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Running for Their Lives: Christians in the Middle East

"As the last of Baghdad's and Mosul's Christian population packs up their cares and flees for their lives," writes international religious freedom expert Nina Shea, people are finally taking notice.

Before the Iraq war began, Christians comprised about 5 percent of the population of Iraq. Since then more than half have fled the country. And with last fall's Islamic terrorist raid on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad that left 59 dead, many who are still there are planning to run for their lives as well.

The New York Times reported that an Iraqi army officer told a Christian living in hiding, "We cannot protect you."

"Cannot," or "will not"?

What is especially disturbing is that what is happening in Iraq is beginning to happen across the Middle East. And the implications for Middle Eastern Christians and the strategic interests of the United States and the West could not be more serious.

You probably read about the vicious New Year's attack on Egyptian Christians. Radical Muslims bombed the Coptic Church of the Two Saints as worshippers left a midnight New Year's service.

Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute noted that the bombing highlights the Egyptian government's failure to protect its Christians, some 10 percent of the country's population." In fact, in Egypt, "It is extremely rare for anyone to be punished for sectarian violence against ... Christians."

And in Turkey the church is being slowly suffocated. According to the 2010 report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Turkish government restrictions "effectively deny non-Muslim communities the right to own and maintain property, train religious clergy, obtain and renew visas for religious personnel ... [or] offer religious education." The result is predictable: the Turkish church is vanishing.

Even in formerly tolerant Muslim countries, the tide is turning against Christians. Morocco recently started deporting foreign Christian aid workers and educators. Nina Shea suspects that the government is feeling pressure from Islamic extremists.

But it's time for the Middle East to feel a little pressure from the United States. And we have plenty of leverage. We've propped up the Iraqi government. Egypt is second only to Israel as a recipient of U.S. aid. And Turkey has received $26.5 billion in economic and military aid over the years. All the while, Christianity is being snuffed out.

This has got to stop. And the U.S. government has the power to stop it. But I fear the government hasn't contemplated the strategic consequences of the oil-rich Middle East emptied of Christians, and Christian influence.

Just last week Hillary Clinton spoke in Qatar about the dangers of extremism and the importance of reforming Middle Eastern governments and economies. But she totally failed to mention the favorite targets of extremism — Christians, the very people who are critical for the kinds of reforms she advocates. This is shocking.

Strategic concerns aside, there's another aspect of the growing wave of persecution against Christians. The Bible, remember, is replete with warnings of judgment upon those who persecute God's people or aid and abet that persecution. God will not be mocked in the Middle East.  Nor will He in Washington, D.C.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: January 20, 2011

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