Debates over Iraq and whether the United States should immediately pullout or should have even gone in the first place have raged on for years. Yet Christian leaders are increasingly calling attention to the too-often overlooked Iraqi people, urging Americans to halt their arguments among themselves to look at the effects of their actions on the suffering people in Iraq.
America has long claimed to be the world’s leading champion for freedom, but what they consider freedom in the United States has adverse effects overseas, noted the pastor of one of Iraq’s largest churches.
In the first panel of Iraq religious minorities ever assembled by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom last week, the Rev. Canon Andrew White – vicar of the 1,300-member St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad – shared about the struggles of the depleting Iraqi Christian population and the effects of being associated with a “Western religion.”
During the question and answer session, White spoke about Western culture and values and their detrimental effects on Iraqi Christians.
“Whether we like it or not, the fact is that the Christians are targeted because they are seen as belonging to a Western religious tradition,” said White, who noted that in actuality Christianity originated in the Middle East.
“It is seen as an immoral tradition. It is seen as a tradition that does not uphold values. It is seen as a tradition that does not uphold the respect for the kind of issues that the Islamic religion holds as very significant to them,” said the Anglican priest who has worked in Iraq for over a decade.
White said that the previous day he had received an email from some of the Christians in Baghdad asking him if it was true that the Church in America supported homosexuality.
“You see, what may happen here in fairly a benign way is seen there as particularly offensive,” said the Baghdad church head.
“These positions often held by Western Christians are not held by Iraqi Christians,” emphasized White. “They are very, very different. My people say the Creed and they believe it. My people live a very upright, courageous and respectful life,” said the pastor who had 36 of his congregants kidnapped with only one returned in the past month.
White’s message echoed similar explanations from Middle East experts on why Muslims have such a negative view of Christianity. One such expert is Brother Andrew, founder of the Open Doors ministry and a legendary missionary who has worked extensively in closed societies such as those under communist regimes or in the Middle East.
“What they see on television Hollywood-style is exposing our way of life which they deeply resent,” explained Brother Andrew in an interview with The Christian Post last month.
“I think the main reason for their aggressive action and attitude towards us is their protest against our lifestyle…. They see the immodest way of dress and the loose way of living and they say ‘We don’t want this because we want to keep Islam pure,’” he explained.
White also pointed out that Mideast Muslims do not only consider the attitude of the church, but of the entire Western society as representing the Christian faith. He said in the Middle East there is no sense of distinction between religion and state. Therefore what happens in America is associated as being part of Christianity by Muslims in Iraq and beyond.
“It doesn’t happen in Iraq. You can’t separate religion and politics. Religion and politics are intrinsically related,” said White.
Still, Christian leaders – aside from chastising U.S. culture and attitude – have also applauded the country for opening the path of freedom in Iraq.
Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship and former top aide to President Richard Nixon, has praised the United States for freeing Iraqi citizens from unthinkable human rights violations under Saddam Hussein. In a commentary Wednesday, he noted that thousands were tortured, beaten, and even burned under Hussein’s dictatorship.
“And most gruesome are the accounts of children tortured,” highlighted Colson. “The list of human rights violations goes on and on.”
The evangelical ministry head cited a recent Washington Post column by notable former Soviet dissident prisoner Natan Sharansky, where he pointed to a recent poll that found nearly 2 to 1 Iraqis said they preferred life under their new government to life under the old tyranny.
Colson, although acknowledging the difficult life faced by Iraqis currently, said that according to the poll people prefer their new life because they wanted freedom.
Iraqi church head White also voiced support for the U.S.-led Iraq war which ousted Hussein.
“I agree we needed to remove Saddam Hussein from power. I think the war was right … I’m delighted he (U.S. commander in Iraq General David Petraeus) is there and he is doing an incredible job,” said White.
He added that an U.S. military pullout now would lead to more bloodshed.
“The fact is we went to war. We actually were partied to enabling a lot of these problems; we can’t just leave,” said White. “I know people might want us to say we should … but they haven’t seen them. They are not on the grounds,” said White. “If we leave them, if we pull out I dread to think what will happen.
The priest concluded: “It’s a dire situation but together we can make a difference and we must make a difference.”