Why the Plight of Syria's Christians Should Result in Many Calls for Congress to Deny a Strike Authorization
Update: Great development today (09/09/13) as Secretary Kerry was asked a question about what Syria could do to avert a strike. His answer was that they could turn over their chemical weapons' stockpile to be destroyed. Russia seizes the moment and gets Syria to agree. A skeptical Obama said that this indeed could avert a strike but (to paraphrase), he's not holding his breath. With Congress and the American public dead set against this, this could be the way nearly everyone wins. Obama gets to keep his peace prize (literally and symbolically), Syria and Russia don't get the blow that strikes would represent, Congress and the American people avoid another conflict. The only ones who loses would be al-Qaeda! Now imagine that! What a great way to celebrate 9-11-13!
One week is all we have. One week and the U.S. Congress begins to debate and perhaps sets in motion a significant hit on Assad’s forces and military assets, perhaps tipping the balance from the Alawite Syrian regime to the rebels made up of both Islamic Jihadists and supposed moderates that have U.S. and allied support (see later in this post how the so-called moderates are also persecuting Christians in Syria). The U.S. Congress has already received intelligence and met with leading officials of the Obama administration.
To further stir the pot, enters Senator John McCain. The former POW and GOP presidential candidate that unsuccessfully faced off against Obama has been an extreme hawk in the war of ideas on Syria. Just recently, he criticized the president for not going far enough in his plans on Syria. To McCain and those who agree with him, any U.S. attack must alter the course of the war and cause Syria’s Assad to fall, as is the stated goal of the Obama administration. President Obama had requested McCain and Sen. Lindsay Graham’s help in getting Republicans to endorse a strike. What is disturbing is what Sen. Graham said happened in that meeting:
“For the first time I see the development of a strategy that will upgrade the opposition as well as degrade Assad”
That quote is rather significant because messengers McCain and Graham have been quite critical about what they see as a pinprick attack that does no good. They have even goaded President Obama, reminding him of his stated goal of seeing Assad out of power. Their desire is for regime change, or at the least that the U.S. put its thumb on the scale of the Syrian conflict so decisively that the rebels are sure to win. Apparently referencing this meeting and with information from the Senators, former U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff states that it is his impression that President Obama plans to "do significant damage to the forces of Bashar al-Assad" and to increase U.S. help of the rebels.
You may say that you don’t understand the politics of what is going on. Perhaps they know much more than we do about this and we need to trust them. Or, maybe you get tired of all the wrangling and posturing and tune everything out. However, if you are a Christian, or at least a humanitarian, please do not tune out. Tune in, but not to the pros and cons you are hearing in Washington. Instead, focus your ears on your fellow believers in Syria. Here is what is going on from eyewitnesses on the ground.
According to Christian Freedom International, “One victim, a young Christian boy, was killed by rebels who filmed the murder and then blamed the act on government soldiers. Another victim, a Christian man, was taken captive by rebels before being cruelly asked by them, ‘How do you want to die?’ The man suffered a complete breakdown before he was eventually released.”
International Christian Concern adds, “Syrians used to be proud of the peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims. They no longer are. Under the harsh rule of the Alawite dictators, some religious freedom was preserved. Christians fleeing other conflicts in the Middle East found refuge and made their home in Syria. Today, Christians in Syria are targeted by both government and rebel forces.”
That piece posted by the ICC adds the story of Mother Agnes-Mariam de la Croix, the superior of a convent near Qara, located 50 miles from Damascus. In June 2012 she was warned that she was targeted for kidnapping, after she revealed that about 80,000 Christians had been “cleared out” from their homes in Homs by the rebels and forced to flee the country.
As she declared to The Australian, only one in about 20 rebel fighters is Syrian [emphasis mine]. The rest come from countries ranging from Britain to Pakistan, from Chechnya to Indonesia and from Albania to North Africa. Many of these rebels fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and now are part of the groups fighting the government (note that this wording is word-for-word from the article).
A Syrian pastor is quoted by the ministry called 8thirty8 as saying, "Please pray for Lattakia countryside where I heard from one of the pastors in which a group of militant Islamists kill some Christians, where they kill them as infidels and hang them on crosses. O Lord Jesus, we cry out to you for mercy on Syria. Every day I go to villages and turn back at late time, please pray for our safety. He is good! We have great time in ministry now, many people want to know about Jesus.”
