Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Iraqi Christians -- Living in Fear, Bearing Witness to Christ

This morning I was awakened by my oldest son, who was not feeling well. He needed something from a nearby pharmacy, so I left at about 5 a.m. While I was on the way there I was able to listen to the BBC World Update on our public radio station. The BBC was running a story about Christians in Iraq. I found the story, now transcribed on the BBC site. You can read the whole story here.

The basic gist of the story though is that in the aftermath of the bombing of the Catholic cathedral in Baghdad, the Archbishop Athanasios Dawood is urging Iraqi Christians to flee. At the same time the Syriac Catholic Bishop of Baghdad, Ignatius Metti Metok is urging his flock to remain. He said,

My people say to me, 'You want us to stay after what's happened? It could happen again, and who's going to protect us?' We tell them, the Church is against emigration, we have to stay here, whatever the sacrifices, to bear witness to our faith. But people are human, and we can't stop them leaving.

I imagine that the majority of folks hear the Bishop's stance as ludicrous. Stay in harm's way rather than get the hell out of Dodge. But the bishop roots the position in the faithful witness of the Church. In the midst of fear, the Church does not turn tail, but remain present to testify to the presence of the crucified and risen one, over whom death no longer holds dominion.

Another thing to consider is what damage an Iraqi Christian exodus might do to the witness of the Church. At the end of the article, there is a brief statement that violence is not only being targeted toward Christians but also Shia Muslims. About two days after the attack at the cathedral about 90 Shia Muslims were also killed. If Iraqi Christians leave, or are even urged to leave by Iraqi Bishops and other Christian leaders, then it seems that the underlying message there is "Let the murderous Muslims take it out on their own!" I fear that the emigration would bear witness to the all too prevalent notion that Muslims are less than human and reinforce the message that this struggle is about Christians versus Muslims.

How instead might Iraqi Christians remain and live out the "Love your neighbor" command as their neighbors are experiencing violence as well? The cruciform life is lived at the intersection of loving God and neighbor. As we live with our neighbors, even those who hate us, we are called to love them and bear witness to the God who has is at work reconciling the world through Christ.

No comments: