In light of the current peculiarities in the relations between the US Government and Syria, a good friend raises a good question. He writes, in response to my last post:
question I have is about personal strategy. How should Christians
behave in a world that is at war? Many tens of thousands of Christians
left Iraq to escape persecution and went to Syria where they are now the
buffer zone in an even more dangerous hostility. The Christians in
other Muslim controlled countries have to keep a low profile to avoid
being targeted by extremists. Is there anything we can do to help them
and to identify with the suffering persecuted church?
As I said, I think that this is a good question, and one that mindful Christians ought to be addressing very seriously. As with many practical, real-world questions of this kind, I note that the general situation is complex -- tangled, even -- and it should not be surprising that the answers are complex as well.
I do not think that I have all the answers, or indeed, perhaps, any answer; and at the end of this post, all I expect to do is suggest a part of an approach. I will focus my thoughts on the first statement, and on the last question.
(I suspect that my comments will, at the beginning, tend to come across as complaining or blaming, but I sense that they are necessary to frame the situation, at least as I see it. Bear with me.)
Let us begin with the last question: "Is there anything we can do to help them and to identify with the suffering persecuted church?"
My first response would be, with a touch of anger in my tone, "The very first thing that we can do to help them and to identify with them is to recognize that they even exist -- which American Christians that I know have not done." And right there begins a problem for me, since my response consists of a gross generalization, and an implicit general criticism, and I know that it does not even apply to my good friend and brother who raised the question. Nevertheless, I would note, a gross generalization can be true as a gross generalization, even if it is false as to important exceptions. (And I am writing for a very small, but very world-wide audience.) At any rate, I am here talking about bad ideas rather than seeking to blame "bad people," so again I ask you to bear with me, and believe that I am not attacking persons as persons. I am trying to separate bad ideas from good people (or ordinary people). I am seeking to disentangle a bad knot from a good shoe-string, if you will.
My first response, then, reading it backward, is that American Christians have generally not even recognized that the Christians in the Middle East exist at all. Yes, I know that there are wonderful exceptions. I know that Shane Claiborne was on the ground in Iraq with the Christians (and Muslims) before the "shock and awe" fell from American bombers in 2003, and stood with them in that ordeal. I know that Brother Andrew has been in contact with Christians (and Muslims) in Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine for many years. I know that Carl Madearis has, too. No doubt there are many others, and I have personally met some of them. But these are exceptional cases of people who have actually taken it upon themselves to go to the locations in question, and get first hand experience. For most American Christians, this is simply not the case. They have not even heard of the Syrian Orthodox Church, or the Assyrian Church, or Maronites. A few may have heard of the Copts, but they know next to nothing about them.
If an American Christian, myself included, wants to know what is going on in the world around him, he is pretty much totally dependent on the available media outlets, and on the pulpit. The media outlets are usually limited to the nightly-news, supplemented with some talk-radio and perhaps a newspaper subscription. All of these are heavily influenced by what I shall call the Consensus Narrative, or more simply the Narrative, which, if not controlled by Controllers, is at least influenced by Influencers. And I would argue, and I think most of us would agree, that this Narrative is capable of misinformation and even disinformation. This Narrative is not interested in talking about the "persecuted church," or even the Church at all, in anything like a truthful or positive light. (At least, I did not hear much in the media about the concerns of the "persecuted church" during "Operation Iraqi Freedom" in 2003, or thereafter.) So that is a part of the problem -- the media-government Narrative is strongly biased. We must deal with it.
The second source of information for most American Christians is the pulpit -- which I am extending here to include most other Christian media -- Christian talk-radio, Christian publishing, Christian music concerts, and the like, which disseminates a "Christian world-view" to its audience. That world-view has been formed, in large part, by "end times" rhetoric and an all-American and Israel-centric theology that has completely obscured the existence and the role of the Church in the Middle East. This is much too broad a topic to address in a single post, so I shall not try. I simply mention that this world-view exists. I would add that it is generally -- another gross generalization -- pervasive in the American Church.
With that I conclude, for the moment, my comments on the final question. As I said, I am only suggesting a part of an approach.
I'll turn to the first sentence in the reply: "The question I have is about personal strategy." I can only give my own.
My own personal strategy has been to re-examine myself and the world around me, and to raise fundamental questions about what is going on. And I have taken the time (years) to search for answers, and to wait for them if necessary. In my case, I have found this personally helpful.
I will admit to some personal biases. My personal biases include the following.
1. I do not trust a single thing that my media/government says or does, and haven't for many years. This personal viewpoint has led me to do quite a bit of personal inquiry and research over some years, and I have found that my government has lied to me, and to my friends and neighbors, on so many matters of importance, for so long, that I am sticking with this bias.
2. I mostly do not trust the spokespersons of the modern American church. They come across as entertainers, preferring appearance over substance. Their "prophecy conferences" do not impress me or enlighten me. Their "worship events" leave me cold. Their constant affirmations of "America's Godly Heritage" is a 95% lie. Their "revelations" and "anointings" I find shallow and unfruitful. Their "proclamations of the gospel," while frequently containing important truth, are too often crippled in their public delivery by ignorance coupled with arrogance.
(This has not, so far, shaken my own faith. I fully believe in everything that I read in the Apostles' Creed. I attend church regularly. I read the Holy Scriptures, and I believe them. I pray, and see remarkable answers. I walk in love. I am kindly to people with whom I disagree -- I do not use such blunt remarks (as I used in #2 above) in face-to-face conversations with brothers in Christ. (Of course, they don't often ask for my opinion, either.) In brief, I seek to trust Christ. But I no longer trust the Church.)
Have I said enough? I do not think that the American Church is in any position to help the persecuted Christians anywhere, at all. For one thing, they are not even inclined to do so. Rather, they are a contributing cause of the persecution of the persecuted Christians, by repeatedly praying to God to bless our all-American-all-Israel-all-righteous invasions of their home countries, placing them under even more hostility and suspicion than they have had before.
Since that is the way that I think right now, all I can suggest is personal strategy. I've suggested a part of my approach. I have some personal intentions and future objectives. I invite you to develop your own. Perhaps you can find a way to influence your local congregation. I would suggest an approach:
1. Question the Narrative yourself. (Perhaps you already have.) Ask lots of people lots of questions. Ask them what they have found. Take notes on what you find.
2. Question the Christian (churchian) Narrative. Ask lots of Christians lots of questions. Ask them what they have found. Take notes on what you find.
After all that, and based on your findings, it might be time to:
3. Strongly encourage other Christians, preferably in private or in very small groups, to begin to question the Narratives. Ask people. Take notes.
4. Take it from there.
Notice that I do not get around to proposing some major action in the larger American Church to "help the persecuted Church." What help can Laodicea give to Smyrna?
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Your comments are always welcome. Usual courtesies apply.