Pledge of Solidarity for Egyptian, Iraqi, and Syrian Christians
METROPOLITAN METHODIOS AND AMERICAN CHRISTIAN LEADERS PLEDGE TO STAND IN SOLIDARITY
WITH IMPERILED CHRISTIAN AND OTHER RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES IN EGYPT, SYRIA AND IRAQ
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), co-chairs of the bipartisan Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus, hosted a press conference on Wednesday, May 7 on Capitol Hill featuring several prominent American Christian leaders who released a Pledge of Solidarity & Call to Action on behalf of Christians and other religious communities in Egypt, Iraq and Syria who are increasingly threatened in the lands they have inhabited for centuries.
The Pledge, which is signed by roughly 150 American Christian leaders from across ecumenical lines (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox), representing a variety of sectors including, clergy, authors, seminary and university presidents and parachurch heads among others, is a galvanizing call to action in response to the crisis facing these ancient faith communities.
The Pledge, in part, says: “Now facing an existential threat to their presence in the lands where Christianity has its roots, the Churches in the Middle East fear they have been largely ignored by their coreligionists in the West… American religious leaders need to pray and speak with greater urgency about this human rights crisis.”
Among the foreign policy recommendations contained in the Pledge is the appointment of a high-level Special Envoy on Middle East Religious Minorities. Wolf and Eshoo sponsored legislation to this effect which overwhelmingly passed the House last year and is presently languishing in the Senate.
In addition to the Caucus co-chairs, and Metropolitan Methodios other speakers included (in alphabetical order):
Dr. Leith Anderson, President, National Association of Evangelicals
Archbishop Oshagan Cholayan, Armenian Apostolic Church of America
Dr. Jerry Johnson, President and CEO, National Religious Broadcasters
Jim Liske, President and CEO, Prison Fellowship Ministries
George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board, Aid to the Church in Need-USA
Johnnie Moore, Senior Vice President, Liberty University
Dr. Russell D. Moore, President, Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (statement read by Barrett Duke)
Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou, Professor of Conflict Resolution, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad (Statement will be read by Joseph Kassab, Founder and President, Iraqi Christians Advocacy and Empowerment Institute)
Nina Shea, Director and Senior Scholar, Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom
Rev. Canon Dr. Andrew White, Chaplain, St. George Anglican Church, Baghdad
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington
Remarks By Metropolitan Methodios:
One of the fundamental teachings of Christianity according to the Book of Genesis, is that God created humanity in His image. Ancient witnesses have interpreted this to suggest that human beings possess qualities that reflect God’s very existence. This is especially true with regard to human freedom. Freedom is that which distinguishes humanity from the rest of the created order, and because of our freedom, our actions represent far more than a primitive urge to survive. Because of freedom, we rejoice when our brothers and sisters succeed, and empathize with and care for them when they suffer.
Today, we have come together—clergy and laity, men and women, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant Christians—to exercise our freedom and bear witness to the plight of Christians living in the Middle East, the land of Christianity's birthplace. For two millennia, Christians in this region have professed love for and lived in peaceful coexistence with their neighbors—regardless of faith, ethnicity or race. We cannot turn our backs and ignore the current situation. We must deplore the wanton destruction of Christian churches, monasteries, convents, orphanages, and hospitals throughout the Middle East and all unspeakable acts of terror. We are all members of one family bound by our commitment to Jesus Christ, and as such, when one member of the family suffers, the entire family suffers. (1 Cor. 12-26).
While the majority of the speakers will focus their attention particularly on Iraq, Syria and Egypt, permit me to discuss the condition of those members of our Christian family in Turkey who have endured a similar fate living as they do in a country where they constantly struggle for basic human rights, i.e. equality, religious freedom, safety and security.
The issue of Christians in Turkey is relevant to our conversation today precisely because the Christian experience in Iraq, Syria and Egypt has been the experience of Christians in Turkey for almost a full century---indeed, since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. Let us consider and reflect upon a few facts:
- When the Ottoman Empire entered WWI in late 1914, its Christian population numbered 4.5 million. This included Armenian as well as Greek, and Assyrian Christians. By 1923, however, that number had fallen to 250,000.
- Today, out of Turkey’s total population of 79 million, Christians amount to a tiny fraction----a little over 1/10th of 1 percent. Specifically, in the mid-1950s, there were over 100,000 Greek Orthodox faithful living in Turkey. Today there is only 1,700-2,000. These figures do not include the millions of Armenian, Greek and Assyrian victims of the genocide of Smyrna and Asia Minor.
It is a painful fact that in the short, 90-year history of the Turkish Republic, Christianity is nearing extinction. The plight of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox community of Turkey is iconic for all Christians in Turkey and, tragically, for our brothers and sisters in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria. There, a massive pattern of persecution and oppression is directed against all Christians who are experiencing nothing less than a human rights disaster of epic proportions.
In Turkey, we Greek Orthodox have suffered and continue to suffer interference in the free governance of our Church. We are not free to train our clergy because the Theological School of Halki, which served as the main training ground for Orthodox Christians in the region, and represented a center of ecumenical engagement between Orthodox Christianity and other confessions of faith, remains closed by the government of Turkey for more than 43 years. Orthodox Christians suffer economic disenfranchisement, as our individual and communal properties (schools, cultural societies, homes, churches) have been confiscated and destroyed by the state. There exist restrictions on our rights to work in certain professions, as well as crushing discriminatory tax burdens that have made it a struggle to sustain our livelihood. We have experienced the conversion of our churches into mosques, such as the church of the Hagia Sophia in Nicaea, the church of Hagia Sophia in Trabzon, and threats now by the Turkish Prime Minister and his government to convert the great Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, one of Christianity's most glorious places of worship and a world treasure precious to all faiths, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, into a mosque.
These measures have caused great pain and sadness for all Christians in Turkey, and have led Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, to express again and again, his hope for love, peace, and freedom to prevail for all peoples in the region, peoples of every faith tradition, believers and unbelievers, for all human beings.
We are called to reflect the love and mercy of Jesus Christ and to speak the truth in love with the same zeal as our Lord. My friends, it is impossible to call ourselves “Christians” if we choose to remain idle observers to the injustices occurring in the ancient homelands of Christianity. How can we consider ourselves disciples of the Lord if we ignore the violence and anarchy endured by our brethren? How can we think of ourselves as Christian leaders knowing that the two Orthodox Archbishops, Paul and John, kidnapped in Aleppo, Syria over a year ago are still held captive? If we wish to pledge our solidarity with our Christian brethren in Iraq, Syria and Egypt, then we must insist that the leaders of these countries meet their responsibilities to treat all their citizens (as individuals) equally before the law, and guarantee their safety and security.
Until such time as a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria, Iraq and Egypt is reached, may we remain prayerfully vigilant and, exercising our freedom, may we give voice to the souls of those who have been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained (Rev. 6: 9).
Below is a thank you letter received by Metropolitan Methodios from Congressman Frank R. Wolf: