By Joe LaGuardia
Every week, a group of us from Trinity Baptist Church gather for coffee in Old Town, Conyers, to discuss whatever is on our minds. Sometimes we try to solve the world’s problems.
This past week, conflicts in the Middle East came up for discussion.
As expected, it focused on ISIS, war in Iraq, and America’s tenuous Arab allies.
Everyone broached the issues in the news, but there was an overwhelming silence regarding a community that may just hold the key to a greater avenue of peace in the Middle East: Christian communities, some as ancient as the land upon which they walk, throughout the Arab world.
These Christians get very little press. Sometimes they make the news–perhaps to highlight ISIS’s barbarism–but, as a whole, the Christian community in the Middle East is a community without a voice.
This is a tragedy in itself because Christians make up the second largest religious group in these parts, about 5% of the population. They have deep roots, and they are usually the first to be persecuted (along with other religious minorities, including minority Mulsim sects) from Islamic radicals.
When ISIS swept across northern Iraq, for instance, Christians in the ancient town of Nineveh (the same Nineveh in the book of Jonah), were executed or forced to leave. Nearly 200,000 Christians and thousands of Muslim minorities were displaced.
One Catholic news source noted that this past season was the first in which Christians did not take communion in the city for nearly 2000 years.
The temptation for us Americans is to assume that these, and other Middle Eastern, Christian communities look and worship like we do. That is not the case. Often, these Christian communities have rituals that go back beyond the founding of America, and their ties to political parties and tribal loyalties are deeply embedded.
This came out in a symposium hosted by a new organization, “In Defense of Christians“, last month.
The symposium consisted of a coalition of Christian leaders throughout the world who intend to advocate for religious freedoms for all religious minorities.
They partner across inter-faith lines, including Jewish and Muslim leadership; as well as political parties and coalitions.
One keynote speaker at the symposium, Senator Ted Cruz, did not understand the complexity of this coalition and got heckled for undermining the diversity of the crowd when he pushed an agenda for the state of Israel. The hecklers–a vocal minority not representative of the organization–were then silenced by the crowd. It was too late, as Senator Cruz walked off the stage.
The Senator’s message was not inherently negative or controversial (and most of his speech received positive praise)–and the leaders of “In Defense of Christians” quickly apologized for the unruliness–but it did reveal a profound lack of understanding of the audience’s breadth of loyalties, theologies, and ideologies. (For thorough coverage on this incident, also see http://www.theamericanconservative.com/coppage/ted-cruz-crashes-defense-of-christians-summit/)
Aside from the many differences that exist between the Western Church and her Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in places both strange and foreign, Christian communities–and the growing number of leaders that are seeking peace initiatives and reconciliation–may just hold the key to sustainable peace in the Middle East.
As a nation, the United States does not naively put all its eggs in one basket, and our nation will always defend its secular interests. But when it comes to the sacred, we must begin having conversations with a Church that has existed for as long as we’ve had the Bible.
It’s time to invest resources and time in understanding how we can advocate for those who are dying daily for their faith–be it our own faith or that of others–on the margins.
Joe LaGuardia was recently named the Interfaith Congregational Liaison of the Baptist-Muslim Committee of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia. For more information regarding Joe’s interfaith work with the CBF-GA, please visit his website.