Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leaders joined forces on Wednesday to call for an end to the silence over persecuted Christian communities in Egypt, Iraq and Syria.
“What we are seeing here is ecumenical cleansing,” said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, who called the region “the unsafest place in the world for Christians.”
“It’s an ecumenical cleansing that is forcing people who are Christians, by whatever label, out of countries where their roots are from the beginning.”
Anderson and others were joined on Capitol Hill by the co-chairs of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus, Reps. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who have pushed for the appointment of a special envoy focused on Middle East religious minorities.
More than 180 clergy, seminary professors, authors and activists have signed a “pledge of solidarity and call to action” that advocates for the special envoy in addition to a regional review of U.S. foreign aid to ensure recipients uphold principles of pluralism and religious freedom. They also seek assurance that religious minorities receive fair access to U.S. refugee assistance.
“The current trajectory, marked by political violence and, in the cases of Iraq and Syria, full-blown war, risks a Middle East largely emptied of the millennia-old presence of Christians,” reads the statement, citing cases of executed Christians, demolished churches, kidnapped clergy and forced conversions.
Wolf said he hopes the clergy involvement will help call greater attention to the plight of Christians and other religious minorities who are facing an “existential crisis which threatens their very survival.”
The Rev. Andrew White, a chaplain at St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad, said the people he sees at a church-related clinic wonder if Christians in the West have forgotten them. He said the number of Christians in Iraq has dropped from a high of 1.5 million to about 200,000.
Members of his congregation are leaving, and he has personally been shot at and kidnapped and rebuilt his church after a bombing.
“So many have gone. All the time they leave and, I confess, I cry because my loved ones are leaving,” he said. “I used to say, ‘I’m not leaving you. Don’t you leave me.’ I can’t say that anymore because I know if my loved ones stay, they might be killed. I know that if my loved ones remain, the chance of them surviving is very little.”
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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Adelle M. Banks