The pleas are getting louder and more desperate from Middle Eastern Christians whose ancient homelands stand in the path of the rampaging Islamic caliphate ISIS.
The latest sign of desperation came in the voice of the Syrian archbishop, cracking with emotion and dismay as he described the plight of more than 200 Assyrian Christians kidnapped from their homes by ISIS in northeast Syria in late February near the Turkish border.
“Many were plucked from their beds at dawn,” CBS News reported. “A man who refused to leave his home was set on fire along with his house.”
ISIS is still holding as many as 220 of the Assyrians Christians, an indigenous people who trace their roots back to ancient Mesopotamia, where the Apostle Thomas brought the gospel in the first century. It was in Antioch, Syria, where followers of Jesus first called themselves “Christians.”
The archbishop of Aleppo, Jean-Clement Jeanbart, issued an urgent appeal through ABC News on March 8, begging the West to intervene and stop the slaughter of more Christians in his country.
ISIS has torched their churches, some dating back 1,800 years, and destroyed their ancient Bibles and relics.
Their language, Aramaic, is the same language spoken by Jesus. If their communities are destroyed, the language will eventually also disappear from the face of the earth.
“We in this country, Christians in this country, used to live quietly, safely and friendly with the Muslims in Syria,” the Syrian archbishop said. “But now that ISIS came, they are doing whatever they could to frighten Christians, push them away, and perhaps, so often to hurt them in many ways. Execute them.”
Earlier this year, Jeanbart divulged to an Italian publication what he said was a plot to empty the Middle East of all Christians, whom he said ISIS fears more than any other non-Muslims because of their connection to the West.
“As pastor of this church, I will never leave this people,” he told Italian journalists of the 300,000 Christians under his care. “I will die, but I will not abandon my flock. I am convinced that the Lord will ask me an account of my commitment, my courage and my hope for this portion of his people that He entrusted to me.”
The attacks on Christians in Syria were touched off by the so-called Arab Spring, he said.
‘They are killing our history, our memory’
Jeanbart told ABC News he was afraid that America and European countries do not have enough interest or understanding of how desperate the situation is for Syrian Christians.
“We are in front of savagery, and we do not know what they will do if they arrive in other cities,” he told the network. “It’s terrible what we have seen. They are killing our history, our memory. All this culture we had and we have was supposed to help us to find understanding.”
He said Syrian Christians are confused as to why those with the same faith in the West, who are supposed to share the same values of peace, love and freedom, continue to stand off at a distance. Many have called for air raids on ISIS strongholds in Syria.
“They do not understand that civilized countries and people who believe in the freedom and dignity of humans and the rights of human beings may let down human beings, let them die,” Jeanbart said.
“It’s sad. I do not understand that. I do not understand, and I suffer a lot. ”
Dr. Andrew Bostom, author of “The Legacy of Jihad” and several other books about Islam’s history, said even the “peaceful times” that many Middle Eastern Christians refer to is a relative term.
“All the jihad campaigns waged in the Middle East were targeting Christians primarily. That’s why there is so little Christianity left in the Middle East,” said Bostom, a Jewish physician and scholar. “Everywhere you turn, you see the persecution of churches, the burning of churches.”
One of the sources Bostom cites in his research is the 1,000-page tome by Jewish historian Moshe Gil, “A History of Palestine: 634-1099.” In it, Gil says the destruction of Christian communities was so complete that archaeologists were still unearthing destroyed churches from the Byzantine era in the second half of the 20th century.
In “Legacy of Jihad” Bostom includes a table showing the widespread atrocities of the Ottoman Empire’s jihads.
“It takes the reader through all the towns they destroyed. It’s just overwhelming,” he said. “It’s sickening.”
“It’s the Ottomans, it’s the Arabs, the Persians, and it’s just the mass destruction of Middle Eastern Christianity,” he said. “There’s just an overwhelming historic record going back to the beginning of Islam.”
The “living side-by-side in peace” meme is largely a false narrative perpetrated by Western historians, Bostom said. Peace compared to what? ISIS? Perhaps some were not as brutal, but even the most peaceful living arrangements in the Middle East have not involved Christians being treated with equal justice under the law, and having legal and professional opportunities on par with Muslims. That never happens in Muslim countries living under Shariah law, Bostom said.
“It’s not even true of the recent history. Going forward from the genocide of the Armenians and the Syriac Orthodox Church, you will see steady persecution. There was a big program in 1933 in Iraq, a big massacre of the Christians that were left when the Ottoman Empire was defeated,” he said, referring to the slaughter of 3,000 Assyrian Christian men, women and children in northern Iraq by Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish irregulars.
“We see this from every historical period,” Bostom said.
The persecution of Christians in Iraq’s Nineveh plain after the fall of Saddam Hussein went largely unreported in the years after the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation, but the U.S. did not do a very good job of protecting the Christian minorities there.
‘Crucified just like Jesus’
In 2007, the Assyrian Christians were being forced from their homes in Iraq by Islamic thugs unleashed by the imams. The orders for such activity invariably come from the mosques.
