America's + the Middle East's Christians

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Posted by Andreas from ( on Thursday, May 08, 2003 at 4:01AM :

America's 'Conservative' Christians - and the Middle East's

by Christopher Deliso
May 8, 2003

As the second phase of the Iraqi occupation unfolds, pro-Israel extremists
are teaming up with America's evangelical Christians, in the hopes of an
ethnically "cleansed" Israel. This is just one of the logical outcomes of
Washington's warmongering in the Middle East.

Since the election of George W. Bush in 2000, the world has gaped, in
horrified fascination at an administration based on good and evil, righteous
war, and the fundamental duty to proselytize. Behind these ideas are
America's powerful evangelical Christians - the self-professed
representatives of "conservative" Christianity.

However, this label is tenuous at best. To be sure, the evangelicals
represent a certain kind of conservatism - the intolerant, prudish, and
anti-scientific variety. As we will see, however, their fundamental claim to
the conservative throne is totally bogus, compared to the real conservative
Christians - who inhabit the very countries Washington bombs, or would like
to bomb - Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt. All of these countries
have age-old Christian communities that speak the original languages and
follow the original rites of Jesus' early followers.

Some Dangers of Fundamentalism

It would be one thing if the evangelicals would just live out their
miserable lives and leave well enough alone. If someone wants to believe in
creationism, or an upcoming photo op with the Good Lord Jesus Christ - or
even hand-to-hand combat with an oozing, sulphurous Beelzebub - well, that's
their business.

However, in seeking to forcibly impose a specific belief system on everyone
else, America's evangelical Christians display cultural intolerance and
fascism. Like Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Scientologists, they exhibit
traits of indoctrinating, quasi-spiritual cults. At their worst, they tend
to spit the same venom as any Islamic, Jewish, Hindu or other fundamentalist
groups. Ironically, though these groups inevitably profess the deepest of
mutual hatreds, they actually have a lot in common.

Indeed, the rest of us would be better off if they - and all the other
religious nutballs out there - were thrown together into some empty,
high-walled desert where they could proselytize and condemn to their hearts'

A Unique Crusade

As Muslims have long feared, a modern-day "purifying" crusade is being
demanded by evangelical groups who, under the pious President Bush, are
enjoying unprecedented power. Since 9/11, Secretary of State Colin Powell's
repeated statements about religious tolerance have been continually
undermined by the hateful words of "spiritual" leaders such as Pat Robertson
and Jerry Falwell. Yet not only does their crusade seek to rid the world of
Islam, it may also seek to rid the world of Christianity - that is, all all
denominations besides evangelical Americans.

On to Iraq!

The sinister mission is well underway in Iraq, reports the Independent:
".evangelical charities with an overt hostility to Islam are preparing to
distribute food, water, medicine and building materials in Iraq, all in the
name of Jesus.

One of these (Samaritan's Purse) is run by Franklin Graham, the son of
evangelist Billy Graham, who declared after 9/11 that Islam was "a very evil
and wicked religion." Another is the Southern Baptist Convention, whose
former president once described the Prophet Mohammed as "a demon-possessed
paedophile." About 800 of SBC's volunteers are heading to Iraq to deliver
food packages labeled with a verse from St John's Gospel, in Arabic, saying
that, "grace and truth were realised through Jesus Christ."

Disturbingly, it would seem that these folks are literally state-sponsored
".Franklin Graham, a long-standing friend of the President, was invited to
participate in this year's Good Friday prayer service at the Pentagon,
angering many in the Defence Department. Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the
Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the invitation "sends entirely
the wrong message to the Muslim and Arab world. this kind of incident can
undo any kind of bridges built by a hundred public affairs officers at the

According to Graham's latest book, Christianity and Islam ".are destined to
fight each other until the second coming of Christ, which he says is
imminent." During a 2002 book tour, he declared that Islam posed "a greater
threat than anyone's willing to speak." The same message was proclaimed by
veteran televangelist Jerry Falwell, who also called Islam "evil" and
Mohammed, a "terrorist."

