Beliefs

‘In Defense of Christians’ seeks to protect brethren from Egypt to Iraq

Andrew Doran, the executive director of In Defense of Christians.
Andrew Doran, the executive director of In Defense of Christians.

Photo courtesy of In Defense of Christians

Andrew Doran, the executive director of In Defense of Christians.

(RNS) Watching ancient Christian communities stand nearly defenseless as Islamic militants roll across swaths of the Middle East, coalitions of Christians are banding together to sound the alarm and demand government action.

The most recent effort is a three-day conference (Sept. 9-11) in Washington, D.C., which gathered Orthodox Christians, evangelicals, Roman Catholics and others for prayer, speeches and a lobbying push on Capitol Hill.

“If Christian voices are able to ring out as one from Egypt to Syria to Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, then we really do believe it will be possible for Middle Eastern Christians to survive,” said Andrew Doran, executive director of In Defense of Christians, which organized the conference.

Doran, who describes himself as a Catholic with a great affinity for Orthodox Christianity, said the gathering has shown how Middle Eastern Christians can put aside their sometimes 1,500-year-old disagreements and take up the cause of their beleaguered brethren.

Bishop Angaelos, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of England, called for unwavering unity in combating the “medieval” mindset and violence faced by Christians and other minorities in the region.

“We haven’t seen this since the atrocities of Genghis Khan in the 13th century,” Angaleos told several hundred people in a Washington hotel ballroom Wednesday (Sept. 10).

Bishop Angaleos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, speaks at the first inaugural summit of In Defense of Christians. The three-day meeting focused on the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Angaleos's church -- the Coptic Church -- is the largest in the Middle East, and its adherents are concentrated in Egypt, where he was born. Religion News Service photo by Lauren Markoe

Bishop Angaleos, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, speaks at the first inaugural summit of In Defense of Christians. The three-day meeting focused on the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Angaleos’s church — the Coptic Church — is the largest in the Middle East, and its adherents are concentrated in Egypt, where he was born. Religion News Service photo by Lauren Markoe

Roman Catholic Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, introducing Angaelos and two other Orthodox patriarchs, called the gathering historic — the first time in his knowledge “that all of these patriarchs are here in our nation’s capital together.”

Wuerl, who has been outspoken about the need for the world to pay more attention to plight of Christians, Muslims and other endangered minorities, asked the crowd at the IDC’s inaugural summit to speak up themselves. “We can be passive bystanders or we can be active participants in this great effort,” he said.

“In Defense of Christians,” a Washington-based group, was founded earlier this year to press the point that Christianity is endangered in the Middle East — its birthplace — and that “the survival of these historic Christian communities is not merely a moral imperative; it is in the interests of all nations and peoples.”

There are about 12 million Christians in the Middle East — about 5 percent of the region’s population — and they represent the second-largest religious group after Muslims. At the beginning of the 20th century, Christians represented about one in five Middle Easterners, but many have emigrated due to war and persecution.

Iraq’s Christian population, for example, has fallen from 1 million to 400,000 in the past 10 years, according to the IDC.

Doran said the theme of this first IDC summit is the unity of Christians across the Middle East: the event opened with an ecumenical prayer service led by Middle Eastern Christians, Wuerl, and the Vatican official responsible for relations with churches in the region: Cardinal Leonardo Sandri,  prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

But next year, at the second summit, the push will be for unity among U.S. Christians in defense of their Middle Eastern co-religionists. Asked about the the relative dearth of mainline Protestants at the conference, Doran said there were some, but he hoped more would get involved in the future alongside evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and others.

Mainline Protestants have been relatively quieter in their advocacy for Middle Eastern Christians for a number of reasons, said Mark Tooley, a Methodist, conference attendee, and president of the Washington-based Institute on Religion & Democracy. There may be some mainline Protestants, he said, who may feel reluctant to cast stones.

It can also be, Tooley added, that mainline Protestants have traditionally focused elsewhere — on anti-war and anti-poverty initiatives, for example.

Doran said the cooperative spirit of the conference has been heartening, but that it does not mean that all are agreed on how the threat to Christians in the Middle East should be countered.

One Orthodox leader on Tuesday (Sept. 9) declared his opposition to military action to stop the Islamic State militants, a view that is not likely widely shared at the conference, Doran noted. The next day, another called the Arab-Israel conflict the root of Middle Eastern chaos.

