Categories
Middle East Published Articles World Watch Monitor

Christians to “Maintain Presence” and “Avoid Victimhood,” Says Syria Expert

 

Syria Middle East Concern
Children playing in Beit Sakhour, a neighbourhood in East Aleppo largely destroyed in Syria’s ongoing conflict (World Watch Monitor)

Following up on my recent article for World Watch Monitor, here is Part II of my interview with Miles Windsor, head of advocacy for Christian charity Middle East Concern.

These questions and answers were cut for length from the original, but I am pleased to share them here for the consideration of readers.

 

If you have your own viewpoint on who Syrian Christians support, even if in a personal capacity, please share.

It is important to recognize the extent to which situational dynamics influence statements of political allegiance, including by church leaders. Most Syrian Christians are in areas controlled by the Assad regime. The conflict situation also heightens the extent to which communities rely on patronage, a significant factor in Middle Eastern society even in peaceful times.

So we should not be surprised that church leaders readily voice support for President Assad. That is not to suggest that such articulations are empty, but rather that nuanced interpretation is usually necessary.

 

It can be simplistic to suggest ‘what the Bible says’ Syrian Christians should do. But are there Biblical principles you would counsel for them in the midst of a complicated state of difficulty? Might there be multiple options of God-honoring response?

We must guard against simplistic or overly prescriptive approaches. There is biblical basis and precedent for a range of responses to danger and persecution. The Apostle Paul who explained that ‘everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Tim 3:11,12) is the same Apostle who fled from Damascus to escape murderous plots (Acts 9:23-25). Other times he challenged the injustice and brutality of an imminent public flogging based on his citizenship rights (Acts 22:25).

It can be tempting to offer reminders of basic principles such as “trust in God and his promises,” and “do not deny your faith.” Although well-intentioned, true, and important, such advice is usually obvious and can come across as crass over-spiritualization, especially if offered by outsiders.

Better is to defer to our Syrian and other Middle Eastern sisters and brothers who are ministering in the heat of conflict and refugee situations and whose profound theological reflection is now shaping their own ministry approaches.

For example, two themes that are regularly emphasized in relation to the Middle Eastern church are the importance of presence and the danger of victimhood. The importance of Christian presence in Syria is the prophetic role of the Church and the calling of Christ’s people as agents of reconciliation and transformation. The imperative of maintaining a witness to the love, hope, peace, and life of Christ in a context of hatred, hopelessness, conflict and death, helps to understand how vital it is for the salt and light of Christ’s people to permeate and help shape a post-conflict Syria.

To rise above the mentality of victimhood is to reject the vicious cycles of blame, demonization and revenge, to acknowledge the comparable suffering of many others, to build alliances with the majority which also strives for peaceful coexistence, and to reject the label of ‘minority,’ whether imposed by those seeking to control, or to protect.

These are rich seams to mine as Syrian Christians seek to respond in ways which honor God, but they should also be a challenge to the more comfortable and complacent parts of the global church!

 

Describe a little bit about how MEC can speak authoritatively on the subject.

An association of many Christians and Christian ministries in the Middle East and North Africa, Middle East Concern (MEC) supports those in the region who are marginalised, discriminated against or persecuted for being or becoming Christians. Through a wide network of church and ministry partnerships in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, MEC seeks to provide support which is led by the priorities of MENA Christians. This support includes advocacy – challenging injustice and seeking to ensure that the voice of MENA Christians is heard and understood.

 

Please click here to read an excerpt of Part I, or here for the full article published at WWM.

 

Categories
Middle East Published Articles World Watch Monitor

“Avoid Persecution-of-Christians Label,” Says Syria Expert

Syria Middle East Concern
Children playing in Beit Sakhour, a neighbourhood in East Aleppo largely destroyed in Syria’s ongoing conflict (World Watch Monitor)

From my new article for World Watch Monitor:

As the conflict in Syria continues, Jayson Casper sat down with Miles Windsor, head of advocacy at Christian charity Middle East Concern, to discuss where Syrian Christians’ allegiance lies, whether those who fled the country may return, and how Christians in other countries can help.

Jayson Casper: There has been much reporting about how Syrian Christians supposedly support the regime, the opposition, or are neutral. There is also reporting about how their stance may have shifted over time. What is your perspective on how the hard-to-define majority of Syrian Christians should be described?

Miles Windsor: The first point to stress is that within Syria’s sizeable Christian communities, there are both supporters of the Assad regime and supporters of opposition groups, so it’s important to avoid blanket generalisations. And a second basic point is that for most Syrian Christians, and indeed most Syrians generally, political allegiance is usually nuanced or qualified.

“Improved security alone will not be sufficient to facilitate large-scale return of IDPs”

Although there are Syrian Christians who support, and are active within, opposition groups, most Syrian Christians tend to favour the Assad regime. This is certainly the public position articulated by most Syrian church leaders.

Such support has historical roots. The Assad regime has traditionally granted a significant degree of freedom to the diverse religious communities of Syria.

 

Please click here to read the full article at World Watch Monitor.

Categories
Excerpts

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.

 

Related Posts: