Category Archives: ISIS

A Christian Twitterstorm

I found myself in a mild Twitterstorm the other day, if Christians politely disagreeing with one another can be called a Twitterstorm.

It started with a tweet of mine: “Christianity under threat from ISIS. We must understand the issues. A new book is invaluable.” I then linked to a review I had written on my website of the book “Defying ISIS” by Johnnie Moore.

It is an excellent book, and I had concluded my review with these words: “This is a short book and a quick read (though not an easy read, given the grim content matter). With Christianity under threat of eradication in the land of its birth, it is vital that all Christians understand the issues. ‘Defying ISIS’ is an excellent starting point.”

Anyway, I soon received a response to my tweet: “@AuthorMRoth Christianity is not under threat. Jesus said he will build his church & the gates of hell will never prevail against it. #ISIS”.

Well yes, Christianity as a whole will prevail. We know that. But Christianity in Iraq and Syria is being eradicated by the depravities of ISIS. That was the point of my initial comment. So I tweeted back: “Christianity has already been wiped out in North Africa. Now it is being wiped out in Iraq.”

To which my correspondent replied: “@AuthorMRoth Bible prophesied about persecution. Christians are being displaced not wiped out.”

So I tweeted: “Christianity might be growing in China and elsewhere, but it’s being wiped out in Iraq. That’s my point. It’s a tragedy.”

I then received the reply: “I understand”, and that was the end of the exchange.

But it set me thinking about how we regard the genocide now being carried out by the barbarians of ISIS.

Is it something to be expected – prophesied in the Bible, even – part of the ebb and flow of Christianity? While our faith declines in one part of the globe it rises in another?

Right now Christianity is under attack in the Mideast from Muslim extremists. It is also under attack in the West, and in decline, from the forces of secularism.

Meanwhile it is booming in China and South Korea and parts of Africa, and there is some significant revival occurring in areas of South America.

Of course we express joy, and give thanks, for so many new Christians. But to describe what is happening in the Mideast as, “Christians are being displaced not wiped out,” is, to my mind almost an insult. What we are witnessing in Iraq and Syria is a tragedy of almost unmentionable proportions. Every Christian should be grieving.

New Movie Spotlights Christian Persecution – Too Late for Mideast Faithful

A forthcoming new film from famed director Martin Scorsese is set to confront the movie-going public with the issue of the persecution of Christians.

It is “Silence,” based on the celebrated 1966 historical novel by Japanese Christian writer Shusaku Endo, who was nominated for the Nobel Prize.

Silence“Silence,” Endo’s masterpiece, is set in seventeenth-century Japan and tells the story of an idealistic Portuguese missionary trying to help his Christian brethren in Japan, while the authorities work to eradicate the religion.

It is based on real people and real events, and it is striking to read of the cruelty that was employed by the Japanese shogun – military leader – and his officials, so determined were they to rid Japan of Christianity and all that it stood for.

A favored torture method was to hang a Christian upside-down over a pit of excrement, with a tiny cut behind the ear sending blood – one slow drop at a time – running down the victim’s face. Merciful death could take a week.

At other times a Christian was tied to a pole that was secured in the sea. High tide would come up just to the victim’s neck, then the water would abate. Again, death was slow.

Now we are seeing something similar happening in Iraq and Syria, with Christianity under attack from a merciless campaign of genocide by the criminals of ISIS.

It is difficult to obtain reliable news from the region, but it is clear that ISIS has already blown up and destroyed churches, monasteries and historic sites, such as the tomb in Nineveh where, according to tradition, the prophet Jonah was buried. Hundreds of thousands have fled.

Nineveh is part of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, and large numbers of Christians lived and worshipped there for nearly 2,000 years. It is now possible that not one Christian remains.

The seventeenth-century Japanese authorities were equally relentless and brutal as they forced hundreds of thousands of believers to renounce their faith. They achieved almost total success in uprooting Christianity from their homeland.

Yet when the country was opened up again to the West, 200 years later, visitors were amazed to discover scattered remnants of secret believers, still covertly practising their faith.

