Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Persecuted Iraqi Christians Pawns in Midterm Elections?

This is going to get me in trouble.

No doubt there is persecution of Iraq's tiny (and quickly getting tinier as many flee) Christian minority. The growth of radical Islam in Iraq, thanks in large part to America's failed attempt to force a western-style democracy there, has insured persecution of Iraqi Christians.

But is it coincidence that only two weeks before the mid-term elections, viewed by many as a referendum on the Iraq War, my wife and I recieved a thick, colorful, and magazine-sized flier emblazoned with this headline? "Persecution Alert: Helping Iraq's Persecuted Church." A smiling boy holds up what appears to be a bible in Arabic, and beneath his picture the caption reads "Hope for the Future."

Inside things quickly get grim. A litany of extremist violence against Christians includes the beheading of a 71 year old nun, the death of a 13 year old boy by car bomb (though it is unclear whether he was targeted, or merely "collateral damage" to the country's overall violence), and a young man's beating by police for daring to ask they stop insulting Christians.

Now how can I complain about such a flier, which appears to be only a plea for monetary help in supporting the ministry of Christian Freedom International (CFI)? After all, commentators liberal and conservative have noted that persecution of Christians in Iraq is absolutely real and likely on the increase.

Well, it is all about timing. Perhaps thinking as cynically as political architect Karl Rove, I couldn't help but wonder if the flier was timed to come out right at a moment when some evangelicals are likely pondering their continuing alliance with the Bush administration and Republican Party, especially as it relates to the Iraq War. The flier to me appeared a "reminder" to the evangelical faithful that "staying the course" is a primary way to save our sisters and brothers from radical Islam. So, being a skeptic even though I am an evangelical, I gingerly poked around.

Why not start with CFI's president, James Jacobson? Jacobson does indeed have a political background, as his CFI bio notes:

Before founding CFI, Mr. Jacobson served as a policy analyst in the Reagan White House, served as political appointee in the administration of George Herbert Walker Bush, and was a senior legislative assistant in the US Senate.
Jacobson has also been (and may still be) a member of the controversial conservative umbrella organization, the Council for National Policy.

Now those facts don't insure what my skeptical mind is suggesting. But they do add a bit more weight to the question. Was the message of this flier and its being sent to a probably large number of evangelicals -- right before the elections -- coincidence? Or was it done in concert with other Christian Right spokespersons? Asking these questions sounds almost sacreligious. How can I do it, when Christians are dying in Iraq?

Maybe I feel that being truly faithful is the opposite of being gullible. "...Test everything; hold fast to what is good" (1 Thess. 5:21, NRSV) seems to me a pretty good rationale for being skeptical these days.

Jacobson's history isn't the only linkage between CFI and the Christian Right / Republican Party. In an aside that was part of a lengthy blog comment to a post on another topic, "Matt O." writes:

As of April 2005, among the list of "directors" for CFI is Robert Reilly, the former director of the Voice of America (VOA), who was criticized for being "too ideological." (The New York Times reported on the ideological bent in October 2001. Subscription required.) After Reilly resigned "abruptly" from the VOA, the April 21, 2003 edition of the Christian Science Monitor, it was reported that he now heads the Pentagon's broadcasting efforts in Iraq.
I have not yet found a larger list of CFI's directors. If I do, or if someone else does, please let me know.

But as to Reilly's background... Whoa. Coincidence? Sure, it really could be. As someone looking for the ministry with greatest integrity to support in efforts to aid the persecuted Church, am I just supposed to uncritically swallow these linkages? Because while it could be coincidence, it also could be cool calculation.

There is no doubt about it that Christians are being persecuted in Iraq and elsewhere by radical Islamic forces. And we should make that fact known. It is very painful for me to recieve such a flier in the mail, then find myself unable to believe the motivations behind it being sent. Here is another illustration of why it is so, so very important for evangelicals to disentangle themselves and their ministries from the Right. Various forces of the Christian Right count on us to salivate every time the bell is rung, not realizing that sooner or later we'll see through the machinations and become skeptical. Even worse, we will be tempted toward inactivity and apathy, leaving our sisters and brothers alone in their struggles.

As I say, I may well get in trouble over this post. But in light of the real connections between CFI and the Right, and in light of the first question I had when I received this mailing, I felt obligated to publish my meager findings. The subject will remain open, of course.

And for now, I will remain sadly skeptical.

A few related links:

Article from Atlantic Monthly in which James Jacobson takes the reporter on a tour through the slavery-ridden areas of Sudan, questioning the idea of "redeeming" slaves with money.

Another article from John Eibner of Christian Solidarity International (from which Jacobson and Christian Freedom International split), questioning Jacobson's positive role in the above article (see footnote 4) and defending the practice of "redeeming" slaves.


Colin Lamm said...

It's an extremely sad day when one cannot know, through all the spin-doctoring that takes place, really who is on the up and up. With each step along the way it seems that Christ's name is the one that suffers the most.

Anonymous said...

The world is a glittering object of many facets and none among us can perceive the whole, but, our calling is sure and our path is assured through full and simple fidelity to the person of Jesus and the indwelling confirmation of the spirit. It troubles me, as well, that it is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff among even our brothers, but, again our reliance must be in Him and not simply our own understanding. I don't believe that Christ's name suffers, but, many who follow Him do suffer and we must keep carrying the message and shining the light. It's worthwhile to know that many are not motivated by other than worldly ambitions cloaked in a veneer of seemingly spiritual "Christianese". Thanks for your faithfulness, Jon and Colin.
Carry on, brothers.