“We’ve got families that are being butchered, crucified, just like in Jesus’ time,” Mona Oshana, an Assyrian activist and author living in Arizona, told reporter Joe Dana of ArizonaCentral.com in September 2007.
“Talk to any local Assyrian (in Phoenix, Arizona), and they will likely be able to tell you a story about a sibling, cousin or friend who has been given the infamous ultimatum by religious Islamist extremists: Convert to the Muslim faith or else you will be forced out of your home,” Dana reported. “The targeted Christians are usually given a couple days to make their decision. If they don’t act, they are killed.”
That was in 2007, four years before anyone in the West had heard the word “ISIS.”
Since then, hundreds of thousands of Syrian and Assyrian Christians have been targeted for religious cleansing by Islamic terrorists. ISIS has picked up where al-Qaida left off, only on a larger scale: crucifying, beheading, burying Christians alive, shooting them execution-style, dowsing them in oil and burning them alive, cutting the Assyrian Christian children in half in front of their parents, raping and murdering girls and women, and selling the most beautiful Assyrian Christian women into sex slavery. The Greek Catholic Relief Agency has reported that 300,000 Syrian and Assyrian Christians refugees have been seeking resettlement in the U.S. through the United Nations refugee program, but they have been rejected by the U.N. and by the Obama administration.
Now, the news is finally starting to get out that Christians in the Middle East are under the gun. The slaying of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya drew massive media attention and is still being talked about in Christian social media circles and blogs. But it’s still hard to get church leaders in the U.S. to take seriously the topic of Christian persecution in the Middle East.
Bill Warner, who has doctorates in physics and math, authors the PoliticalIslam.com blog. For the past 13 years he has dedicated his life to raising awareness about the persecution of Christians living under Shariah law. It’s been a hard road. His audiences are small, and his critics are loud, but he plods forward nonetheless.
“I have spoken almost weekly about what I call the ethical collapse of Christianity, which is quiet in the face of the greatest human rights crime in the history of the world – the persecution of Christians under Islam,” he said. “All religious minorities are persecuted under Shariah, and the Christians are the most persecuted of all.”
Silence in the Bible Belt
Warner lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and concentrates on getting his message out in surrounding areas, although his video blogs reach thousands worldwide on YouTube.
“I live in what’s called the buckle of the Bible Belt, Nashville, and I have to say if this is the buckle, the church’s pants are down around its ankles,” Warner said. “I am condemning 95 percent of the churches. They simply don’t care. If they do care, they care like they care about a drought in California. (Dietrich) Bonhoeffer was right: Silence in the face of evil is the same as evil itself.”
Warner said when he speaks on the radio he is condemned as a bigot and a hater.
“I am not about hating Muslims. I sort of admire Muslims (for their dedication). What I despise is the leadership of the church,” Warner said.
He said his goal through his website and YouTube channel is to provide a voice for the voiceless. He gets little response from Christian media or church leaders. Most pastors, he says, are too concerned about growing their membership and maintaining their tax-exempt status to take on controversial issues like helping persecuted Christians in Iraq, Syria, Egypt or Nigeria.
“I have often said that the favorite Bible verse of many pastors is 501(c)3. They’re concerned about their buildings, and their ministry extends out to their parking lot. I have tried teaching the church for 13 years about the doctrines of Islam,” he said. “It’s like a brick wall for them to learn it. They say they don’t need to know about the doctrines of Islam; they only need to know about the gospel and Jesus.”
So what is the answer? How does one get too comfortable, Western Christians in their comfortable churches, to not only notice what is happening to their Christian brethren in the Middle East but do something about it?
“I say you have to create first an insurrection within your own church. Caesar is running your church,” Warner said.
‘Bring the suffering into the church’
“Bring the suffering Christians into your church, and if you can’t do it physically, bring in their stories,” he continued. “Don’t talk about the Muslims; they’re afraid of them anyway. But are you not concerned about the persecuted churches? You need to teach what a dhimmi is, the fact that Christians are being taken as sex slaves and women are being raped and mutilated. So bring the suffering into the church. After a while, somebody might say, ‘Hey, why are they doing this?’ That’s when you say, ‘Aha, now you are ready to meet Muhammad.'”
Someone will inevitably ask, “Well now, are those real Christians?” Warner said.
“And you can tell them that the Assyrian church was a church 1,800 years before John Wesley. So you’re talking about a church that was following Jesus long before Wesley, long before Luther. So yes, they’re real. And their suffering is real.”
The difference between a lukewarm, do-nothing church and an active, engaged church boils down to the church’s place in American society. Warner and others believe the church has willingly taken a backseat on the sidelines of American culture. It sits in the background, marginalized, mocked and no longer respected.
“When you look at the early church, you have to look at the ethos of what Islam came out of. The church used to be a civilizational force and a religious force,” Warner said. “Today the church is only religious. It is no longer a civilizational force. The tragedy is, it is content with these crumbs.”
