I had intended to write a different blog post today. It was to be an open call to Western Christians who have been inspired and blessed by the popular video that is a love letter of Christ’s forgiveness to ISIS. I intended to ask such Christians to demonstrate the same kind of love and concern for ISIS’ victims — particularly the Christians of Iraq, Syria, and throughout the Middle East who have been targeted by the Islamist jihadists for slaughter.
But my intentions to write such a blog post have been altered by some good news. In her daily “Globe Trot” for May 6, my friend Mindy Belz of World magazine revealed that a London-based band Ooberfuse has released a music video focusing on the plight of Iraq’s ancient Christian community that has been displaced, persecuted, and killed by ISIS. In their video entitled “We are One,” the electronica band from Woolwich joins Iraqi Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil in a show of solidarity for and consciousness-raising about the persecuted Christians and other religious minorities such as Yazidis and Mandeans in Iraq.
“A Letter from the People of Cross to ISIS” has gone viral. It speaks truth, but cynically, I have reflected that perhaps some “People of the Cross” who are not the ones actually carrying that particular Cross (i.e. being slaughtered and chased out of their own homes) can “forgive” ISIS and then believe they have discharged their duty as good Christians where the whole matter is concerned.
Great, I intended to write today to Western Christians, you have shown the way of Christ in loving your enemy. And here I must pause for my treatise on “loving your enemy,” that I have been formulating since I first started doing advocacy for Sudan/South Sudan: Yes, ISIS is an enemy. It is not only okay, but necessary, to identify your enemy as your enemy, or Jesus would not have said “love your enemy.” He didn’t say to pretend that they are not your enemy, or to be in denial about reality when people are sawing off heads, but He did say to love them. It is a far more powerful statement of love and forgiveness to acknowledge the evil, the violence, the intentions to destroy, and say “in spite of that, I forgive you, and through Christ (I sure don’t know any way you could otherwise!) I love you” than to say, “no, they’re not really my enemy.”
Continuing on with my unwritten blog post: Now, what about following another one of Jesus’ commands and sharing in the suffering of your Christian brothers and sisters that ISIS is killing? I would have demanded. We need to express our solidarity and concern for those who are dying for the faith we share together. We need to pray for them, be advocates for them in a political system that is unjust and downright hostile to Christians (more about that in an upcoming post), and do what we can to relieve their suffering through trusted ministries and organizations that are on the ground, providing humanitarian aid.
Wouldn’t it be great if someone would make a beautiful, powerful video like the “People of the Cross” video for the People of the Cross — the people who actually are carrying that Cross? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Body of Christ responded in the manner that the Bible describes, “when one part of the Body suffers, all suffer with it”?
The response of “People of the Cross” filmmaker Michael Chang on this subject was disappointing. In an April 23 interview for National Review Online, editor-at-large Kathryn Jean Lopez asked Chang, “Is Christian persecution a theme you will be sticking with?”
“Nope!” says Chang, “I’ve got so many ideas — I just need the time to do them.”
Thankfully, Ooberforce could spare time to do a music video for the People of the Cross and other persecuted minorities in Iraq. They actually traveled to northern Iraq to see the hundreds of thousands of refugees who had to flee from Mosul, Qaraqosh, and elsewhere, and are now living either in refugee camp tents or in unfinished concrete slabs of buildings.
“In our hope, in our faith, in our love, we are one,” begins Ooberfuse’s Cherrie Anderson, singing together with a pretty Iraqi girl wearing a Cross, hugging and dancing with tiny refugee children, and visiting other sites, including a church. At the beginning, end, and woven throughout the video, Archbishop Warda is heard (and sometimes seen) reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic. An article in Christian Today on April 29 quotes songwriter/band member Hal St. John commenting on the Archbishop’s partnership with Ooberfuse, “I think this is the first time in history a leading Middle Eastern religious leader has embraced the forms of popular culture to advance the Christian message of love and hope.”
“We want those persecuted for standing steadfast to their faith to feel encouraged,” said St. John in an April 26 interview with Fox News. “We want them to know that although the international community is slow to coordinate an effective response, ordinary people around the world are in solidarity with them right now.”
Ooberfuse certainly is in solidarity with persecuted Christians. The music video “We are One,” (and accompanying lyric video) are not the band’s first tributes to those who suffer for their faith. Three years ago Ooberfuse wrote “Blood Cries Out” for the late, great advocate for the persecuted, Pakistani Christian and government minister who was assassinated in his own car, Shahbaz Bhatti. A few months later they released “Turn the Tide,” about Pakistani Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, who was sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. In January 2013 their music video “Free Asia Bibi” described the plight of another Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death under the draconian laws.
In the Fox News interview, St. John talked about the reality the Iraqi Christian refugees face even beyond the poverty and hardship depicted in the video. “What the video doesn’t show are the invisible things; the sense of dread and anticipation that something terrible is about to happen,” he said. “We could feel this in most of the people we met.” This is why it is so important that Ooberfuse has made this video. Not only does it give hope that someone cares to the Iraqi Christians and other persecuted minorities, but it can help to mobilize the grassroots, the “ordinary people” spoken of by St. John.
It is good for ordinary Christians to reach out to ISIS with a message of Christ’s love and forgiveness, but it is also good — and a mandate of the Gospel — to reach out to these Iraqi brothers and sisters, to pray against the demonic forces that are attempting to destroy the ancient Christian presence in the Middle East, and to do whatever we can to push our government to intervene before something even more terrible does happen to those being targeted by ISIS. Thank you, Ooberfuse, for reminding the Body of Christ that “we are one.”