Added to that voice is this young Syrian believer: "I send you this message with tears and a broken heart for Syria. To all of you who live abroad and don't know the situation here, your brothers and sisters in Syria are leaving their houses to flee from the "Syrian free army"/"Syrian rebels." Everyday (sic) they shoot Christians and bomb our territories. When America strikes, nothing will stop these criminals, it will be worse. They will enter our territories and kill more Christians and kidnap children and burn them. These people are horrible. Christians here choose silence and continuous prayer. Our only weapon is prayer, PLEASE pray for us and for your president to make a wise decision. Honestly, I cry every day for my country and for my church in Syria. I pray every day that enough is enough. I can't stand it anymore. Unite with us please. May our prayers lead to miracles here."
Note: the “Syrian free army” is the Free Syrian Army, the rebel group that is considered moderate by the West and is supported by Western countries, including the U.S.
This video was released of a rebel commander ordering the execution of captured government troops. The video states that their bodies were thrown in a mass grave. However, another report is consistent with the image: it was apparently a well.
Voice of the Martyrs adds some disturbing first person stories but also some great news of God’s deliverance. Here it is as it appears:
A VOM contact reports that members of the opposition Free Syria Army [emphasis mine] have killed a priest and two others in the northern part of the country. The FSA [Free Syrian Army] has warned that Christians who stay in Syria will be killed.
Another VOM contact, “Touma,” reports that rebels have attacked his Christian village and kidnapped his cousin and the cousin’s son. The family is still waiting to hear the kidnappers’ demands.
Touma says that in the past his family has hosted the rebels’ families when they needed shelter and has provided food and shared the gospel with them. Touma’s family has even supplied some of the rebels with Bibles, which they gratefully received.
However, in the last month the rebels have begun to attack the village, steal the crops and are now kidnapping the villagers for ransom. Touma says many Christian children in the village are terrified of the rebels, who have tried to break into their homes. Many families have left the village, fearing for their safety.
The article also gives two stories of God’s dramatic rescue of two Christians who were to be executed by rebel forces. See Syria: Rebels Increase Attacks for those stories
Also, in closing, check out this interview. You have to get past a lengthy start of the program but it is well worth it in the end. In the Market with Janet Parschall. Todd Nettleton shares stories that will “keep us on our knees for believers facing severe opposition around the world.” Todd comes in at the 25 minute mark and the program allows you to skip to that.
In summary, Todd tells a few stories from Syria. One is the story of a pastor who had visitors from a Muslim background seem to come to Christ but then plotted to kill him. Another woman who was sent to spy at a church had quite a different result then what she anticipated. It becomes obvious that spying on congregations is a strategy used for persecution. Soft persecution, a more subtle form, is happening in Turkey to its Christians as well, and Todd Nettleton tells some of those incidents also. Stick with the program beyond that since Todd goes back to Syrian stories after the Turkish segment.
Please note that it should be clear by reading the above that a rebel victory in Syria would be disastrous for Syrian Christians. I remember seeing a quote some months ago from a Syrian Christians asking, "Why does the U.S. hate us?" Life under Assad wasn't grand but they had a measure of freedom before the civil war. With reports that the Islamists are the most effective on the battlefield and further reports that the Free Syrian Army is also persecuting Christians, what benefit would a U.S. strike, rather pinprick or devastating, have to Syria's Christians? It would certainly appear that if the U.S. helped topple Assad or shifted events on the ground dramatically to the rebels' advantage, that the Christians of Syria would metaphorically be tossed out of the frying pan and into the fire.
So what can you do?
1) You can pray -- prayer is critically important. Pray about the persecution but also thank God for the good things that are happening despite the persecution.
2) You can stay informed and pray and act accordingly.
8thirty8’s Facebook page
Voice of the Martyrs Facebook page
Voice of the Martyrs website
International Christian Concern's Facebook page
International Christian Concern's website
3) You can contact your U.S. Senator, Your U.S. House Member, President Obama
Sources, in order that they appear in this blog post:
Obama Meets With Former Foe John McCain at the White House
WASHINGTON, Sept. 2, 2013 ABC News
US general says Syria action could be 'more substantial than thought'
Persecution In Syria: “How Do You Want To Die..?”
Christians in Syria Face “Existential Threat” as Civil War Rages On
8thirty8’s Facebook page, posts dated 09/02/13 and 09/01/13
Syria: Rebels Increase Attacks