The Muslims, while they make up only about 2 percent or less of the U.S. population, are much more aggressive in getting their message out.
“The Muslims brought 1,000 people down to rally at the Tennessee Legislature for an issue they were concerned about last year,” he said. “I couldn’t get 50 Christians to rally for the persecuted church. The church wants to tie; the Muslims want to win. The Christians have reduced the gospel down to two words, ‘Be nice.’ As I read the gospel, Jesus was despised, He stirred things up, He irritated powerful people.”
‘The storm is coming to America’
One high-profile Christian leader who has taken a public stand against the violence of Islam and the vulnerability of Christians in the Middle East is Franklin Graham, son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham.
In a recent interview with Gordon Robertson of CBN News, Graham issued a stark warning. He said violent jihad won’t remain in the Middle East or even Europe. “The storm is coming,” he said.
Robertson asked Graham what kind of storm he was referring to.
“The storm of Islam. This isn’t just radical Islam. This is Islam. And they’ve been persecuting Christians, minorities, for centuries. This isn’t something that just started with ISIS,” Graham said in the interview with CBN News. “It goes all the way back to the time of Muhammad. When he began to turn his sword on Christians and Jews in Arabia. At that time, there were large Christian communities in Arabia. Now there is not one Jew, not one Christian left. It’s against the law in Saudi Arabia to have a church. There’s been a very large community of Christians in places like Iraq, but after 9/11 those communities have dwindled down to thousands.”
He said the same thing is happening is Syria, in Egypt, in Sudan and in so-called “moderate” Muslim countries like Indonesia and Turkey.
“There is not any place for these Christians to run anymore. Those that could escape to the West have come, and we’re going to see persecution coming to this country,” Graham said, warning that Muslims have access to President Obama in the White House and that Obama grew up being influenced by Islam, not Christianity.
“Our foreign policy now has a lot of influence from Muslims,” he said. “They hate Israel, and they hate Christians. So the storm is coming, I believe, Gordon.”
Watch full interview with Franklin Graham on the coming storm in America:
Robertson asked, “Why is our government insisting that it’s a religion of peace? And now we have this new phrase, they refuse to call it Islamic terrorism. For the 21 Christians killed in Egypt, they call them laborers; they don’t want to call them Christians. Why is that?”
Graham said the answer to that question requires one to go back to the administration of George W. Bush in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“It’s because the White House has opened the doors. It started after 9/11 when the Bush administration began to allow Muslims to come into various governmental agencies to advise us how to respond to Muslims and how to respond to Islam after 9/11,” Graham said. “What’s happened is you now have radical Islamists that are advising various levels of government, and it’s going to get worse. And nobody seems to be alarmed by it. Nobody is saying anything about this. And we as Christians are going to lose.”
Growing up, Graham said he was influenced by the Christian faith. That left him wanting to emulate “the person of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Jesus Christ died and shed his blood for you and me and for the Muslims and for all the people of the world. I want to follow Christ and I want my life to model His.”
But for the Muslim, the model is Muhammad.
“The followers of Islam. They want to emulate Muhammad. Muhammad was a warrior. He killed people. He was a brutal person, and so what you see with ISIS and the other groups is they’re just emulating Muhammad. So this is Islam, and we’ve got to wake up to the truth of Islam. And we talk about radical Islam … radical Islam are the people who go to the mosque. The millions of moderate Muslims out there, they don’t go to the mosque; they don’t want anything really to do with it. But they were born into Islam, and they can’t get out of it because if you try to leave Islam, they’re going to kill you. So they have to stay there, but they just don’t participate. They just sort of sit on the sidelines, and they want to live their life and go on. Those are the moderates. But the ones who go to the mosque are the ones we have to be afraid of.”
As Muslim immigration continues unabated, there will come a day when many Christians wake up to what is happening. It will be too late. America will be like Europe is now, at the tipping point when civilizational jihad turns into violent jihad. The persecution will be at their doorstep, and they will be unprepared, both spiritually and intellectually, said Warner.
“What church has prepared its children for the coming onslaught of dawah (or Muslim missionary outreach)? What church pastor can give Shariah advice to that question from a young girl, when she says, ‘I am dating a Muslim’ and needs to know the rules of life in an Islamic marriage.”
“If we don’t have answers, we are complicit in the greatest evil on the face of the earth, the persecution of all religious minorities, and there appears to be nothing that will motivate the preachers of Tennessee,” Warner said. “We have textbooks in our schools now that represent Islam as the greatest civilization and that denigrate Christianity. We held a rally against the textbooks in Murphreesboro, and one pastor came. There is no limit to the passive evil in the church. And when I talk about these things, I am called the old man who frightens people. I am the bigot; I am the hater. I used to talk to the preachers, but they don’t want to talk to me anymore. There will be a great judgment on the church in America one day, and it will be bitter. And no one cares. I’ve harangued groups publicly, and they just sit there and take it. They say, ‘Well, what can we do?’ I say start by teaching your own children about Islam.”