Samaritan's Purse has been spreading the evangelical message since 1970. In
1975, a young Graham went "on a life-changing tour" of impoverished
countries, ".where Franklin saw the poverty of pagan religions and the utter
despair of the people they enslave. God had captured his heart for
Well, Isn't That Special!

Unfortunately, the evangelicals' newfound political power means that things
are no longer so innocuous as when Saturday Night Live'sDana Carvey (as the
"Church Lady") mocked the religious right over a decade ago. Things are now
much worse.

A World of Lost Souls

The second charity mentioned by the Independent, the Southern Baptist
Convention, has big ambitions. The SBC administers the International Mission
Board; as we learn from the IMB's comprehensive "map of lostness," much of
the word is in dire need of salvation. The IMB sends out missionaries
disguised as "English teachers," "mountaineers," "businessmen" and even "tea
drinkers." Refreshingly, the IMB dubs its foreign missions "cell groups."
The terrorist analogy is sustained by the group's own stated method:
"IMB personnel are organized into teams. Each team focuses on a people group
or population segment. Their goal is to do whatever it takes to begin and
nurture a church-planting movement among the people."
"Whatever it takes?" If I were a Muslim, I would be terrified. The concept
of holy war, blamed on the Saudis, bin Laden, et al, seems to be lurking a
little closer to home.

Christian Jihad: Two Justifications

Indeed, the IMB is determined to share the "God of love" - if not the love
of god - with the Muslims. Yet such obviously duplicitous gestures conceal a
more menacing reality. The SBC mission, known as "Partners in the Harvest,"
is quite direct:
".it is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every
church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all

And, should even believers fall into despair, comforts the SBC, they can
always take succour in the impending apocalypse:
".when that (evangelical) work is done and when the church of Jesus Christ
is complete, that is when God will bring down the curtain on the affairs of
this sad world. May God help us that we may have that special view of the
world which comes from dwelling near the throne."

The End Times - for Rational Leadership, That Is

A similar line is taken up by Pat Robertson's powerful Christian
Broadcasting Network. According to its website,
".the mission of CBN and its affiliated organizations is to prepare the
United States of America and the nations of the world for the coming of
Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. Our
ultimate goal is to achieve a time in history when "the knowledge of the
Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea."

According to the CBN, Hollywood's anti-war stars have "links" with
terrorists. It also advertises something called "the Presidential Prayer
Team" - where one can spiritually adopt US military personnel. A sympathetic
Australian report reveals a frightening detail about the "team":

".it is huge and it caused Bush to tear up in front of the White House press
corps. Every few weeks, an email goes out to those whose email addresses are
registered with an office affiliated with the White House and, on behalf of
Bush, they are asked for their prayers over a specific challenge facing the
President and his cabinet."
It is gratifying to know that the efficacy of the decisions made by the most
powerful man on earth are determined by the prayers of the evangelist flock.
Might this account for the Iraq disaster?

The Divine Right of. Presidents?

However, as I have argued, this very connection between leadership
capability and "morality" is being made by the evangelicals to justify the
war of a "moral president" - proving again that America is headed back to
the Middle Ages. Frighteningly, the Southern Baptists have adapted this
concept to fit today's "democratic" government. NPR's Barbara Bradley
Hagerty reports that:
".Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention says even if Bush were not
a born-again Christian, evangelicals are inclined to fall behind rather than
stand against their government in times of war. Why? Because according to
the New Testament, he says, it is God who places people in positions of
governmental authority."

How Will Candidate Bush Benefit?

Complementing the president's religious fervor, we have the recent photos of
a "Top Gun" George W. Bush in military attire. This bizarre spectacle seems
to confirm that America is becoming a military theocracy - again, a truly
Medieval concept.

