As Christians, we are concerned about all the people who are suffering and dying in the chaos that has engulfed much of the Middle East. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have a special bond with Christians who are being persecuted. From Syria to Iraq to Egypt to Libya, we hear horrifying stories of Christians being jailed and murdered, even by beheading. At its April, 2014 meeting, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) responded to a Pittsburgh Presbytery overture expressing concern about the plight of Christians “in Egypt and other parts of the world” with the following advice to the Detroit General Assembly:
“Use of the word “persecution” mischaracterizes the nature of the maltreatment of Christians in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East, and in many cases would be an unhelpful exaggeration.”
If this statement strikes the reader as incredible, it is. How have we reached a point where our leaders can dismiss the persecution of Middle Eastern Christians?
Due to the divestment debate, our denomination has been focused on the suffering of Palestinians and Israelis for more than a decade. Can it be that our preoccupation with the Palestine-Israel conflict has caused us to lose any and all understanding of the bigger picture in the Middle East? Have we become so absorbed in the suffering of the Palestinians and Israelis that we can see the ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East as an “unhelpful exaggeration?”
Presbyterians for Middle East Peace believes that the next General Assembly needs to correct the absurd idea that Christians throughout the Middle East are not suffering and being persecuted. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are in a crisis situation. However, Christians do not suffer alone. The persecution of Christians must always be viewed within the suffering of millions upon millions of Muslims who are being persecuted for their faith beliefs as Sunnis, Shiites or adherents of other Islamic traditions. The General Assembly needs to call for an immediate end to the persecution of all people in the Middle East who are being targeted for violence because of their religious beliefs.
The divestment debate in the PCUSA has subsided for the time being. It creates an opportunity to regain our perspective as peacemakers. A simple yet profound first step would be to unleash ourselves from the dynamics of the Israel-Palestine conflict so we can see what is plain for anyone with eyes to see: the suffering of Christians and Muslims in the Middle East who are being persecuted for their faith. We cannot and will not forget the Palestinians and Israelis. Both peoples deserve justice and peace. However, we cannot allow that tragic conflict to obscure our vision of the larger issues at play in the Middle East as a region.
Additional Resources from The Washington Post, New York Times, Newsweek and The Guardian.