At the banquet of the “In Defense of Christians” conference in Washington, DC last evening, which I attended, some in the hotel ballroom crowd of about 900 booed Senator Ted Cruz when he extolled Israel as the friend of Christians. The conference in DC, which continues today, is spotlighting the plight of besieged Christians in the Middle East, who are under assault by radical Islamists like ISIS.
The conference includes numerous senior church leaders from the Mideast. Many in the crowd last evening were of Mideast Christian backgrounds. A report by The Washington Beacon yesterday cited some of the visiting Mideast church leaders as political supporters of Syria’s Assad dictatorship and of Assad’s Lebanese ally, Hezbollah. Cruz condemned Assad, Hezbollah, Hamas and ISIS.
Likely Cruz, a savvy politician, knew the reaction he would provoke from some by commending Israel, and he maximized his political moment before the many cameras. Although the featured keynote speaker, he quit the podium after only a few minutes, amid boos and shouts of “go home” from a loud minority of the crowd. “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you,” he declared before departing.
Nearly everyone seemed stunned by the brief, dramatic exchange. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in today’s sessions!
It’s no secret that many Mideast Christians generally aren’t big fans of Israel. I learned this firsthand during the 2006 Israel war on Hezbollah, when my discussion at church with a Lebanese Christian nearly escalated to a shouting match.
Sometimes American Christians romanticize overseas persecuted Christians into disembodied noble souls unaffected by terrestrial concerns. But they, like everybody else, have histories, loyalties, resentments, grievances, and political calculations. Generally, most Mideast Christians cannot further imperil themselves by ever seeming politically to sympathize with Israel or the West. But their notions are not just for appearances. Many Mideast Christians are Arab nationalists. And whether for survival or genuine sympathy, some church leaders over the years have aligned with repressive regimes, like Assad’s and Saddam’s.
Whatever the political intrigues of some Mideast church prelates, U.S. Christians and all persons of good will must morally oppose the Islamist campaign to eradicate Christians and other religious minorities from the region. And U.S. policy must advocate religious tolerance as a prerequisite for regional stability. It’s also in Israel’s interest that Christians and other minorities have protection, even if some of their spokespersons are anti-Israel. An ISIS style Islamist Mideast deracinated of all religious pluralism would be not only vicious but chronically unstable and an ongoing global threat.
After the Cruz incident, “In Defense of Christians” posted this statement, saying a “few politically motivated opportunists chose to divide a room that for more than 48 hours sought unity in opposing the shared threat of genocide, faced not only by our Christian brothers and sisters, but our Jewish brothers and sisters and people of other all other faiths and all people of good will.” It pledged, “We remain undaunted and focused on achieving our goals.”