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Denial Is Not A Strategy: Isis Persecution Should Not Be Met With Silence

We may not wish we had to confront the evil of religious persecution, and there is much room to discuss how to, but we can’t continue to ignore it.

We’re not talking enough about the situation for Christians in Mosul, Iraq. I am guilty of this, too. Yes, my pastor is sending out reminders for us to pray for our brethren in the region. Yes, we include petitions for the ancient Christian community there, which has now been wiped away, in our prayers. We discuss their plight in Bible Class. But the world is not speaking much about — much less thinking much about — what this religious cleansing means and what we should be doing about it.

Why is the West so afraid of Islam?” asks Micheal Brendan Dougherty, suggesting that fear of Islamic radicalism is shutting us all up:

As comedian Penn Jillete elegantly pointed out, the way people avoid giving offense to Islam amounts to a damning condemnation in itself. It is perhaps the worst Western insult offered to Islamic people in the Middle East that we almost universally assume there’s not much point in asking them to recognize the human rights of Christians. We don’t even expect polite reciprocity. Italy is expected to welcome one of the largest mosques in the world, funded by Saudi Arabia. But no one can build even a modest church in Saudi Arabia. In Egypt, Christians can’t even repair a wall in a church without explicit permission from the sovereign. Qatar has laws that punish people who convert from Islam to Christianity with death, but there’s no planned boycott of their upcoming World Cup because of it. We watch ISIS blow up what many consider the tomb of the prophet Jonah and just sigh, helplessly. If silence permits Islamist persecution to grow and criticism only enflames its violent zeal, France’s gesture of solidarity with Iraq’s Christians has to be joined by many more countries in the West. It might as well start with the United States, which has played such a large role across this region over the last three decades while taking so little responsibility for the results.

It’s time for more Americans to learn about what happened to the Christians of Mosul and think about what we can do to help.

Human rights advocate Nina Shea wrote a piece everyone should read. She describes how the Sunni Muslim Islamic State group (ISIS) gave Christians the option of turning over their money and possessions, converting to Islam, or death. It’s a horrifying tale and an important piece.

With temperatures in the area reaching 120 degrees, the last of the exiles left on foot, carrying only the small children and pushing the grandparents in wheelchairs. Those who glanced back could see armed groups looting their homes and loading the booty onto trucks.

ISIS has set out to erase every Christian trace. All 30 churches were seized and their crosses stripped away. Some have been permanently turned into mosques. One is the Mar (Saint) Ephraim Syriac Orthodox Cathedral, newly outfitted with loudspeakers that now call Muslims to prayer. The 4th century Mar Behnam, a Syriac Catholic monastery outside Mosul, was captured and its monks expelled, leaving behind a library of early Christian manuscripts and wall inscriptions by 13th-century Mongol pilgrims…

ISIS control over Iraq’s territory presents an enormous threat to the region.

The religious cleansing of Mosul’s minorities is only part of the problem, but it is a grave crime against humanity, as well as a humanitarian catastrophe, that should no longer go overlooked in U.S. policy.

I was recently speaking at a Lutheran church in St. Louis on the topic of religious liberty in the United States. The crowd was good enough to be more concerned about religious persecution abroad. After my speech, I was approached by an older woman. She’d taken public transportation for three hours to get to the church. And she had various messages for me, one of which I’ll share.

She explained that she had been a Bible translator for a Lutheran organization in Liberia and had experienced civil war there. She said that two of her favorite verses were Acts 1:8 and Acts 8:1 and that she liked how they played off each other. Here they are, in context:

And being assembled together with them, [Jesus] commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me[a] in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.


Now Saul was consenting to [first Christian martyr St. Stephen’s] death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

What she liked about these verses were that Jesus says that once His followers receive the Holy Spirit, they’re to go to “the end of the earth” but that they don’t actually scatter until the great persecution of the church. She tied that to the unrest she’d experienced in Liberia and how it had scattered Christians to live among new neighbors. We didn’t even discuss the amazing story of Saul’s conversion from persecutor to follower of Jesus Christ.

I keep thinking about this woman and her joyful spirit in the face of horror. I keep hoping that there are some among the victims in Mosul, Iraq, who can view their persecution and displacement this way. For those of us who are Christian, we should prepare for persecution, since the Holy Scriptures tell us to expect it. My church body just sent out a notice of bulletin inserts, articles, hymns, prayers and Scripture studies related to persecution. In one, Alexey Streltsov, a pastor in the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church, notes:

The cross is widely recognized as the major symbol of Christian faith. In its original context, there was nothing noble about it: It served as a frightening reminder of the shameful execution reserved for the worst of criminals and enemies of the state. There is something profound about it being a special sign with which we as Christians have been marked at our Baptism. It does mark the shape of our Christian life. What is it? “Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). All. No exceptions. Persecution for the faith is not something that should catch any baptized off guard: It is inherent in the very nature of Christian faith.

Radical Islamists have eradicated — for the time being — a Christian community that has worshiped in Mosul for nearly two millennia. That this ethnic cleansing was only accomplished for the first time this year after centuries of peaceful coexistence with Muslims should be a strong signal of the seriousness of this threat.

ISIS is on the march and other radicals will take notice. We may not wish we had to confront this evil, and there is much room to discuss how to confront this evil, but we can’t continue to ignore it as we have.

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