Christians persecuted in chaotic Iraq
A couple years ago our media and political leaders were rejoicing at the "Arab Spring" that - everyone quite naively said - would bring a wave of (Western-style) freedom and democracy across the Middle East. Instead we've got violence in Lybia, Egypt, and Iran, and all out civil war in Iraq and Syria.
Today there is much suffering among the civilian populations of these countries, but especially among our brothers and sisters in Christ, who have often been singled out for violence, and have been forced to flee their homes. In the case described in the CNN report, Christians are compelled to convert to Islam, or pay a fine, or leave town. Most seem to be choosing the last option (since they don't really know how safe they will be if they stay under the ISIS regime if they do pay), but it seems their homes and all their possessions are being stolen from them by ISIS.
Christians have been living all across the middle east since the Resurrection of Jesus and the mass conversions 40 days later on the Day of Pentecost around AD 30. Our faith was persecuted for centuries, until the Roman Empire under Constantine extended freedom or religion to Christians, and some years later the Emperors actively promoted Christianity as the official faith of the Empire. By the 7th Century most of the Middle East and Southern Europe was heavily evangelized, and there were churches and bishoprics all over.
With the rise of Islam and the conquest of much of the Eastern Roman Empire by Muslim armies, Christians and Jews were often forced to pay special fines in order to retain their religious identity. Since that time the Middle East has been predominantly Muslim and the number of Christians has steadily dwindled under social pressures (and sometimes violent persecution). No doubt the same thing would have happened in Europe if not for the Battle of Tours, and the world today would be a very different place (I suppose it could all resemble the Middle East of today, though who can really say for sure?).
What can we do who believe in Christ when we hear of such stories of persecution in the news?
First of all, we should pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray that they will be safe; that the hearts of their enemies will be turned away from violent ideologies; pray especially that the followers of Christ will be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to boldly hold fast to the Savior of our souls, even in the face of persecution. Pray that they will not respond to hate and violence with more hate and violence, but will dedicate themselves to truly following the Prince of Peace.
We should also remember that Jesus warned his disciples repeatedly that we would be hated on account of his name, and we shouldn't let platitudes about "the progress of freedom in the 21st Century" distract us from the fact that his words are proving true all around the world - and there is no immutable guarantee that we too, who currently live in free countries, will not one day face similar situations.
Because our country has been relatively stable and peaceful and democratic for several generations, we Americans tend to take stability, peace, and democracy for granted, but they will only exist so long as we work hard to keep them.
We should also urge our elected officials to speak out and seek to uphold freedom of religion and freedom of speech all for all peoples around this world (including right here as they pass laws that affect us). I am trying to get in the habit of writing more actual 'stamp & paper' letters to my representatives - what good is having a voice, after all, if I don't use it to speak up?
We should also urge our elected officials to take a less hawkish and more cautious approach to foreign policy goals - just because a tyrant is oppressive it does not necessarily follow that the country will become a haven of peace and freedom if we forcibly remove that tyrant from power. Today we might seriously ask the question of whether the Iraqi people would have been better off had we left Saddam Hussein in power. Without any doubt, the Christians of Iraq would have been (not to mention the tens of thousands of Iraqis who died in the war).
To be clear, I do not stand for isolationism, I do not hold that we should give up engagement altogether, or stop advocating for the God-given rights of all people (see above) - but it seems to me that we have been far too optimistic about what can really be accomplished through military means, and far too optimistic about the ability of the West to impose our values on other cultures, or the willingness and ability of Islamic culture to welcome our Western-style free democracy, since even the best real world examples have a questionable record when it comes to protecting minorities, and especially religious minorities.
We can also urge our church leaders and church mission organizations to respond - as best they can - to the needs of refugees in all of these countries.
Any more ideas that you have? What else can we do?