- - Monday, November 6, 2017


We have barely begun to mourn our freshly dead, the latest American victims of rage and hate and guns, massacred at a worship service in their Texas church.

Grief can turn us inward, to focus only on our own suffering of an epidemic of mass violence; the bloody bike path on a sunny autumn afternoon, the terror of an evening at an outdoor concert.  But grief can also be a catalyst to lift up our eyes and see the suffering of others.

Sunday’s mass murder of Christians in Texas should remind us of the persecuted Christians elsewhere in the world, particularly in the Middle East, who are being attacked, killed, driven out of their homes and persecuted to the extent that in 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry designated Islamic State’s crimes as genocide, identifying by name Christians, Yazidis (a monotheistic, syncretic religion) and other minority groups targeted for extermination.  But it didn’t start with ISIS.

After the U.S. invasion of Iraq back in 2003, sectarian conflict resulted in most of the 1.5 million Iraqi Christians fleeing to the north, to refuge in Kurdistan.  The ISIS campaign of murder and worse against Christians, Yazidis and “infidels” came later.  Christians and other religious minorities in Syria have suffered a similar fate.  ISIS sold great numbers of women into sexual slavery.  Children were kidnapped, indoctrinated and sent into combat.

The terrible suffering caused by religious persecution is intensely personal, and it is also communal. The persecution threatens the very existence of ancient Christian communities in the region; some of those communities continue to speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

Unfortunately, victory over ISIS does not mean the end of troubles for religious minorities.  Iraq has become number two on Open Doors’ “World Watch List” for religious persecution, behind only North Korea.  The growing role of Hezbollah does not bode well for Lebanese Christians.

It is bitterly ironic to note that Sunday November 5, the very day worshipers in Texas were being slaughtered, had been declared the “International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.”  Religious organizations were encouraging Christians across the U.S. to pray on Sunday for persecuted Christians around the world and then to call their representatives on Monday to tell them to pass legislation to help fellow believers.

The bill, H.R. 390, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017, passed the House in June and is now ready for Senate action after being reviewed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The bill would make it U.S. policy “to ensure that assistance for humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery needs of individuals who are or were nationals and residents of Iraq or Syria, and of communities from those countries, is directed toward those individuals and communities with the greatest need, including those individuals from communities of religious and ethnic minorities.” It would also seek to bring the perpetrators of genocide to justice.

Our single-note media focus on each episode of mass murder for a news cycle.  Their formula is sadly familiar and unproductive: “How awful. Thoughts and prayers. Mental Health. Gun Control. Who’s to blame. How to fix. No one knows.”  

What Congress is correctly focusing on is the organized campaign of persecution and destruction of entire Christian communities.

You can help.  Tell your senator to support H.R. 390, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017.

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