This might be some cause for comfort, as we witness the holocaust now taking place in the Mideast. But we must also remember that, despite all the intense efforts of missionaries over the past 150 years, fewer than one per cent of Japan’s population today are Christian.

Yes, a remnant of secret believers might linger in ISIS-controlled territory. But I repeat what I have already written – the events that we see unfold before us in the Middle East today are a tragedy of monumental proportions.

The new Scorsese movie may well spark outrage among the general public about the persecution of Christians. I hope it does. But it will come too late for the faithful of Iraq and Syria.

Threats Against Christians in Jerusalem – A Disturbing Trend

It is disturbing to learn of a growing number of Islamist threats against Christians in the holy city of Jerusalem. The latest such incident comes in the form of leaflets that were distributed there recently, purporting to be issued by “Islamic State, Jerusalem Emirate.”

The leaflets state that Islamic State knows where most Christians in Jerusalem live, and warn that they have until Eid al-Fitr – the festival marking the end of Ramadan on July 19th – to leave the city or be killed.

Last November I interviewed Karen Dunham, pastor of the Living Bread International Church in Jerusalem, and she told me that Muslim neighbors had attacked her church, although this appeared to be partly a dispute over property rights, as well as over religion.

She added that the police were slow to make arrests, “because the attackers are Arab Israelis, and we are foreigners and Christians. The police did not want to cause trouble within the Arab community, so they really did not do much to help us. If we were of the Islamic or Jewish faith we would have had much more support.”

In May this year a group of Muslims launched an attack on Jerusalem’s Christian quarter. Nashat Filmon, general director of the Palestinian branch of The Bible Society, was quoted as linking this to Islamic State.

Also in May an imam at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem posted online a video calling for Muslims to be constantly at war with the “polytheist enemy,” meaning Christians and Jews.

It is not just Islamists. Jewish extremists have also engaged in anti-Christian activity. For example, they are believed to be behind an arson attack in June on the Church of the Multiplication, near the Sea of Galilee, the traditional site where Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people with bread and fish.

But it is the Islamist threat that is the major concern, with a growing number of anti-Christian incidents in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel, and rising support for Islamic State among some Israeli Muslims.

Christians remain free to worship in Israel, and Christianity there is thriving and growing. Nowhere else in the Middle East is this true. No wonder Islamic State is issuing its threats. We have seen what the organization has done in the areas under its control, aggressively wiping out any Christian presence.

There are many calls – even from Christians – for Jerusalem to be placed under Palestinian control or, at best, under some kind of international administration. How long, then, would Christians be free to worship? How long might our churches and monasteries even remain standing?

These latest disturbing incidents are surely grounds for insisting that Jerusalem remains governed and protected by Israel.

ISIS Threatens Christians in Jerusalem with “Vengeance”

A report that an ISIS-linked group has been threatening Christians in Jerusalem underscores the dangers inherent in placing the city under some kind of international control, as advocated by many.

According to The Times of Israel:

Leaflets threatening Christians and signed by an organization referring to itself as the “Islamic State in Palestine” were distributed in East Jerusalem Thursday, Israel’s Channel 10 news reported.

The flyers, which displayed an image of the black flag associated with the Islamic State terrorist group, warned Christian residents of the city that “vengeance” will be exacted upon them, the TV report stated.

Last month I noted that Pope Francis had reportedly described Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as an “angel of peace,” despite Palestinian persecution of Christians.

And two weeks ago I wrote about how the Vatican was calling for an independent Palestinian state, “ignoring the growing links between ISIS and Hamas, which controls Gaza.”

I also quoted the commentator David Goldman:

Judging from the opinion polls, [if free elections were held] a State of Palestine today would have a Hamas majority of about two-thirds, with substantial representation from elements of ISIS. Why would the Vatican wish this plague upon itself? If a Palestinian State rules the Old City of Jerusalem, the Christian holy sites will be razed by Muslim radicals, just as they were in Iraq. Christianity survives in Judea and Samaria because Jews are willing to die for Jerusalem. How many Christians are willing to die for Jerusalem? The Vatican should ponder this question.

