Middle East

Image via RNS/World Relief/Amanda Wingers

World Relief, a Christian humanitarian group, resettled twice as many refugees to the U.S. in September as it had in August, an increase that foretells a more robust resettlement pace for the nation in general.

The evangelical nonprofit — one of the nine groups entrusted by the federal government to resettle refugees — found homes for approximately 1,400 people in September. That’s about 14 percent of the total refugees it resettled in the past year.

Rose Marie Berger 06-07-2016
Elena Dijour / Shutterstock

Elena Dijour / Shutterstock

THE BASILICA OF St. Bartholomew on the Island in Rome holds the bones of the apostle St. Bartholomew, who delivered the gospel of Matthew to India, southern Arabia, and Syria. Spreading the seditious good news eventually got him killed—crucified upside down in Baku, capital of modern Azerbaijan. Bartholomew proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus until the soldiers cut off his head.

In 1999, this church nestled on an island in the Tiber River was dedicated to modern Christian martyrs. Entering its cool interior, one can walk a global Via Dolorosa—each side altar is dedicated to parts of the world where Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox have been killed for their faith.

The relics include a letter from Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian farmer beheaded for refusing to serve in Hitler’s army, and the missal of Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero left on the altar when he was assassinated during Mass in 1980.

Christians today fall out over Christian martyrs and persecution in a right/left divide. We fight about numbers. In 2015, Christian Freedom International released an often repeated statistic suggesting that Christians are “martyred for their faith every five minutes.” This has been widely debunked. But it raises questions about definitions, methodologies, and theological perspectives.

Thomas Schirrmacher directs the International Institute for Religious Freedom, which runs a research project with several universities to measure Christian persecution. He estimates that there are 7,000 to 8,000 Christian martyrs each year, a number that roughly matches the Open Doors World Watch List, which reported 7,106 Christians killed in 2015, an increase over previous years and far less than one Christian every five minutes.


For Immediate Release:        

April 4, 2016                          


Michael Mershon / Sojourners   mmershon@sojo.net

Richelle Hollingshead / RLC       richelle@redletterchristians.org


David Cortright 03-22-2016
iamshutter / Shutterstock

iamshutter / Shutterstock

ADD LIBYA TO the growing list of countries where the United States is conducting military operations in the name of fighting terrorism.

In February, a U.S. airstrike in the town of Sabratha in western Libya killed more than 40 people. The intended target was said to be Noureddine Chouchane, a senior commander of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) from nearby Tunisia, but there has been no independent confirmation that he was at the site. Among those killed in the attack were two Serbian embassy staff who were being held hostage by ISIS.

Since the overthrow of the Gadhafi regime in 2011, Libya has been engulfed by chaos. There are now two competing governments—one in the eastern city of Tobruk (recognized by the United Nations) and the other in Tripoli—neither with much power or public support. Real power in the country is in the hands of hundreds of militia groups that rule local areas and often support rival government factions. Many of the militias oppose the presence of foreign forces, and the Tripoli-based government vigorously criticized the U.S. attack on Sabratha.

Pentagon commanders believe that bombing and commando operations can reduce the terrorist threat in Libya, but the experience of military intervention in other countries during the past 14 years suggests otherwise. U.S. military attacks have not brought stability and peace to Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, or Syria. Why do we think they will solve the problems now in Libya?

The United States fought a major war in Iraq to suppress al Qaeda, but that organization morphed into the even-more-dangerous menace of ISIS. The U.S. has conducted more than 10,000 military strikes against extremist targets in Syria and Iraq during the past 18 months, but the threat from ISIS in the region remains formidable and is now spreading to Libya.

Kristen Lundquist 07-15-2015
Brain Illustration

Brain illustration, Maxim Gaigul / Shutterstock.com

National Minority Mental Health Awareness month is upon us in the U.S., and never has the scope and impact of mental health issues threatened to affect the long-term security of our country and world than now.

This year, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 10.8 million people are affected by the conflict in Syria, with 4 million refugees having fled the country. This is the largest refugee population coming out of any one conflict in over a generation. Similarly, in early 2015, UNHCR estimated that the total population of concern, due to the conflict in Iraq, exceeded 3 million people. Millions of people have experienced the unimaginable trauma of political and religious conflict and persecution in the Middle East, especially women, whom the Iraqi Ministry of Health determined were disproportionately affected by mental health illness due to the recent conflict. The scale and depth of the trauma demands a multi-faith, multi-sector, multi-discipline response, before it is too late.

Photo via Debbie Hill / Catholic News Service / RNS

A nun holds up a scarf that reads “Palestine” in Bethlehem, West Bank. Photo via Debbie Hill / Catholic News Service / RNS

Pope Francis will bestow sainthood on two Palestinian nuns on May 17, a move that’s being seen as giving hope to the conflict-wracked Middle East and shining the spotlight on the plight of Christians in the region.

