The Western Church and Its Response Settings Last Published Version Back
Having covered briefly the history of Eastern Christianity before and since the rise of Islam, we face an important question. What is our responsibility, as Christians of the Western tradition, to our brothers and sisters still living under Islam? I trust that our survey, in the last three lectures, was not a purely academic exercise. Our concern was not prompted simply by a desire to learn more about the history of the early Church. After all, don't we confess in the words of the Apostles' Creed that we believe in one holy universal church? And how often have we sung the hymn, 'The Church's One Foundation Is Jesus Christ Her Lord,' where we also affirm the oneness of all believers?
Our study of The Plight of Eastern Christianity Under Islam should lead us to some serious reflection regarding our response. What are certain concrete things we must do so that our concern may prove genuine? I would like to make the following suggestions:
- First, Western Christians need to develop a keen interest in the history of Eastern Christianity. Many of our fellow-Christians in North America have roots in the various Eastern Christian communions of the Old World. Unfortunately, most of the churches in the West are not equipped to adequately inform their people about the plight of Eastern Christianity under Islam. I may sound rather critical of our theological institutions, but I personally experienced this deficiency in my training at two different theological seminaries. I don't mean to imply that we did not cover the doctrinal differences between East and West, or the deeper controversies that raged within the Eastern Churches leading to serious divisions. But all these matters were dealt with in a purely formal manner, i.e., within the study of specific doctrinal subjects such as the natures and wills of Christ, and the unity of the human and divine in his person. What was lacking was the story of our brothers and sisters in the East who succumbed to an invader that gradually destroyed their vibrant Christian lives, reducing them to a despised dhimmi status.
- Second, Western Christians must translate their knowledge of Eastern Christianity into a ministry of intercession. Many Eastern Christians still live under Islam, especially in the Middle East. They are facing tremendous difficulties due to the rise of radical Islam, and the continual conflicts that have beset the area since 1948. Our kinsmen in the East are greatly strengthened in their faith when they realize that their Western brothers and sisters have not forgotten them, but intercede for them in their homes and their churches.
- Third, Western Christians must act. What do I mean by this call to action? We are accustomed to all kinds of advocacy groups that seek to enlighten the public about various causes that need help or redress. So, why not speak out on behalf of suffering Christians under Islam? Did we not work hard to bring to the world attention the cause of Christians suffering under various Marxist regimes? Is it wrong to call attention to a situation that has lasted more than 70 years, yes to fourteen hundred years? Does the duration of this intolerable situation make it normal, or has it acquired a finality of an irreversible condition?
This call to action is not easy for several reasons. Most Western institutions, whether governmental, business, or educational, are not concerned about suffering Christians under Islam. As the West becomes more secularized, it manifests hardly any allegiance to a specific faith tradition. Our leaders are primarily concerned about national interest, which is nothing more than a euphemistic word for our continued economic well-being. Specifically, since Muslim nations control most of the oil reserves of the world, we are very careful not to offend them by mentioning anything about dhimmis and dhimmitude. Here are some anecdotal instances that illustrate my point.
In February 2001, the news media reported that Turkey had canceled a hefty military hardware contract from France as a protest for the French Parliament declaring that genocide did occur in Turkey against the Armenians during World War I. This sad event in the twentieth century that took the lives of over one million Eastern Christians, both Armenian and Assyrian, has never been acknowledged by successive Turkish governments which are heir to the old Ottoman Turkish Empire. Even though France is far more secularized than the United States, it had the courage to adopt an official statement about this genocide. On the other hand, various attempts by the U. S. Congress to adopt similar statements have been discouraged by the Executive branch! What a sad commentary on our genuine interest in the plight of persecuted and martyred communities. For more than half a century we regarded Turkish sensitivities of paramount importance since they provided an Eastern bulwark against the Soviet Union. And nowadays, Turkey still supplies us with air bases that come in handy in our flights over the no-fly zone in northern Iraq!
Regardless of the callous attitude of our various cultural institutions vis-?-vis Eastern Christianity, we members of the Universal Church of our Lord should not hesitate but bear witness, individually, and corporately, to the continual plight of Eastern Christians under Islam.
Throughout my study of this subject, I have been rather puzzled, chagrined, and grateful at the same time. Puzzled and grateful because it took members of the Jewish faith to champion the plight of Eastern Christians by making a thorough study of the history of dhimmitude over fourteen hundred years of Islamic domination. It was not so much Christian scholarship that has brought this almost irreversible consequence of Islamic conquests to the world's attention. Furthermore, I have been saddened, because on the same topic, it was another Jewish scholar, the Britisher, Bernard Lewis, of the University of London, and later on, of Princeton University, who contributed numerous books on this subject. Likewise, V. S. Naipaul, also a British scholar of Indian Hindu background, undertook the task of describing the impact of Islam on other cultures! What a challenge to Christians of the new Millennium to take up the cause of their brothers and sisters who still live in Islamic countries and who have suffered silently for so many, many years!