So much of American Christianity, especially of the Evangelical and Fundamentalist varieties, carries within it a striking ideological contradiction.
On one hand, Christians in America, even if they don’t embrace the theologies outright, carry the assumptions of the prosperity gospel, and of violent nationalism. That is to say, many American Christians would affirm that God does indeed heap blessings and riches on His (because in this view, it’s almost always a male God) believers, and one particular way He does this is through the power of American military and economic hegemony.
On the other hand, many American Christians seem to think they are part of a small, persecuted, and powerless minority, strangers in a strange land that they have no responsibility for. Rather, a powerful, secular, globalist elite runs things, and is doing everything it can to stamp out American Christianity, mostly through feminism, abortion, same-sex marriage, and public schools.
These two views stand in stark contrast to one another, and to reality. That reality shines forth in Father Andreas Knapp’s superb book, The Last Christians. In it, Andreas tells his own story, of meeting refugee Christians in his own hometown of Leipzig, Germany, and how that leads to a trip to Iraq, on the border of ISIS territory, and his own growing fascination with and passion for the Christian communities who live there.
These Christian communities, located now in refugee camps in Mosul and Erbil, but originally from Syria, Turkey, and Armenia, are the last remnants of the earliest Christians. Still speaking Aramaic, the language of Christ, they trace their lineage back to the early desert fathers, and even further, to the earliest churches planted by Paul and the Apostles.
Today, they are threatened by the rise of ISIS and other forms of militant Islam. Forced to flee their homes, their culture is in danger of disappearing, as families are split apart and their cultural and religious heritage is forgotten. Knapp recounts the stories of the refugees he meets in Leipzig, and on his trip to Iraq, painting beautiful and painful pictures of a people who are a global treasure, but who are forgotten by the so-called Christian West, despite politically-conveinant talking points otherwise.
At times, Father Knapp veers towards blanket condemnations of all Muslims, militant or not, in the plight of these Christians. At one point, he comes awfully close to declaring that the very nature of Islam is violence and intolerance. This kind of rhetoric can obscure the points he also makes about the millions of Muslims who have been victimized by ISIS as well.
More relevantly, he does point the finger for the rise of ISIS and hyper-militancy in the Middle East, and the destruction it has reaped for the Christians he cares about, at the truest cause: American and Western hegemony, colonialism and reckless petro-capitalism. He writes,
“I wonder what Arab countries would look like today had oil not been discovered: no interference from Western colonial powers; no billions upon billions of petrodollars for the Islamist arms build-up. What course would modern Islam have taken without the vast sums of money pumped into the construction of mosques and the recruitment of Salafist from around the world? Was the black gold really a blessing for the Gulf States and their inhabitants? How many battles have been fought in this region over access to the oil wells – in the two Worlds Wars, the Gulf Wars, and to this day?”
Father Knapp is absolutely correct in his diagnosis of the problems facing not just the Eastern Christians, but the entire Middle East today. Yet, despite our complicity in their problems, the West largely ignores the plight of Eastern Christians, to say nothing of the millions of others who face persecution. Instead, so many American Christians are narrowly focused on the so-called persecution of “Happy Holidays” and Starbucks cups and religious freedom issues. At the same time, many American Christians gleefully participate in rhetoric and military hegemony that leads to the deaths of Christians and Eastern Christian culture. Father Knapp relays one particularly relevant example:
“The lack of understanding sometimes shown by our media on this issue may have other causes too. For one thing, it is hard for us to imagine how radically the political environment inhabited by Eastern Christians differs from our own, to the extent that they can be made to suffer as hostages for the freedoms of the West. This was brought home to me by the uproar in the Middle East over European political cartoons depicting Mohammed. Such cartoons are a normal phenomenon in free democratic societies but, thanks to our globalized world, can trigger violent reactions in other, undemocratic systems. Thus, when caricatures of Mohammed were published in Denmark in 2006, the terrorist Mujahideen Council announced that Christians in Iraq would pay the price – which they duly did.
This is what persecution and minority status looks like. Not cakes for LGBT people or state capitols free of religious imagery. It’s death and displacement. When American Christians insist on burning Korans to make a political statement, they don’t suffer consequences. Instead, Eastern Christians in Mosul and Raqqa become their scapegoats, carrying their sins into the desert.
Andreas Knapp’s book is eye-opening and heartbreaking, but should be required reading in churches across America, especially churches who feel they are being persecuted. There is a real cultural and historical tragedy occurring in the Middle East, as the remnants of the oldest Christian communities are being wiped out due to the decisions American and European leaders have made. It’s time for all of us – myself included – to wake up and realize what is happening. The Last Christians is a good place to start.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Plough Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions’ 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”