Sisters Maria Baouardy and Mary Alphonsine Danil Ghattas are due to be canonized by the pontiff along with two other 19th-century nuns, Sister Jeanne Emilie de Villeneuve, from France, and Italian Sister Maria Cristina dell’Immacolata.

The coming canonizations have been described by the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, as a “sign of hope” for the region.

Photo via REUTERS / Hosam Katan / RNS

A man reacts to a bomb in Aleppo’s al-Fardous district on April 29, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Hosam Katan / RNS

Just a few decades ago, Aleppo was home to about 170,000 Catholics, about a third of the city’s population. Since the war broke out, Jeanbart has seen a third of his flock reduced by death, dislocation, and emigration while Aleppo’s Muslim population has soared.

The threat of annihilation is constant, as Aleppo has become the main battleground between the government forces of President Bashar Assad and a motley assortment of rebels who include growing numbers of fighters affiliated with the fundamentalist terrorism of the Islamic State group.

Jeffrey Salkin 04-08-2015
Photo via REUTERS / Noor Khamis / RNS

A woman is escorted to the wards after hiding for three days at her university in Garissa. Photo via REUTERS / Noor Khamis / RNS

Last week, al-Shabab militants, aligned with al-Qaida, stormed the campus of Garissa University College in Kenya, asking students about their religion. They spared the lives of Muslims and killed the Christians. By the time the mayhem was over, almost 150 students lay dead.

A spokesmen for the terrorists boasted: “There are many dead bodies of Christians inside the building. We are also holding many Christians alive.”

This is not the first time that this has happened in Kenya. In 2013, at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, 67 people were killed in cold blood. Muslims were allowed to go free.

The dead were all Christians.

In Libya in February, Islamic State militants beheaded 21 men on the beach. Their blood freely flowed into the Mediterranean Sea.

The victims were all Coptic Christians.

The Middle East contains proud remnants of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Their churches have been in flames. ISIS has demanded that the Christians convert to Islam, pay extra taxes or be killed. In Syria in February, ISIS militants abducted scores of Assyrian Christians.

Just because they are Christian.

Joe Nagle 04-01-2015

A Threat to Peace 

Ryan Beiler 02-04-2015

Evangelicals are no longer automatically taking a one-sided approach to conflict in the Middle East—and with that change comes hope for a troubled region. 

Jim Wallis 02-03-2015

There is no "symmetry" in the violence of the Middle East today. 


Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler


As Christians concerned about peace and justice, this time of crisis in the Middle East provides us an opportunity to return to our principles, the “springs of living waters” for people of faith:

Adam Ericksen 09-24-2014
ISIS flag in target scope, Crystal Eye Studio / Shutterstock.com

ISIS flag in target scope, Crystal Eye Studio / Shutterstock.com

Here at Sojourners we have written a lot about nonviolence. We take seriously the words of Jesus that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We believe that violence begets violence, or as Jesus put it, “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Personally, I take seriously the words of René Girard, the founder of mimetic theory, that we are now “confronted with a perfectly straightforward and even scientifically calculable choice between total destruction and the total renunciation of violence.”

Many Christians look to the Bible to justify divinely sanctioned violence against our enemies. Excuse me for stating the obvious, but Christians are not Biblians. We are Christians. As Christians, we should be putting Jesus first. Not Deuteronomy. Not Joshua. Not Judges. Not David. Not Solomon. Not Peter. Not Paul. Not the Bible.

Jesus first.

And Jesus calls us to nonviolence. As one of the early Christians stated, the way of Jesus, the way of nonviolent love that embraces our enemies, is the way of the cross and the world thinks that way is foolish.

We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

©EC/ECHO/Cyprien Fabre

Kailahun, Sierra Leone. Center of Ebola outbreak. ©EC/ECHO/Cyprien Fabre

The headlines and talk shows are dominated by the response ISIS. To be clear, this group readily uses fanatical and brutal actions to achieve its radically exclusive vision. The images they skillfully project are like violent, X-rated video games made real. No wonder that many react to this horror with chills going down their spines. But there is something that worries me more: the ongoing Ebola crisis.

How did ISIS come about? Sure, there’s huge complexity. Yet, we know that ISIS never would have emerged without, first of all, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the ensuing, devastating war that left that nation in physical, political, and psychological shambles. Second, the sectarian, Shia-dominated regime, which emerged as the final U.S. ground troops left, further radicalized Sunni extremists. These factors were the breeding grounds for black-clothed fanatics ready to cut down any who differ with their identity, even if the majority of its victims are Muslims.

