Rob Schenck (front, red scarf), president of Faith in Action and the National Clergy Council, prays Aug. 7 for the Yazidis and Christians suffering in Iraq. IMB photo
Christians around the world face heightened persecution
NEWS | From Baptist Press and IMB reports
An unfamiliar symbol began showing up on social media pages late last month. The curved line under a single dot is the Arabic letter “Nun,” reportedly used by militants in Iraq to mark the homes of Christians in the country.
“Nun” stands for Nazarene, or Jesus.
Extremists with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have forced Christians from their homes under threat of death. The Iraqi believers and other religious minorities joined millions of Syrian refugees already displaced by civil war. In a region rich with Christian history, many have noted, very little evidence of Christianity is left.
The onslaught of persecution this summer has awakened many in the Western church to the needs of Christians around the world. Many pastors and Christian organizations in July changed their Twitter avatars and Facebook profile photos to include the letter “Nun.” They also used the hashtag #WeAreN as a show of solidarity with the persecuted believers.
“The Islamic militants mean it for evil when they mark homes with ‘N’ for ‘Nazarene,’” wrote Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “They assume it’s an insult, an emblem of shame. Others once thought that of the cross.
“But in that intended slight, we are reminded of who we are, and why we belong to one another, across the barriers of space and time and language and nationality. We are Christians. We are citizens of the New Jerusalem. We are Nazarenes all.”
Iraqi refugee crisis
“There are no Christians left in Mosul.”
That’s how religious freedom advocate Nina Shea described conditions in Iraq’s second largest city in July.
Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, told CBN News that Islamic militants have eradicated virtually every trace of Christianity from Mosul, the center of Iraq’s Christian community for 2,000 years. Mosul is located on the site of the ancient city of Nineveh.
In June, militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extended an offer to let Christians in Mosul practice their Christian faith behind closed doors, after they paid a hefty tax and agreed not to proselytize. However, multiple sources in the region said that offer was later withdrawn and all Christians were told to leave or face execution.
Members of Assyrian Christian and Chaldean Catholic groups left empty handed, Shea said. Militants confiscated all of their possessions, including homes, cars, clothes “and even their wedding rings, sometimes with the finger attached if it would not come off.”
Christians aren’t the only religious minority targeted by ISIS. On August 3, militants seized the city of Sinjar, forcing the Yazidi Kurdish population to flee. Many escaped to the nearby Sinjar Mountains, a barren heap of rock where daytime temperatures can top 120 degrees.
More than 150 Yazidi immigrants rallied in front of the north lawn of the White House August 7 to plead for American involvement in the growing crisis. (President Obama announced that evening he had authorized military airstrikes on Iraq.) The protestors came from across the U.S. to rally on behalf of the Yazidis, who do not practice Islam but instead follow an ancient religion ISIS equates to “devil worship.”
Christians and religious minorities in other nations also have faced recent persecution due to war and religious hostilities:
Syria | The recently released International Religious Freedom Report included a daunting sentence about the country that shares Iraq’s northwestern border: “In Syria, as in much of the Middle East, the Christian presence is becoming a shadow of its former self.”
A three-year-old civil war has resulted in millions of refugees and increasingly persecuted religious minorities, including Christians caught between the regime currently in power and militants fighting against it. The report, released annually by the U.S. State Department as a picture of the state of international religious freedom the previous year, found that in the city of Homs, only 1,000 Christians remain. There were approximately 160,000 Christians there before the war.
Nigeria | Approximately 1,505 Nigerian Christians have been killed for their faith this year, as the Boko Haram terrorist group and other extremists continue their campaign of religion-based violence in the West African nation. Boko Haram and other groups have killed nearly as many Nigerian Christians in the first seven months of this year as were killed in all of 2013, the advocacy group Jubilee Campaign reported July 29.
Christians killed to date include seven fathers of the 223 Chibok school girls still missing after Boko Haram kidnapped more than 300 students in mid-April. (The group is dedicated to fighting the influence of Western education.) The fathers were killed July 20 when Boko Haram attacked the city of Damboa and hoisted a Boko Haram flag there, the Associated Press reported.
Response from the West
David Curry is president and CEO of Open Doors USA, which offers assistance to persecuted Christians around the world and lobbies repressive governments to cease religious persecution. In July, he called the plight of Christians in Mosul and the remainder of northern Iraq “unprecedented in modern times.”
“This latest forced exodus of Christians further shows why Western governments and the people in the West need to cry out in support for religious freedom in the Middle East and elsewhere,” Curry said in a statement. “If this does not move us concerning the near extinction of Christianity in the Middle East, it’s likely nothing else can.”
Since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein, nearly one million Christians have fled the country for safer surroundings.
In an editorial this month for The Christian Post, Curry expressed doubt that the persecution of Christians would ever be treated as “a major humanitarian crisis” by governments and secular media. “However, we should be able to count on our own family,” he wrote.
“The persecution of Jesus followers should be preached from every pulpit and prayed for at every kitchen table. One day soon it may be your faith that is under attack and you will be hoping that others will be praying for you…or even notice that it is happening.”
The International Mission Board and its ministry partner Baptist Global Response are coordinating relief efforts among Iraqi refugees. For more information about how to help, go to www.IMB.org.