Christian leaders across America are coming together with a pledge to show solidarity and a call to action for their imperiled brothers and sisters being persecuted in the churches of Egypt, Iraq and Syria – the same lands Jesus and the apostles shared the Gospel 2,000 years ago.
The pledge, a grassroots effort released publicly Wednesday by U.S. Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Anna Eshoo (D. Calif.), calls for American Christian leaders who sign it to commit to work within their congregations and communities to pray, educate and engage in foreign policy on behalf of endangered fellow Christians and other small religious groups who are similarly vulnerable.
Wolf and Eshoo are co-chairs of the bipartisan Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus.
“I regularly meet with beleaguered Christians from this part of the world,” Wolf said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “Their stories are eerily similar: believers kidnapped for ransom; churches – some full of worshippers – attacked; clergy targeted for killing. In the face of this violence, Christians are leaving in droves.
“The resounding theme that emerges is quite simply a plea for solidarity, and an appeal for help,” he continued. “Where is the West they wonder? Today, I am heartened to say, that these cries have been heard.”
The pledge and call to action came about as a result of a growing concern regarding the persecution in the ancient lands of Christianity’s origin and has been signed by more than 175 American Christian leaders across ecumenical lines. It has been touted as a “galvanizing call to action in response to the crisis facing these ancient faith communities.”
“These are the original Christians of the world,” said Eshoo. “Why the Western world has not had a greater appreciation for this really mystifies us.”
The three nations highlighted in the pledge and call to action all rank among the worst countries for Christian persecution in the world. According to the Open Doors World Watch List, Syria ranks third in persecution, Iraq fourth and Egypt 22nd.
Taking a stand
Signers of the pledge include National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson, Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell D. Moore, Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Sojourners’ Jim Wallis, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, Anglican Church in North America Archbishop Robert Duncan, two United Methodist bishops and a United Methodist seminary president, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler, Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson, Beeson Divinity School Dean Timothy George, Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary President Dennis Hollinger, Willow Creek Pastor Bill Hybels, Northland Church Pastor Joel Hunter, Prison Fellowship Ministries President Jim Liske and Institute on Religion & Democracy President Mark Tooley.
“I am honored to stand with so many Christian leaders ecumenically across the spectrum in a rare unity in defense of persecuted fellow Christians in the Middle East,” said Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. “Let’s pray and work so this pledge signifies a new, determined and permanent coalition ensuring that Christians in America at least are not silent about the suffering church in the ancient lands where the apostles first preached.”
Speaking at the press conference on behalf of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Commission, Dr. Barrett Duke said, “The United States government, the faith community, and all people of peace should begin immediately to run to the defense of these special people who choose not to retaliate against their attackers. Their response of grace reminds me of the suffering of Jesus Himself when He willingly took the abuse of His captors and did not strike back.
“These embattled communities are looking to us for their rescue,” Duke continued. “They are the people Jesus mentioned in Matthew 25. We will be held accountable one day for the way we responded to them in their hour of need. May the Lord declare us faithful and fitting recipients of the glory to come because we did not shrink back from this need, but reached out to these men, women and children created in His image, for whom Christ died.”
What does it say?
The pledge reads:
“We are compelled to take this action by the grave dangers that confront the churches of Egypt, Iraq and Syria, in particular. While Christians have been leaving the Middle East for many years, and, in these three countries, members of all communities—including smaller religious communities and Muslims—suffer from violence and political turmoil, the Egyptian, Iraqi and Syrian Christian communities, under the additional scourge of intensifying religious extremism, are experiencing a sudden, massive exodus of their members from the region.”
The situation has become so dire with the rise of Islamic extremism that Christians are threatened as individuals and as communities.
“Since these communities account for most of the indigenous Christians in today’s Middle East, the continued presence of Christians in the region where Christianity originated 2,000 years ago is threatened,” the pledge continues. “Recognizing the spiritual, humanitarian and geopolitical implications of this historic flight, we have joined together to affirm our moral obligation to speak and act in defense of religious freedom for all human beings.
“As Americans, we believe that the ability to worship God, or not, and to practice freely one’s faith, is a basic, inalienable human right, as recognized in our country’s founding documents, and that it has universal application. We witness this right under assault today in Egypt, Iraq and Syria.
“As Christians, we are called to take to heart Jesus’ own words in the Gospel of Luke that He was sent to ‘proclaim freedom for the prisoners’ and to ‘set the oppressed free.’” It continues with Paul’s message of the Church as the body of Christ and how every part suffers when one suffers. “We are aggrieved by the suffering in the Middle East today of our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
It also acknowledges that Egypt, Iraq and Syria have seen “scores of churches deliberately destroyed, many clergy and laypeople targeted for death, kidnapping, intimidation and forcible conversion, and hundreds of thousands of believers driven from their countries.”
“Events of recent days, weeks, months and even years in Syria, Iraq and Egypt have revealed an increasingly blatant and violent campaign of Christian religious targeting and persecution that has provoked an unprecedented exodus of faithful from the region,”said George Marlin, chairman of the board for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN USA) and one of the signers of the pledge. “The time to act is now – time to call on our government for concrete action to protect these vulnerable communities and to urge the people in our parishes and congregations to pray for and support their persecuted brothers and sisters.”
As for the call to action, the following steps are outlined:
- Appointment of the Special Envoy on middle East East Religious Minorities;
- Review of foreign aid; and
- Refugee and reconstruction assistance.
“The faith leaders assembled, and those who have signed the pledge, have made clear that they are not waiting for Washington to take action,” Wolf said. “They recognize that unless the American church begins to champion this cause the foreign policy establishment will hardly lead the way. They are committing to be their ‘brother’s keeper,’ whether in Nineveh, Cairo or Homs. And for that, I thank them.”
Duke added, “I urge all Christians to read the pledge being released (May 7) and join with us to help bring an end to the persecution of these people of faith. It is my hope and prayer that (May 7) will be known as the day their relief began. We must join together in prayer, advocacy, and acts of mercy and grace from this day and onward until Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, faithful and faithless live together in the Middle East in peaceful harmony. We can and should do no less.”