As the Feast of Tabernacles came to a close this week in Jerusalem, attendees were encouraged to break their silence and fight against the persecution of Christians and Jews from the bloodthirsty Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Robert Stearns, founder of the worldwide prayer initiative, The Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem, delivered the event's final speech. And he had strong words for President Obama.
"Mr. Obama, a few weeks ago you told us that ISIS is junior league - nothing really to worry about. But tonight, ISIS is at the doorstep of Baghdad, and ISIS is murdering Christians," he told a packed house at Pais Arena. "President Obama - stop worrying about where Israelis are building apartments in their capital of Jerusalem, and start focusing on something important like stopping ISIS from murdering Jews and Christians around the world."
The six-day event, sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, brought together more than 4,500 Christians from 80 nations to hear global speakers address the threat posed by the Islamic State terrorist group.
Stearns talk was a bookend to a joint initiative announced the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Representatives of both the Christian and Jewish communities unveiled their joint efforts to implore world leaders to take thoughtful and swift action to end persecution in the Middle East. Members of the World Jewish Congress, Empowered21 Global Council, and the ICEJ partnered together.
"The executions, persecution and uprooting of ancient communities is an on-going tragedy, yet world leaders have largely ignored this problem and it is past time for that to change," the letter began. "The region was once the cradle of the Christian faith. Even as recently as 100 years ago, some 20% of the peoples of the Middle East were still Christian. But today, we fear these proud and resilient religious communities will soon disappear from the Middle East."
Sent to 116 world leaders in 95 countries, including President Obama, the hope is that each will turn from their silence, and speak out strongly against the violence. The letter also made a direct plea to a specific region.
"We call on all Western democratic leaders to take collective action in confronting this problem through firm diplomatic action against those nations that allow the religious persecution against Christians to continue."
The ICEJ enjoyed a fruitful partnership with the White House during President George W. Bush's time in office, but that support has fallen by the way side under current leadership.
"The Obama administration has been less open to approaches to evangelicals in general so that effort has been limited on our part," David Parsons, ICEJ media director, told the Gospel Herald. "But there remains a lot of skepticism as to whether Obama will take the necessary actions."
Parsons said that Christians in the Middle East are living in a very perilous situation. No matter their current status, they are always seen as "collaborators with the western crusaders" - as al-Qaida in Iraq has claimed - and remain largely unarmed to battle the heavily armed militants.
"Historically, many Christian communities in the region have chosen to remain silent about Muslim persecution against them, as a survival mechanism," Parsons said. "In recent years, the situation has grown so bad that some are finally speaking out and would most undoubtedly welcome expanded American-led military intervention."
But there is great disappointment among Middle Eastern Christians as they assess U.S. support. Many believe that President Obama has not taken the time to fully understand and address the dangers of radical Islam, Parsons told the Gospel Herald. Christians and Jews in the region believe that this inaction has given ISIS the freedom to progress and spread militant Muslim propaganda throughout the world.
"They know some presidents require a 'learning curve' of a year or two to start shaping sound policies that positively impact the Middle East," he said. "But, many believe he will leave the presidency still as unenlightened as when he took office."
All the while, violence escalates and gruesome beheading videos are looming. The gathering in Jerusalem this past week brought many reminders of the horrific violence and killings at the hands of ISIS.
Canon Andrew White, known as the vicar of Baghdad, gave first-hand accounts of Christian churches and villages being annihilated. One volunteer at the event recounted being forced to witness the beheading of Christian men, women and children. And WJC president, Ronald S. Lauder, advocated the creation of a Jewish-Christian alliance to work jointly to combat Islamic violence in both communities.
Parsons believes that these first-hand accounts, the joint initiative calling on world leaders to speak out, and the sense of community at the end of the week will spur attendees into action - with or without the help of the Obama administration.
"Feast pilgrims were greatly impacted by several speakers on the subject of persecuted Christians in the Middle East," he said. "And they are determined to raise their voices on their behalf as never before."