It is well known that Bush has strong affinities with the evangelicals. But
what makes these "conservative" Christians politically significant is their
new alliance with the Israeli lobby. Even last year, it was noted that Iraq
would be "America's and Israel's war." This most dangerous alliance has
united religious nutballs, neocons and Israel-firsters. Enraptured by dreams
of the biblical Israel, charged with purpose by an outpouring of messianic
and imperialist rhetoric, this coalition has strong overlapping interests. A
leading group is the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, led by
the Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and Ralph Reed, former executive director of the
Christian Coalition. Evangelical Reed also heads a subsidiary site, Stand
for Israel.
This union means that the Republicans might finally win the Jewish vote -
and so never again have to worry about "hanging chads." The Bushies hope
that, when the time comes, Jewish voters will remember that the real goal
behind the neocons' constant warmongering has been to protect Israel.

But Who Are the Real Christian Conservatives?

Poised to counter Shiite desires for a Taliban-esque Islamic state are
America's evangelicals, who long for a final apocalyptic battle between
Christianity and Islam. Their arrogant missionary view presupposes that
their beliefs (as with American democracy) are superior to those of the
outside world - and so must be exported, whatever the price.

The Catholics - Conservative Enough?

The Pope has taken a courageous anti-war stand throughout. On 18 March, as
the threat of war hung ominously over all, he called into question President
Bush's spiritual legitimacy:
"Whoever decides that all peaceful means under international law have been
exhausted is assuming a grave responsibility before God, his conscience and
before history," Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said."

The Pope has led world religious leaders in opposing the Iraq war. Should
his voice not be heeded? Indeed, the Catholic Church is far older than the
evangelical orders, and has a long conservative tradition. Should the
Pontiff not enjoy the moral authority that comes with such time-honored

The answer, of course, is yes. That said, however, even the Catholic Church
has older Christian predecessors. These, the Orthodox churches, view the
Vatican as guilty of minor theological "innovations" and the arbitrary
elevation of the pope above the seven traditional patriarchs. Historically
misunderstood and mistrusted by fellow Christians, the Orthodox practice the
oldest forms of Christianity - and especially those in the Middle East,
which America would like to bomb into oblivion.

An Iraqi Easter Full of Foreboding

While predominantly Muslim, Iraq is also home to Christian minority
denominations of great antiquity. Among them are Assyrian, Armenian and
Chaldaean Christians. While other Middle Eastern churches cancelled Easter
because of the war, the Chaldaeans in Baghdad decided to celebrate this
Easter's miracle - namely, that they survived the bombing. Nevertheless, the
future is decidedly uncertain:
"'.we are afraid that the fanatics could do something bad, especially among
our Muslim brothers,' says Bishop Ishlemon Wardouni.
".they are keeping a low profile. The Chaldeans, members of a church founded
by St. Thomas in the first century, celebrated their traditional midnight
mass on Saturday afternoon, so as to be home by nightfall."
As the US occupation continues to spark Shiite rage, chances increase that
Iraq's Christians may suffer. Although Bishop Wardouni stated that the two
religions have long lived in harmony, chances are that misdirected Muslim
rage will hit his flock:
".Shiite Muslims in his neighborhood, who he says are followers of the late
Ayatollah Khomeini, have said they want to convert a building next to his
church - formerly belonging to the ruling Baath Party - into a mosque.
"'If this sort of thing happens, maybe later there could be problems,'
Wardouni worries. 'We have heard their slogans, "No Saddam, No Bush, Yes to
an Islamic State."'
"Christians here say they enjoyed as many rights and freedoms as any other
Iraqis under Saddam Hussein, who made one of their number, Tariq Aziz, an
influential deputy prime minister.
"'We enjoyed total religious freedom and there was no religious
discrimination' against Christians, said Armenian Archbishop Avak

Of the 650,000 Christians in Iraq, most are Chaldeans, but Syrians, Latins,
Armenians and others are also to be found. In neighboring Syria, where the
neocons and evangelicals would like to bomb next, the Christian tradition is
even richer.

Syria's Christians

The next country in Washington's crosshairs is Syria, where Aramaic - the
language of Jesus Christ - is kept alive by Christians with ties to earliest
Christianity. In Roman and early Byzantine times, the patriarchy of Antioch
was one of the most powerful and influential of the eastern patriarchies.
Syria's Christians preserve the living and textual histories that enable
historians to learn about Christianity's early days. Monasticism also has a
rich tradition here. Virtual visitors can also check out the Syrian Orthodox
Church's innocuously musical homepage.

