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Iraq, Christians, and violence: 4 questions and 3 prayers

It’s all over social media, but I reckon it’s too easy for me to look at it through my own cultural goggles, so here are some of the questions I’ve been asking. In particular, I’ve been trying to listen more closely to people on the ground, like Jeremy Courtney who started #WeAreN.

Is this all about martyrdom?

It’s easy to think, especially with some of the Christian propaganda floating around, that Iraqi Christians are being persecuted because of their Christian witness. However, Jeremy Courtney explains, “They are being targeted because of their faith, but it is not because of their evangelical witness.” As he tells it, the identity of Iraqi Christians has strong ethnic and nationalist aspects, and Philip Jenkins helps round out that picture. Of course that doesn’t mean they’re not family, or that they’re any less deserving of our care — but what sort of persecution is this?

Is this all about Christians?

Islamic State are doing violence against several different minorities, including the Turkmen, Yazidis and Shabaks. That includes both Shiite Muslims, whose houses are marked “R”, and Sunni Muslims. It appears that Islamic State isn’t against Christians or minorities in particular but against anyone who does not share their vision.

But the church-based emergency appeals I’ve seen are all directed to Christians only. “We can’t only have compassion on people that we think are like us,” says Jeremy Courtney. Our book says especially family, not family only. How far does our compassion go?

Is this all about religion?

We’ve been told to make use of ن and #WeAreN as a symbol of solidarity — of religious identity. But Jeremy Courtney says it was majority Iraqis — Muslims — who were the first to use it. It was originally a show of solidarity between fellow Iraqis, a subversive move not just because it uses Islamic State’s own symbol, but because it involves Muslims identifying with Christians. It’s a subversion that involves downplaying and undermining the religious connotations of the symbol, investing it instead with national identity and/or common humanity.

As Western Christians, we have adopted ن and #WeAreN for our own purposes. The question is, how much do these purposes gel with what’s happening in Iraq — and our own calling? In Jeremy Courtney’s words, “When we find tragedy in the suffering of some and gloss over the suffering of another, we have strayed far from The Way of Jesus.”

Is this all about Islamic State?

In 2003, 2000 Australian troops helped invade Iraq.

And the context of the rise of the current violence goes way back beyond the Iraq War. We Westerners have been doing violence against Iraq for at least 100 years.

Were Iraqi Christians on our minds 11 years ago when Australian troops landed in Iraq?

What does solidarity mean when we are still coming to realise our own part in the mess?

In what ways are we Western Christians complicit in the fracturing of Iraq?

This isn’t only about what Obama or Maliki must do now. The Christian church needs to reconsider its relationship with violence; that is part of what has landed us and others in this dire situation. We cannot carp about Christian persecution and not talk about violence and our use of violent solutions. We need a 40- to 50-year plan so that when the time comes to overthrow the next dictator, we are not as blind to our own complicity and stuck with short-term gains. Jeremy Courtney

American evangelicals absolutely share the blame for the Christian persecution in Iraq. That is a hard pill to swallow, but we have to come to terms with it. They have to begin rethinking their knee-jerk reaction to the world’s violence and always meeting violence with more violence. Jeremy Courtney

We’ve been praying these prayers.

They’re based on those of John Sentamu, Archbishop of York.

Holy God, your Holy family was driven into exile and many holy innocent boys were massacred, we hold before you today the suffering people of Iraq. Amen

Hold in your loving arms all those who have been caught up in this conflict. We pray for those forced to flee their homes, all who have lost friends, family and possessions and who now face an uncertain future. Bless our Christian brothers and sisters who have seen the destruction of their churches and communities and our Muslim neighbours who have also experienced destruction and suffering. Amen

Lord, in this land where Christians and Muslims have lived together for over 1400 years, we pray for healing, peace and restoration. Bring light out of this present darkness and hope from despair that, guided by your Holy Spirit, all your children may find a new way forward together based on your love for us all. Amen

Categories: Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

5 replies

  1. Interesting and enlightening article. I was unaware of the1,400 years of peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims in Iraq.

  2. I disagree with Jeremy. Western Christians are NOT responsible, as the Church, for what is happening Iraq! That is ridiculous! And, not matter what has been done to those of the Middle East by the West (as if they’re innocent in history!), it does not excuse the beheading of little children and the cutting of 5-year-olds in half! Jesus, used violence in His response to evil! Consider his rampage through the temple to condemn the evil happening there!

    I think it’s time that the Church becomes willing to use violence to defend the weak and helpless. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” Just how should that be defined in this current situation? Surely, the use of force to prevent “orphans and widows” from being beheaded and crucified is justified!

    If that’s the only way to stop the Islamist militants, is Jeremy willing to allow them to suffer that fate to avoid violence? If Jeremy had a child that was about to be decapitated, and had a gun in his hand that he could use to stop the perpetrator by killing him, would he not do it? I think he would…

  3. Good stuff team Davis. Except I’m not sure I buy into the kind of words/existence dichotomy that your bit on martyrdom suggests. I think it’s martyrdom if they have an opportunity to convert to Islam (in the particular form offered) and live. And they choose not to. Faithfulness is testimony.

    1. Yeah I agree Nathan; I don’t mean to suggest the dichotomy, or that there’s no martyrdom here, but that the world is home to different types of Christians — one Lord, one family (like Samuel C said on Facebook). Those four questions needn’t have just Y/N answers.

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