These words ring even truer now. Christians are not universally loved in Israel, but they are free to worship, and Christianity is thriving and growing. Nowhere else in the Middle East is this true. No wonder ISIS wishes to threaten our Christian brothers and sisters in Israel. And it is only while Jerusalem remains in Jewish hands that we can expect they will be protected.

Christianity Doomed in Iraq, Say Experts

Is it now time for Christians to accept defeat in the face of the ISIS genocidal onslaught in Iraq, and admit that our faith has no viable future – in the short term, at least – in that country? Certainly – and sadly – that is the message that is increasingly being heard from many experts.

Nina Shea is an international human rights lawyer and director of the US-based Center for Religious Freedom. She has an impressive record of fighting on behalf of Mideast Christians.

But now she is bluntly calling for, in her words, “a new strategy.”

And what exactly is this new strategy?

In an article last week at National Review Online she writes: “The only achievable strategy under the current circumstances is to prepare for an orderly resettlement of these Christians (and Yazidis) in the West.”

Then she adds: “It is a bitter development for the Church and for them, being discarded after 2,000 years of history, through no fault of their own. But it is the most humane of the alternatives. Otherwise they face indigence and exile or, worse, slaughter at the hands of jihadists.”

Also last week, on the Defense One website, comes an article from Barry Posen, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Security Studies Program. Its title: “The Iraqi Army No Longer Exists.”

In other words, there is no remaining force that, realistically, is going to halt ISIS as it continues its drive to subjugate the region’s Christians. Certainly, as Shea notes, the US does not appear to have the will to do this.

Taking a similar theme, Stephen Walt, an international relations professor at Harvard University, concedes that ISIS increasingly looks like becoming a real and viable state. His article on the Foreign Affairs website has the telling sub-title: “Live with it.”

All this simply confirms what historian Walter Russell Mead told a Hudson Institute conference last month. Christians and other minorities in the region must either “fort up or flee.” Yet the time to “fort up” has long passed.

Christians might comfort ourselves – as I try to do – with thoughts of how our faith is blooming in many other parts of the world. But let us not delude ourselves. This is a tragedy of monumental proportions.

Defying ISIS – A New Book Urges Christians to Act

Western Christians have been shell-shocked by the ISIS (Islamic State) holocaust against our fellow Christians in the Middle East, and have little idea how to respond, beyond prayer and some giving to relevant charities. That, at least, is how I see things.

So a timely new book is relevant. It is “Defying ISIS” by Johnnie Moore, an American author, business executive and religious freedom activist.

The book spells out in grisly detail some of the ISIS activities – the chapter on how the group has been enslaving girls and women is particularly hard to read – and makes it clear that Christians are a particular target.

ISIS itself may have made the headlines only in the past couple of years, but since at least 2003 Islamists have been targeting Iraqi churches. In Baghdad alone, 40 of the 65 churches have been bombed.

In October 2014 the cover of an ISIS magazine depicted St Peter’s Square in the Vatican with a black jihadist flag superimposed. ISIS leaders have repeatedly proclaimed their intention to march to Rome, which they view as the global center of Christianity.

In the words of the book: “ISIS is unabashed at their desire to eliminate Christianity altogether. This isn’t just a part of their plan. It is the heart of it.”

I suspect a military response is the only real answer, but what can ordinary Christians do? Moore stresses the importance of education. When we understand what is happening we are much more likely to start trying to help. We will also be able to speak authoritatively to others.

He briefly tells the story of “a relatively small group of Christians who educated themselves and cared enough to raise their voices” and helped more than 72,000 refugees, driven from their homes by ISIS, to survive the 2014 winter.

He also urges Christians to speak up on this issue and to pressure their governments, as well as praying and giving.

This is a short book and a quick read (though not an easy read, given the grim content matter). With Christianity under threat of eradication in the land of its birth, it is vital that all Christians understand the issues. “Defying ISIS” is an excellent starting point.