He doesn’t speak for the IDC nor his brother patriarchs, said Doran, adding:

“But I don’t think we would be inclined to censor that sort of comment. We welcome a diversity of thought.”

YS/AMB END MARKOE

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

16 Comments

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  • In all fairness booing Ted Cruz off a stage normally would just be a matter of principle no matter what he said.

  • For all the years the United States had troops in Iraq, which pretty well controlled the country, they seem to have done little or nothing during that time to protect Christians or other none Muslim groups.
    The story of the on going persecution of Christians in the middle east seems to have little or no concern here in America. For a President who states he believes in God (and Jesus Christ), appeasing Muslim groups to keep them out of the fight against us seems more important.

  • That is if you completely ignore the support we have given the Kurds and their autonomous regions/militias. The Kurds have been the ones who have taken it upon themselves to protect Iraqi Christians and other minorities by force of arms.

    The Kurds being the only major group in Iraq which entirely supported the US. Owing much of their survival to US imposed no-fly zones and military protection as early as the 1990’s.

    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/06/iraq-christians-seek-refuge-with-kurds-2014624867119947.html

    http://www.catholic.org/news/international/middle_east/story.php?id=56643

  • Someone or some group labeling themselves “Christian” does not mean they have anything to do with our Father Yahweh or His Son Yahushua Messiah. IDC is apparently a front group for islamist and filled with appeasers calling themselves Christian. Please do not blame Yahushua (Jesus) for these people. They do not follow His righteous path. Yahushua is a JEW and ISRAEL is His Land and People. True followers of Yahushua are members of the Kingdom of Israel and Messiah is its King. Therefore, real followers of Yahushua keep the Torah Commandments and love Israel and will die for Israel. Followers of Yahushua Messiah await the return of the Messiah – as the Israelis long for and patiently await His appearance, too. Yahushua loves Jews and will come to rescue them soon. On that day, the Messiah will destroy all of Israel’s enemies and restore all the land to Israel. Read the Hebrew Tanakh, it is all written and now happening. So, make your decision now – are you a friend of Israel and their Messiah or are you an enemy? Everyone will have to choose sides in this conflict. Our choice has eternal ramifications. I am for Israel and their Messiah who I know is Yahushua. Choose wisely!

  • Now, how stupid is that? Obama is a failure and nothing more than
    a boy trying to be a man…never going to happen. He couldn’t lead
    a boy scout troop. He is a disgrace for our country and citizens.

  • Obamacare alone did more to enhance the lives of fellow Americans than Ted Cruz will ever do. Cruz has nothing of value to show for his role in Congress except to give the false perception that Texans are somehow mentally deficient.

  • Well Larry, I see that you obviously have an IQ similar to Obama, say around 65? And by the way, Obamacare has NOT done anything to enhance the lives of fellow Americans. I have a view of the healthcare system from the inside. Before you start oozing bad information out, you might want to get your facts straight.
    As for Ted Cruz, I’d take ‘five’ of him over 1 ‘Obama’ any day of the week.
    As for we Texans, we may not all be the brightest light-bulbs, but our State has created more jobs than any other State, despite Obama. God Bless You Larry, I hope your light-bulb comes on soon.

  • You obviously do not keep current on what is going on.

    Several million people+ with healthcare when they had none before is enhancing their lives. How is that ignorance?

    Texas created more menial jobs and phony state (SOCIALIST!!) positions than any other state. Keeping people below the poverty line or patronage jobs doesn’t really help a lot of people.

  • Larry, The Kurds are not protecting the region’s indigenous Christians. On the contrary, the Kurds are exploiting the present crisis in northern Iraq to ensure that the Ashur (Assyrian) nation (which has generally fled Dohuk and surrounding areas as the IS jihadis have advanced) does not return.

    The Assyrians now have their own diaspora. Their leaders are seeking to keep those currently displaced and living refugee camps or in churches close to their ancestral homeland. This will make it easier for them to return when peace and stability return.

    The US has leverage on the Kurds and we should be using it to forge a guarantee for the Assyrians that they will have a protected homeland in northern Iraq, free from Kurdish persecution, when they return.

  • Hi man, just tell me what century are you living in ? For your education go read the Bible, so you know who the Christians’ Lord is.

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