Syrian Christians hoped that the Pope's 2001 visit would bring the different
Christian churches closer, and also improve Syria's image. One local priest,
Father Tawfiq Eid, told the BBC:
".his visit to Syria will bring a different way of looking at things here,
[it will show] that Syria is not a terrorist country, so the world will know
Syria better."
Sad to say, this didn't happen - and will not, so long as the current
administration and its "Christian" enablers remain in power.

And in Turkey.

Last October, I visited the Syrian Orthodox church in Mardin, Turkey.
Although the congregation is small, it has vitality. A large and time-worn
bible, printed in indecipherable Aramaic characters, lay on the lectern. The
simple, almost childlike artwork on the wall hearkened back to a simpler,
primordial time for Christianity. There are a few hundred Syrian (or
Assyrian, as they are sometimes called) Christians living in southern
Turkey. The Kurds claim to have another long-established Christian minority,
mostly from Hakkari to the Syrian border. Most of the "tens of thousands" of
Christian Kurds live in Turkey.

Palestine and Lebanon

Jesus, of course, was a Jew with other plans and no place can boast closer
ties with ancient Christianity than Palestine. The Orthodox Church here has
survived for millennia amidst constant oppression and uncertainty. Should
Palestine win independence, these Christians might run the same risk as
those in Iraq (i.e., marginalization by fundamentalist Muslims). However,
the current Israeli intimidation is no better option. Nevertheless, the
Church struggles to maintain its independence and integrity - as when it
banned top US and British leaders from visiting Bethlehem's Church of the
Nativity. The Israeli government is occasionally rebuked for its oppression
of Christians. And the Israeli government is frequently at odds with the
Patriarch over the Orthodox Church's landholdings in Jerusalem. The
long-established Christian tradition in Lebanon is also facing an uphill
battle for survival.

Finally, Egypt

Egypt, which has been described as "the prize" by overzealous Neocon
warmongers, has one of the richest Christian heritages in the world. Best
known is the monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai. Here are preserved
very ancient and valuable Christian texts and relics.

Egypt's Christians are the Copts, who also have a musical homepage and whose
church was founded in the first century by Saint Mark. Then Greek-speaking
Alexandria, site of one of the seven original patriarchates, was also home
to important early bishops (such as St. Athanasius) and exegetes (such as
the prolific Origen). Athanasius, in fact, authored the universally used
Nicene Creed, and inaugurated the hagiographical tradition with his Life of
St. Antony. The first of the "desert fathers," Saint Anthony pioneered
eremitic monasticism; countryman Pachomius later began the more settled
coenobitic variety. Antony, Pachomius and St. Paul, it is believed, were all

Early redactions of the Bible and other important texts are preserved in
thousands of Coptic manuscripts worldwide. Today, out of a population of 57
million, over 9 million in Egypt are Copts.

The End Times - but for Who?

Today, Christians in the Middle East face an uncertain future. They may
suffer misplaced Islamic rage. These true Christian conservatives - who
speak the languages of Christianity's earliest days, follow the same
rituals, and worship in the same churches as the founders of the faith - are
in danger because of the destructive messianic fever of America's
"Christian" charlatans. Their inflammatory, anti-Muslim statements are
whipping up general anti-Christian sentiment from Muslims the world over.
And, in a show of blinding ignorance and impossible condescension, these
latter-day "fishers of men" from the West would like to re-convert their
"lapsed" Christian brethren, who apparently aren't trying hard enough to
keep the Holy Land holy. In other words, Christianity's real conservatives
are just not doing enough to instill religious hatred and the apocalyptic
showdown that must certainly herald the end times and second coming of

Even if the real Evangelical fantasy here - the resurrection of the Biblical
Israel - is not presaged by the arrival of a gleaming red heifer, it is
possible that Jesus will come back soon enough - if just to knock some sense
into these people.

-- Andreas
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