Rev. DeVries is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Wingham, Ontario, Canada.
Persecution in Iraq
When we think of Iraq, we likely tend to focus upon the war against terrorism, the military involvement against al-Qaeda. We may think of the on-going internal strife among the largely Muslim populations—Shiites versus Sunnis. We may forget or not be aware of a relatively small portion of the Iraqi populace that is Christian and caught in the middle of the turmoil there. Brothers and sisters in Christ and their families are suffering grievously in Iraq. They are being abducted, held for ransom, tortured, sometimes put to death. Many are compelled to flee the country. Mindy Belz reports on the chaos and fear being sown by terrorists among churches in Iraq in an article entitled “Kidnapped” (World, May 19, 2007):
Every day a dozen—and more—Iraqis are reported kidnapped or missing. Every morning police vans arrive at Baghdad hospitals bearing the dead bodies recovered overnight, a gruesome collection of often tortured and beheaded kidnap victims. For al-Qaeda in Iraq and its splinter groups, kidnapping Iraqis has become their stock in trade, a way to make money collecting ransom, but more importantly, a way to sow chaos and fear on the streets.
The number of Shiites and Sunnis kidnapped dwarfs the number of Christians abducted, but Iraq’s tiny Christian minority has not escaped this particular brand of terrorism. Five Baghdad clergymen were kidnapped between July and December 2006. All were released after ransoms were paid. Last October a Syrian Orthodox priest was kidnapped and beheaded in Mosul.
Pastor Maher Dakel of St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad disappeared in 2005, along with his wife and son, all believed to be kidnap victims, although no ransom demand was delivered nor have their bodies been recovered . . . .
. . . Five months ago, St. Peter’s Seminary and Babel College, which serve Iraq’s Chaldean Christian community, closed their joint Baghdad campus and relocated to northern Iraq outside the city of Irbil after the third kidnapping of a staff member in five months. One victim, Chaldean priest Douglas Yusuf al-Bazy, had finished conducting mass at St. Elijah’s parish and was driving on Baghdad’s al-Kanat highway when four cars surrounded his vehicle and forced him to pull over on a Sunday morning last November. He was blindfolded at gunpoint and pushed into the trunk of his car, he told Compass Direct news service.
Eventually he wound up in an insurgent safe house in a Baghdad neighborhood, where his captors turned up the television volume before they questioned and tortured him. They beat him with a hammer, kicked him until teeth fell out, and burned his mustache with cigarettes. Most of the time he was bound and blindfolded, and received little food and water. Released after nine days, he required hospital care in Baghdad and eventually went to Italy for reconstructive surgery . . . .
. . . Iraq’s Christian community finds itself particularly vulnerable to organized, militant kidnappers. Al-Bazy says he believes he was targeted for kidnapping because he is regarded as part of a community seen as intellectual, not easily intimidated, and in some cases closely tied with the West. Shiites and Sunnis may be fighting each other in Iraq, said regional church leader Sami Dagher, “but keep in mind, we are hated by both.”
Dagher, president of the Alliance Church of Lebanon and director of a humanitarian relief center serving Iraq, said the intimidation of Christians in Iraq is working. The CMA church in Baghdad at one time was the largest and fastest-growing church in the city, with 800 people attending its Sunday morning service in war time. Now attendance has dropped to about 400.
In Baghdad’s Dora district, home to historic churches and some predominantly Christian neighborhoods, seven churches have either shut down completely or reduced services to about once a month. Islamist groups have gone door to door to evict Christian families. They blackmail them to pay an exorbitant tax, to become Muslims, or to leave, said Dagher.
As a result, many Christian families across Iraq are leaving. Of approximately 1.2 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, Dagher believes the majority are Christians . . . .
In MERF (Middle East Reformed Fellowship)News, May 2007, Lisa Atallah provides an update on the “Hardships Facing Iraqi Christians.” She reports:
Pastor Ikram Mehanny served the large Arabic-speaking congregation in Baghdad, Iraq for many years. He described his last weeks: “These are most difficult days for all in Iraq . . . involved in a vicious war which no one even imagined . . . . The international media cannot even begin to describe the sufferings experienced by all. The impact of death is felt by more and more families, civilian as well as military. Still, most of the ones getting killed or maimed every day are innocent civilians. There is constant fear; especially for those who have no militia protection. There is no relief from this day or night. One does not know when a bomb will explode, while seeking to fetch drinking water or lining up for bread outside any bakery. And that is not all. There is the fear of kidnapping—not just on the street; any knock at the door carries the risk of being some money-hungry armed group who drags men, women, or children from their homes to extract ransom monies . . . . Most of our people have had to run away for their lives—most to Syria, where they are not required a visa and the cost of living is less exorbitant. Others have gone to Jordan or Turkey, some go to relatives in villages of northern Iraq, under the control of the Kurds . . . .”
Anonymous phone calls that often precede house kidnappings made the Baghdad church elders persuade Pastor Ikram and his family to return to his Egyptian homeland as soon as secure transport could be arranged from the Baghdad church compound to the airport. A handful of church families remain—most cannot afford the expensive transport protection money to escape the misery of life in Baghdad. The militias know these have no money to ransom. But because of the insecurity, most don’t dare to venture out for church activities . . . .
. . . Elder Yousif Al-Saqa reports from Baghdad: “. . . I am sure prayer is what keeps us going . . . . We know that our sovereign God cares and knows best. He is our refuge and our hope in this life as well as in the life to come . . . .”
Latest reports are that the situation in Baghdad has deteriorated even more, with intentional attacks upon Christian families, who are being forced by extremists to leave their homes. Their houses are then occupied and all their belongings confiscated. As Lisa Atallah put it, “Our Iraqi brethren continue to suffer great trials as a defenseless minority in a country which has become desperately poor and lawless.”
With our peaceful, secure existence here in North America, persecution and its accompanying hardships are difficult for us to imagine. But I believe it is incumbent upon us to make ourselves aware of the tribulation that God’s people experience in many places. And it is incumbent upon us to pray for our fellow saints who suffer for the cause of the gospel of Christ. Sometimes we can be so narrow in our prayers—concerned only with our own personal needs, our family, our congregation, our denomination. We must not stop there. We confess “an holy catholic church.” Let us be sure to pray for that church, especially as she suffers for Christ’s sake!
Abortion in the Headlines
Certainly a noteworthy news story in recent months has been the United States Supreme Court decision that upheld the Partial- Birth Abortion Ban Act that the Congress enacted and President George W. Bush signed into law in 2003. In a landmark, five-to-four ruling in Gonzalez v. Carhart, on April 18, 2007 the U.S. high court took this decision. Rory Leishman, National Affairs columnist in The Interim(Canada’s Life and Family Newspaper), comments in the June 2007 issue:
In reasons for the majority in Carhart, Mr. Justice Anthony Kennedy described partial-birth abortion (also known as intact dilation and evacuation) as a procedure in which an abortionist typically delivers all but the head of a living baby from the womb, before piercing or crushing the baby’s skull so the head can pass through the cervix.
Kennedy agreed with the finding of the United States Congress that: “Implicitly approving such a brutal and inhumane procedure by choosing not to prohibit it will further coarsen society to the humanity of not only newborns, but all vulnerable and innocent human life, making it increasingly difficult to protect such life.” On this basis, he upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which makes it a criminal offense punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment for an abortion doctor to perform a partial-birth abortion, unless the procedure is “necessary to save the life of a mother whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness or physical injury.”
The Parliament of Canada should take note. Thanks to the calamitous judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Morgentaler, 1988, Canada is the only democracy in the world that has no law governing abortion. If a mother decides, for whatever reason, that she no longer wants her pre-born baby, it is lawful in Canada for an unscrupulous abortion doctor to kill that baby at any time during the pregnancy, right up to just a few seconds before birth . . . .
. . . Our judicial rulers in Canada profess to be enlightened and compassionate, yet none shows any disposition to agree with the judgment of the United States Supreme Court on the urgent need to curtail at least the horrors of partial-birth abortion. What a shame and what a pity.
In the same issue of The Interim, The World Briefs column reports from Beijing under the headline, “Forced abortions in China”:
In late April, National Public Radio in the U.S. reported that dozens of women in southwest China had been forced to have abortions even as late as nine months into the pregnancy. While Beijing’s one-child policy limits urban couples to one child, sometimes families can have a second child and pay a fine. NPR reported that some women in Guangxi Province were forced to abort their first child because they were unmarried. Liang Yage and his wife Wei Linrong had one child and believed that they would be able to keep their second child after paying a fine. But on April 16, when Wei was seven months pregnant, 10 family planning officials visited her at home. They informed her she had to have an abortion. Wei recalls an official telling her, “If you don’t go (to the hospital), we’ll carry you.” The couple report that the waiting room at the maternity ward in nearby Baise was full of women undergoing forced abortions and sterilizations . . . .
Another disturbing article reported by The Interim concerning abortion was entitled, “Amnesty International admits to adopting a pro-abortion policy.” Gundrun Schultz and Paul Tuns report:
Amnesty International has finally admitted it has adopted a new policy supporting abortion. After pro-lifers exposed the organization’s secret adoption of a pro-abortion position in early May, AI officials admitted May 9 that the human rights organization would begin lobbying for abortion to be decriminalized globally.
Widney Brown, senior policy and campaigns director, told Reuters that the board of AI agreed on the policy change in April. The human rights lobby group had previously held a position of neutrality on abortion, although it has always opposed forced abortion. However, over the past year, AI has worked to expand its definition of “sexual and reproductive rights.”
While the agency has said it is not supporting abortion as a human right, but simply addressing “particular circumstances” surrounding rape situations or endangerment to women’s health, in fact the policy calls for a moratorium on all criminal penalties against abortion. ” ‘Decriminalization’ means the removal of all criminal penalties (including imprisonment, fines and other punishments ) against those seeking, obtaining, providing information about or carrying out abortions,” the document states.
The new policy puts AI, the largest human rights organization in the world, at odds with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which states that every child “needs special safeguards and care, including legal protection, before as well as after birth.” Brown denied that Amnesty had attempted to keep the new policy a secret. “There’s simply no reason for us to ‘publicize’ policy issues,” she said . . . .
. . . Multiple international organizations and religious leaders objected to the agency’s proposal to begin championing abortion rights after it was first publicized two years ago. Reports from Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have suggested widespread opposition to Amnesty’s proposed abortion advocacy among grassroots supporters.
Other headlines could be mentioned—”Force Doctors to Commit Abortions, says U.S. Group,” “Ads said to promote sex-selection abortion,” “Early Abortifacients Now Prescription-free in B.C.,” “Planned Parenthood Continues U.S. Slaughter.” Not much of this news is good news. May we never cease to be shocked and grieved by the scourge of abortion.