Persecuted Christians, Western Christians
This piece was originally published for Global-Christianity.com.
In a tweet on April 11, Kirsten Powers of FOX News drew attention to the Syrian town of Kassab. On March 21, approximately 2,500 ethnic Armenians—part of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Syria—fled for their lives as Islamist rebels advanced and took over the town, which sits on the Turkish border.
Especially if your Christianity resides somewhere in the Western world, these realities sound the appropriate notes of absolutely terrifying. "We escaped with the clothes on our back," one Armenian exile said. Other exiles mentioned they had recently placed phone calls to their occupied homes only to hear that the rebels—including elements of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra—were now enjoying their food and furnishings.
Kassab is the ancestral home of an Armenian Christian minority, who, until now, has been largely unaffected by the wider Syrian conflict. But always in the back of the Armenian mind looms 1915. During that year, "as many as 5,000 residents of Kassab died during the fracturing [Ottoman] empire’s murderous campaign against the Armenians, which is widely recognized as a genocide."
In this particular crucible, then, Christian persecution in Kassab is at least marked by the current anguish of displacement/dispossession as well as tinged with historical residue and re-ignited fear.
Let's circle back to the Kirsten Powers tweet.
Strung along in the Twitter conversation prompted by the well-intentioned tweet was an audacious comparison trying to bring together strands of religious freedom. One Twitter respondent placed the dire situation of Armenian Christians in Syria right alongside the "persecution" of a suburban Denver baker, who, in December 2013, was told by a Colorado judge that he can't not make cakes for same-sex wedding ceremonies no matter his personal religious beliefs.
Beyond any legal discussion, what I couldn't comprehend was how gay wedding cakes and physical-social displacement/dispossession were brought into the same ballpark and glimpsed within the same field of view: persecution. Whether these analogies are made implicitly or explicitly, this particular comparison made my blood boil even as my stomach started churning. It also reminded me of an insightful and challenging article I recently came across, "calling us to some honesty and self-scrutiny on how and why we relate to the persecuted Church."
The article was written for Wazala, a UK communications initiative focusing on the "challenges and opportunities" facing churches in the Middle East and North Africa. In the article the authors lovingly but directly take to task Christians in the West who at times "bring more harm to the suffering church than blessing." As for the drama of same-sex wedding cakes, for instance, the authors might see this as a classic example of what they call "utilizing" persecution—"using the suffering of Christians for western political concerns." The article also addresses how Christians in the West "consume," "romanticize," and "relativize" persecution.
Give the article a good read; it's quite helpful. I believe these authors are provoking Christians toward a more ethical reflection on the matter. At the end of the day, Wazala admonishes: "[These] are important questions...to ask of the speakers, publishers and charities that bring us reports on persecution, so that we can truly stand alongside our suffering brothers and sisters with genuine concern, prayer and action."