Last night I was one of the speakers at the Iraqi Christian Relief Council (ICRC) and the Philos Project’s prayer vigil for persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, particularly those being threatened and killed by ISIS. The vigil was held in the beautiful sanctuary of Mount Vernon United Methodist Church in downtown Washington, DC. Surrounded by media, we made a plea to Pope Francis to lead the rest of Christendom in taking action for their persecuted brothers and sisters.
Although an unexpected rain storm may have kept some from attending, in the words of ICRC president, Juliana Taimoorazy, the vigil was an historic occasion. It was a rare event to have different streams of the Assyrian Christian identity together in one place and have clergy from those different churches offering prayers together in Aramaic. The clergy included Fr. Adday Francis from the Mar Mari Assyrian Church of the East in Yonkers; Fr. Fadi Habib from the St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church in Detroit; and Fr. Behnam Benoka, Vice Rector of St. Peter Seminary for the Chaldean Patricate in Ankawa, Erbil.
And not only were prayers offered in Aramaic and English. The vigil was opened with a Hebrew blessing offered by Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, Congregation B’nai Tzedek, President of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America. At the end of his prayer, Rabbi Weinblatt, reminded the vigil attendees that we are currently in the Ten Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is a good time for Christians to repent of their apathy and inaction for their persecuted brothers and sisters, too! The rabbi finished by blowing the shofar. The blast of the shofar has deep spiritual significance.
Speakers at the vigil included IRD friends Frank Gaffney, President of the Center for Security Policy, and Dr. Walid Phares, geo-political commentator and author of numerous books, in addition to me. Gaffney spoke about the global threat of Shari’a and also about how while the Middle East is suffering under violent jihad, there is also an insidious “civilization jihad” taking place. Phares gave a brief but sweeping overview of the threats facing Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East and North Africa. I hope to have links to their presentations in the future, and I have included my speech below.
We were also privileged to have activist and filmmaker Jason Jones with us. Jones, the producer of the beautiful life-affirming film, Bella, and co-producer of the amazing The Stoning of Soroya M., presented the powerful short (ten minute) film that he and Taimoorazy co-produced, Sing a Little Louder. The film shows an elderly German man remembering his childhood during World War II and how his pastor and fellow church members loudly sang hymns to drown out the cries of the Jewish people on the train that passed by the church on its way to the death camp. The film draws a parallel between that sin of the churches with other issues in which Christians are silent in the face of evil. Jones has offered the film to any church that wanted to have a screening.
Woven amidst the speakers was beautiful music from St. Thomas Church. The choir, with soloist Linda George, and accompanied by piano and violin, sang haunting and lovely hymns in the language of Jesus Himself, “Psalm 150-Praise God” and “Tell Me, O Church.” The hymns expressed the strength of the faith of the Assyrian Christians in Christ, and their praise to God in spite of their suffering.
The evening ended with the lighting of candles and prayer for the Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities. Please pray with us that the Church will rise to stop the silence, defend the persecuted, and wage spiritual warfare against the evil we face today.
Here’s what I said at the Prayer Vigil:
I am honored to be here tonight, and to express my solidarity with and my love and great respect for my brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are suffering under ISIS and other jihadists.
Together with you all, I welcome Pope Francis to Washington, DC, and call on him as the worldwide leader of the Catholic Church to lead the way for the Body of Christ around the world in speaking out for the Persecuted Church, and for other religious minorities. I particularly urge Pope Francis to once again name the attack by ISIS as GENOCIDE, as he has previously done this past July in Bolivia.
This would make a big difference. But even a strong statement from Pope Francis is NOT ENOUGH. Thousands, even millions, of voices must be raised in order to say “enough.” Where is the worldwide Body of Christ? Where are the American churches?
Thinking about the lack of ACTION by the churches for Iraqi and Syrian Christians and other victims of ISIS like Yazidis, Mandeans, and Shabaks, I thought of a verse in 1 Kings 18. God’s prophet, Elijah, calls on the nation to stop worshipping idols and stand for the one true GOD.
Here is the verse and 3 quick points:
How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him, but if Baal is God, follow Him. Then, says the Bible, The people said NOTHING. Sounds like today’s ISIS situation to me.
1. How long will you WAVER between two opinions? Another translation says, How long will you go limping between two different opinions? and another How long are you going to be paralyzed by indecision?
There is NO TIME to waver! We have no excuse. We KNOW what is happening. We have seen the horrific videos of Christians being beheaded. We have heard the stories of Christian and Yazidi girls being taken as sex slaves. We know about thousands of refugees living in unfinished concrete buildings. We have seen the map of ISIS’ prospective Caliphate.
There is NO TIME to be paralyzed by political correctness or moral superiority. It may be hip and cool to make video love letters to ISIS, but what about speaking out for our own brothers and sisters. JESUS’ OWN PEOPLE ARE STILL BEING SLAUGHTERED BY ISIS.
2. If the LORD is God, follow Him. We need to renounce the idols of comfort, apathy, fear and again, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS. To follow God, we need to obey His command to “do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
It’s uncomfortable to say what places like Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia have said, that they only want Christian refugees. But in reality, they are only balancing the United States’ refusal to take Christians, such as this past spring when the U.S. State Department told Bishop Julian Dobbs that, “there is no way that Christians will be supported because of their religious affiliation.”
Our brothers and sisters in the Middle East know WHO IS LORD. They are willing to lose everything, and even to die for Him. Can we not lose some time, some of our reputation as reasonable, politically correct people, and some of our money to help them SURVIVE?
3. Finally, there is the sad statement: The people said NOTHING. Our silence in the face of genocide must end. We must speak out on behalf of the Christians, Yazidis, and others under siege by ISIS in the same way we would if our own flesh and blood were under this attack. We must be advocates and intercessors. So,
a. Do all you can to bring the full truth about what is happening. Contradict any lies that are told, and moral equivalence when you hear it. Don’t wallow in false guilt from the lie that “we created ISIS.” Then,
b. We need to pray DAILY. We do to do HARD CORE praying. We need to wage spiritual warfare against the demonic forces controlling ISIS and other jihadists, and that keep the world deceived to the truth.
c. We also need to add fasting to prayer. Why not commit to fasting one meal a week, and one full day a month, asking GOD to intervene for the Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities? FINALLY,
d. We need to change our country’s political response to ISIS!
Retired Congressman Frank Wolf says that POLICY changes because CULTURE changes. And CULTURE changes because the CHURCH changes. Let’s get that change moving in the churches right now.
Don’t let it be said that in this time, in this situation, for the persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East, we, the people, said NOTHING.
Thank you, and God bless you.