Christians in Syria

Christian Children in Homs

From Middle East Concern:

Thousands of Syrians, including large numbers of Christians, have fled from their homes, especially in the Homs and Hama governorates and more recently Damascus and Aleppo. There have been reports of the targeting of Christians by both government and opposition sides.

Several prominent Syrian Christians have been killed recently, including Defense Minister General Dawoud Rajha (assassinated in an attack on the National Security Offices in Damascus on July 18) and Brigadier-General Nabil Zougheib (assassinated along with his wife and son at their home in a Christian neighborhood of Damascus on 21st July).

Most Church leaders point out that any such targeting is not religiously motivated but is either politically motivated or is criminal activity for economic gain. Many Christians fear that radical Islamist groups are becoming more influential, and that this may lead to increased hostility towards Christians and other minorities. They fear that they may become more vulnerable to criminal activity, including kidnapping-for-ransom incidents.

Throughout the ongoing unrest, Syrian Christians have faced a dilemma of allegiance. They regard the current regime as having been a protector for many years and fear that any replacement regime is likely to prove more hostile. Yet along with others in Syria, they know that open allegiance to either the government or to the opposition could bring retaliation from the other side.

I try to keep my eye on Syria, without pretending to know what is going on, or summoning the effort required to really gain an understanding. In general, I am wary of foreign interference, suspect there is already much going on, and have unfortunately become anesthetized to the constant reports of killing. But as ruthless as the Assad regime appears, once protests evolve into armed insurrection, it is hard to take sides.

That said, I found this account interesting. Middle East Concern focuses on the state of Christians in the region, and I haven’t followed them enough to know how objective is their reporting. This one, however, reads well.

I found it interesting especially to note that one of the inner circle assassinated recently was a Christian. It is generally understood that Assad’s Shia-offshoot Alawite regime pulled other minority groups into its ruling ‘coalition’. The last paragraph presents well the state Christians now find themselves in.

I don’t envy them. Surely Christians are complicit in many of Assad’s crimes. The assassinated general’s participation in the regime was likely as a member of the Christian religious sect, rather than as a member of the Christian faith community. The line should not be drawn too finely, but it is fair to ask the question:

Strictly from the perspective of their faith, what should Christians do now?

The sect behaved politically, finding stability and security – as well as likely economic advantage – in remaining close to the Assad regime. The community may have simply accepted this as the status quo, honoring the king as the Bible commands, even when unjust. They may have paid ill attention to these issues of justice, but this is the case with Christians everywhere who are part and parcel of a nation’s fabric, as appears the case in Syria.

But now? The sect must be weighing the political advantages of remaining in Assad’s corner versus abandoning ship before it is too late. This report suggests they have adopted a stance of neutrality, which may be the wisest political course of action. There are landmines on every side, though.

The faith community, however, must be troubled further. Theirs is not a political calculation but a determination of God’s will. They must honor the king: Does Assad still qualify or is the conflict sufficiently ‘civil war’ to deny them a proper object of honor? Furthermore, does Assad’s behavior deny this categorically?

The sect must pay attention to repercussions. If the rebels win will they harbor an anti-Christian agenda? Will they exact sectarian revenge? Will they enact an Islamist agenda that limits their citizenship?

But the community should be less concerned with these issues. They must be wise, of course, but the primary importance is to do what is right. Then, if they must suffer for their choices, they do so in firm conviction God has allowed it to establish their testimony.

Ah, but what is right? This is an estimation we must leave in their hands. We can only pray they have wisdom to decide from the position of their community, and less from the position of their sect.

Either way, may peace come to Syria.


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