally are quite interested in public opinion.  They will gravitate toward offices and institutions (media, academia) which shape public opinion because public opinion determines the rule of law in a democracy.

Republicans, on the other hand, hold primarily to the principle of the rule of law, a principle which says that certain things are never right regardless of what 51% of the people say.  Republicans, typically, are more conservative, in the sense that they are quite interested in preserving (or conserving) traditional beliefs and instruments which have been effective in the past.  By nature, conservatives aren’t as adept at stirring up the masses like democrats because they aren’t of the opinion that their causes are right or wrong based on the percentages of people who agree with them.  They don’t need majority support, they have the constitution.

I understand that I am oversimplifying and painting with very broad strokes in these descriptions of democrats and republicans.  Yet, at root, these are valid distinctions.  They are important distinctions.  The case of the revolution in Egypt brings out these distinctions clearly.  The New York Times has an article posted concerning George W. Bush’s role in stirring up democracy in the Middle East.  Yes, even the New York Times is able to see that President Bush—against public opinion—was right to assert that democracy would catch on in the Middle East.

Bush, of course, was a Republican. Yet, he advocated for democracy in the Middle East.  The New York Times article explains that President Bush—though advocating for democracy in Iraq and throughout the Middle East—was no fan of a “mere” democracy.  A mere democracy is one in which there is actually 51% rule.  Bush opposed such “democracies” on the basis that certain principles must exist in any democracy—such as the freedom of speech, a free press, and freedom of religion.  As a result, President Bush did not recognize Hamas as a legitimate democratic government, even though they were elected by 51% of the inhabitants of Gaza.  In Bush’s understanding of a democracy, terrorists organizations could not rightly rule.  The reason, of course, was that Bush—a republican—believed in a democratic republic, not in a mere democracy.  This is what another New York Times writer meant when he said,

The left has wrongly distilled President Bush’s emphasis on democracy into emphasis on elections, or on movements free of American influence. Bush rejected both those concepts. For Bush, like Churchill, democracy was a means to enable freedom; the ballot box was not the silver bullet.

So, President Bush advocated for an American democracy, a democratic republic in which a mere majority rule is not enough for a stable government.  There are checks and balances, even for the 51% majority, and that is a very good thing.  As we know, there was once a 51% majority who thought slavery was acceptable, and there was once a 51% majority who cried, “Crucify him! Crucify him.”  Both were wrong.  Even the majority is wrong on occasion.  Inalienable rights (such as the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) must be protected by law despite public opinion.

This reality brings us to the present state of Egypt.  Both democrats and republicans have applauded the freedom march of street protestors in Egypt.  Yet, both appear concerned about which direction the future march will take.  Democrats tend to lean toward accepting whatever government arises out of Egypt as a legitimate government because it is a government of the people. (I know this is oversimplifying again, but leaders in President Obama’s administration have already made statements justifying the Muslim Brotherhood as legitimate governing partners).  Republicans are sounding the alarms about the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in Egyptian governance.

The issue in Egypt (as in Iraq) is not whether 51% approve; it is whether there is a legitimate democracy.  Already, in the New York Times article mentioned above, you can see the disdain which some democrats have for placing “caveats” on democracies.  In other words, the democrat tendency is to accept majority rule, while republicans insist on basic principles of human rights to be enshrined in a constitution which does not rely on a might-makes-right, majority mentality.

Egypt’s future on (a) whether it will be a democracy and (b) exactly what kind of democracy might emerge is still an open question.  As an American—and especially as a Christian—I am quite concerned about what will happen next.  Even though there is a democracy in Iraq, for example, there is a terrible oppression of Christians there.  This post by Rich Lowry explains how, for Christians in Iraq, the democracy there has been a disaster.  Something President Bush should not applaud (at least not completely).

According to Lowry, an Iraq-type democracy in Egypt would mean “Lights Out” for Christians in the Middle East.  In one sense, his comments hit the mark precisely.  Democracy alone is not enough to preserve liberty.  Yet, in another sense, let’s hope that he is wrong.  There was once a Friday afternoon in which everything turned dark indeed for Christians from the sixth hour to the ninth hour, but three days later, there was a victory over every enemy known to man.  The light shone more brightly from that day forward. Sometimes, it seems, there may be darkness just before the dawn.  Let’s hope a new day is dawning indeed in Egypt and the Middle East.

A Way to Help the Persecuted


Below is a plea from Open Doors USA for you and me to help persecuted Christians in Iraq:

Please take a moment to sign a petition to Secretary of State Clinton asking her to work with the Iraqi government to immediately form and implement a comprehensive plan of action to protect the dwindling community of Christians in Iraq.

The number of Christians in Iraq has decreased from an estimated 850,000 in 1991 to 330,000 today. Thousands have fled Iraq and now reside as impoverished refugees in Syria and Jordan. Of the Christians that remain in Iraq, more than half are internally displaced due to violence and constant threats against them by Islamic extremists.

Violence against Christians in Iraq has rapidly escalated this past year including a bomb attack on three buses carrying Christian students in May 2010, the siege against Our Lady of Salvation Cathedral in Baghdad in which 58 were killed in October 2010, and also the murder of an elderly Christian couple on December 30th who were killed by a bomb left in front of their house.

The Iraqi government clearly has not made protection of Christians in Iraq a priority. The U.S. government needs to strongly encourage and work with the Iraqi government to protect Christians and other religious minorities before they are all driven out of Iraq. History continues to demonstrate that where religious freedom flourishes, stable democracies, strong economies, and healthy societies develop. Considering the immense financial commitment the US has made in Iraq and the tragic loss of American and Iraqi lives, it is imperative that we hold both the US and Iraqi governments accountable to ensure religious freedom for all people in Iraq!

To accomplish this we are asking that you
sign a petition to Secretary of State Clinton raising these concerns. Please share this petition with your friends and family. The more signatures we gather, the greater influence we will have on our current administration in prioritizing the protection of vulnerable Christians in Iraq.

Advocating with you,

Lindsay Vessey
Advocacy Director
Open Doors USA

Destroying the Destroyer


I can’t really say I want you to go to the Huffington Post.  I guess I don’t.  However, there is a post located there today that will probably anger you and cause you to grieve.  The title of the post is “Bush: The Destroyer of Christians.”  In it, Franky Schaeffer–yes, he’s the son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer–blasts President Bush and all evangelicals for being political junkies with a junky theology of “magic” conversions.  Years ago, Franky left the ranks of evangelicalism and went to Eastern Orthodoxy.  He is right that the Eastern Orthodox Church faired much better under Saddam Hussein.  Saddam supposedly allowed the Eastern Orthodox to operate liquor stores in Iraq (because the Muslims were too pure to own the stores, even though they may have been loyal customers).  Now, the whole thing is a mess, and the Eastern Orthodox have been displaced.  This certainly is not good, just as it is not good that the Eastern Orthodox have worked against evangelicals who have tried to evangelize Iraq.  These are not good things, but one can hardly blame George Bush for these failures, and it is certainly irresponsible to charge him with destroying Christians.  Come on, Franky!