The BBC reports that Iraqi Christians are increasingly being targeted in Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks. On 31 October, a Catholic church was taken hostage during Mass, and an attempt to end the siege left 52 dead. As a result of this, a Syrian-Orthodox Iraqi leader based in London has urged all Christians to leave Iraq.
On the one hand, this makes perfect sense. What stronger instinct is there than to protect one’s self and one’s family? If I was in their position — with a target on my chest, and with a government prioritising other things than my safety — I might be doing the same.
On the other hand, from across the ocean and from the relative safety of my beautiful home city of Cape Town, I deeply hope that those who are truly Christ’s would remain in spite of the danger. Sure, they are unwilling participants in war being waged by Islamic militants. Sure they are in country unwilling to give them the protection due to citizens. But is this any different to the way in which the Bible describes all Christian habitation of our world?
We are always citizens of the city of God and aliens in our ‘home’ cities here. We are always engaged in warfare of a kind, even if the weapons are usually unseen. The whole point of being a Christian in exile from our eternal hope is that we have the task of fighting back — not, of course, bringing death, but making the invitation to life, offering our enemies reconciliation and a share in our final hope.
I can understand Iraqi Christians saving themselves and leaving. But leaving the physical war behind is also leaving the spiritual war unfought, and in fact it is a concession of defeat. If the ‘salt and light’ in Iraq is leached and snuffed out, it will mean leaving the country to deeper darkness.
Those of us familiar with Early Church History will recall empire-wide extermination orders against Christians, where merely bearing that name was a death sentence. In the midst of that horror, leaders such as Tertullian observed that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church. As much as her enemies cut her down, all the more the Church sprang up stronger.
It’s easy for me to speak words of courage when the bravery must be someone else’s, but I hope that the Iraqi Christians stay to fight for the eternal prize and not for temporary comfort, and I hope that if such decisions ever face us in our time that we’d do likewise.
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” Philippians 1:29
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13