ISIS’s greatest recruiting tool is continued and renewed U.S. and Western military intervention in the Middle East. That, of course, is what their brutal actions are attempting to provoke. The moral callousness of this strategy inspires the fear which they desire and welcome.

However, ISIS can and will be contained. The neighboring regimes in the region are all deeply threatened by ISIS. In the end, they will be compelled to combat and resist ISIS the more these fanatics move out of the desert and toward others’ homelands. It will be bloody, but eventually other nation states and threatened sectarian groups, representing for the most part more mainstream and globally dominant expressions of Islam, will contain and defeat ISIS. The necessity and means of outside military assistance from the West and elsewhere is highly debatable, and at the end of the day, I don’t believe this will be the decisive factor.

Presbyterian Church (USA) voted June 20 to divest from 3 American companies. RNS photo courtesy Danny Bolin via PC(USA)

The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted Friday to divest church funds from three American companies it cited for profiting from the oppression of Palestinians within Israel’s occupied territories.

The 310-303 vote of the church’s General Assembly in Detroit marks a victory for divestment supporters both within and without the 1.8 million-member PCUSA, now the largest American church to embrace divestment as a strategy to pressure Israel to return its illegally held lands.

The divestment resolution targets companies that divestment supporters say supply electronic and earth-moving equipment that help Israel violate Palestinian rights. Presbyterians in support of the resolution described it as a long overdue stand on behalf of Palestinians suffering under the occupation, which began in 1967 when Israel pushed back attacks from neighboring countries.

The issue has roiled the church for the last decade, and during a more than three-hour debate, many lamented the divisiveness and noted how many around the world — in the U.S., Israel, and the Palestinian territories – would be watching.

Jon Huckins 06-18-2014
kak2s and ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com

We often fail to look at the Middle East's inhabitants as humans loved by Jesus. kak2s and ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com

Through my work with The Global Immersion Project, I have spent a significant amount of time over the years cultivating relationships among both Israelis and Palestinians as we partner together in cultivating a narrative of reconciliation. As is often the case when we approach a people or place with the hopes of being/bringing the needed change, I have been the one most changed by my friends and colleagues who reside in the Middle East. Behind so many of the subconscious stereotypes and prejudices I had acquired earlier in my life I began to experience the richness of friendship and brotherhood among people I had previously “known” only through the latest sound bite.

Something I have learned in the classroom of real life relationships with Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the Holy Land is that our theology in the West has direct implications for the everyday lives of those in the Middle East. Often ignoring the remarkable movements of peacemaking, reconciliation, and collaboration that are sprouting like mustard seeds of hope across the Holy Land, we often choose only to amplify of the violence, discord, and disintegration of the region.

General Audience with Pope Francis. Via Flickr © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

Pope Francis dived into the Middle East peace process on Sunday, urging the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to act with courage and end what he called the “spiral of hatred and violence” during a historic prayer meeting at the Vatican.

Before the solemn ceremony, Israeli President Shimon Peres and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, warmly embraced and joked together inside the pope’s Santa Marta residence as a smiling Francis looked on.

The Middle East leaders were joined by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the world’s Eastern Orthodox Christians, and proceeded to the Vatican gardens for a tightly orchestrated 90-minute ceremony that was notable for the absence of any religious symbols.

Earlier, in St. Peter’s Square, a handful of protesters waved Palestinian flags in a bid to send a stronger political message to what the Vatican previously described as a “pause from politics.”

Pope Francis greets people during a meeting on Nov. 9, 2013. Photo by Alessia Giuliani, courtesy Catholic News Service.

Pope Francis will be accompanied on his first visit to the Middle East by Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Muslim leader Omar Abboud — two friends from Buenos Aires.

It is the first time a pope has made an official visit accompanied by members of other faiths, and it underscores the interfaith focus of Francis’ trip to the Holy Land, the Vatican said Thursday.

“This dimension of interreligious dialogue has great significance,” the Vatican’s official spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told the media.

The group include civic society leaders and includes Robert George of Princeton University, Jim Wallis of Sojourners, George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, journalist Kirsten Powers, George Marlin, chair of Aid to the Church in Need-USA, Lynne Hybels of Global Engagement of the Willow Creek Church and Mark Tooley, President, Institute on Religion and Democracy.
Signers of the statement include Cardinal Donald Wuerl, National Association of Evangelicals’ chair Leith Anderson, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church, Secretary General Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe of the United Methodists, and Armenian Orthodox Archbishop Oshagan Cholayan. Among lay civic leaders, signers include Robert George of Princeton University, Jim Wallis of Sojourners, George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, journalist Kirsten Powers, George Marlin, chair of Aid to the Church in Need-USA, and Lynne Hybels of Global Engagement of the Willow Creek Church.