11 September 2014

A disagreement among Christians

One reason Republicans have gotten especially worked up over the rise of the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is the understanding that the Sunni takfiris are persecuting local Christians along with other non-Sunni groups. I'm sure many Americans feel that this country, as a "Christian nation" has a special responsibility to protect Christians around the world. Senator Cruz of Texas apparently felt that way when he addressed the "In Defense of Christians" group last night. That organization is dedicated to the defense in particular of Christians in the Middle East from attacks by Muslim extremists. Cruz apparently went in thinking that "Christian" trumped "Middle Eastern" as far as these people were concerned. He may also have assumed that the enemy of their enemy must or should be their friend. In any event, he went on the podium before these Middle Eastern Christians and told them that "Christians have no greater ally than Israel." As reported on this Christian news site (with video) he was practically booed off the stage, but not before chastising his audience. It was un-Christian to hate Israel or the Jews, he said, forgetting or at least regretting centuries of history that testifies otherwise. He hoped to impress upon his hearers that all the groups persecuted or hated by the IS should stand together. They weren't buying it, and in a climax that was actually impressive in a way, Cruz basically told them to drop dead. If you won't stand with Israel, he said, I won't stand with you. I don't think this means he'll no longer protest the persecution of Christians by the Islamic State. More likely he'll simply prefer to deal with the Middle Eastern Christians of his conservative Republican imagination, much as most American politicians support the Syrian rebels of their imagination while ignoring the real ones.

It's interesting that most of the people posting comments on the Christian news site, seeing evidence that could be interpreted to show that Cruz cares more about Israelis than Christians, support Cruz's stand, seeing him of a man of principle. So do Republican Christians in the U.S. care more for Israelis than Christians in the Middle East when forced to choose? I suspect so, for a variety of reasons, ranging from an apocalyptic belief in Israel's role in prophecy to a suspicion that believers in Syria and Iraq aren't "real" Christians by some doctrinal or denominational standard. Most likely, I suspect, right-wing Christians are likely to see their beleaguered fellow believers, met face to face, as Arabs (if not dirty Arabs) first, and Christians second at best. Meanwhile, it should be remembered that Christians had it relatively good under the Baathist regimes in Iraq and Syria. At the very least, neither Saddam Hussein nor the Assads ever forced Christians in their countries to convert or die. A lingering loyalty to Baathism, if not a sense of "Arab" identity, may explain their persistent hostility toward Israel. But it may also have been simple resentment that Cruz saw fit to bring up Israel on an occasion intended to spotlight the persecution of Christians. Cruz and his supporters go away feeling that their Middle Eastern co-religionists are un-Christian in some important respect, and the feeling may be mutual. Get two or more Christians in a room together -- outside of a church, that is -- and that's likely to happen.

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