The Unknown Christians
Father Andrew Stephen Damick wonders why Americans are so ignorant of and indifferent to Christians in the Middle East. Excerpts:
I am married to an American of Palestinian ancestry. People sometimes ask me if that means my wife is Muslim. She is not. She is an Orthodox Christian. Her father is an Orthodox Christian. His father was an Orthodox Christian. And so on. They’re actually not really sure how far back their Christianity goes, but the family originally came from Antioch (which is now in Turkey but was a major Syrian capital in the Roman Empire). I once asked when the family became Christian. One of my wife’s relatives answered, “When Jesus rose from the dead.” There’s a good chance that that’s roughly correct.
When the Apostles made their missionary journeys to the uttermost parts of the earth, history doesn’t say that they skipped the rest of the Middle East and headed straight for Europe. No, they immediately began founding Christian communities right in their own neighborhood. Two major Syrian cities—Antioch and Damascus—figure quite large in early Christian history. They are mentioned in the New Testament. They are still home to Christians.
American Christians’ inability to see Middle Eastern Christians for who they are—not just fellow Christians, but human beings who are suffering and dying—contributes to the marginalization of some of the most persecuted people in the world, hastening their erasure from history.
Read the whole thing. I suppose I can thank Ted Cruz for making me more aware of my responsibilities to these people than I was before he mouthed off. My friend Peter Lawler worries that I have “obsessed a lot more than is good for [my] our our mental health” about the Cruz speech and what it means. He may be right. But given the life-or-death stakes for the Middle Eastern Christians, and given how ignorant and/or indifferent Americans are to their presence and their fate, I think we have a long way to go before we can be accused of obsessing too much, or even “obsessing” at all, about this issue.
In case you missed it, here’s Ross Douthat’s final word on the controversy. It’s quite good. Excerpt:
And so yes: In the best of all possible worlds, Maronite and Coptic and Assyrian Christian would indeed all be standing shoulder to shoulder with Israelis (and moderate Muslims) in the struggle against terror.
But in this world, most Middle Eastern Christians are in one of the following three positions relative to Israel: It’s an occupying power, at best a lesser evil (compared to Hamas) but certainly not a benevolent ally by any reasonable definition of the term; it’s an erstwhile ally which they feel left them to reap the Islamist whirlwind after years of loyal cooperation; or it’s a far-off country with few ways to aid them and which they stand to face a great deal of immediate danger for being associated with in any way. Combine these positions with the stark reality of ongoing genocide, and I think it should be clear why so many of us think Cruz was wrong to address an audience of Middle Eastern Christians as he did: Because the propositions he was advancing are a description of how an ideal world might be, not of the world they actually inhabit, and because it’s unreasonable to ask people whose communities are on the knife’s edge of destruction to pay homage to a vision that they either have good historical reasons to dissent from, or feel they cannot endorse for fear of making their own situation worse.
Do not miss Yair Rosenberg’s excellent piece in Tablet about the controversy. He points out that prominent Jews like Ronald S. Lauder and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks have been speaking out against anti-Christian persecution. And the list goes on. We Christians must not forget the witness of these Jewish brothers of ours. Excerpt:
The takeaway from all this should be clear: Whether or not one thinks Cruz was justified in his walkout, the tempest in the tea party over his actions must not be allowed to obscure the pressing plight of Christians in the birthplace of their faith, and our Jewish obligation to stand in solidarity with them.