The dislocation of Christians and other religious minorities from Iraq continues to unfold. The reli-gious landscape of the Middle East is, it seems, shifting sands. We expect constant movement if religions are evangelistic even as we might deplore some of the methods used to change the religious landscape. But this changing landscape happens all over the world and throughout his-tory. Study the history of Turkey or the Armenian or Coptic churches and you will also find much movement and changes of fortune over the centuries. Pick up a book on the many missionary endeavours of recent centuries and again you will find changing religious land-scapes aplenty. Talk a walk in the UK and you don’t need to go very far to sense the religious past isn’t the same as the religious present.
Religions are associated with times and places. Judaism is older than Christianity and these two religions are much older than Islam. We associate Mormons with the USA and Shinto with Japan. I read recently that one reason the media simply doesn’t understand a lot of the dynamics of world events is the general ignorance of the media regard-ing religion. (And yes, that’s a plug for teaching religious studies!) I was surprised to read that often journalists see Christianity as a religion of ‘the West’ and have no concept of its Middle Eastern origins and presence.
We do understand the sad reality that it is easier for rulers and social cohesion if everyone is the same. Like prefers like. The old ‘cuius region, eius religio’ (whose realm, his religion) has many forms these days. (Even in our congregations we’d prefer it if the new folk were like us!) So social dynamics will always be in flux but there is a momentum to conformity and similarity.
But it’s horrible to flee your home. I hope that is something we all agree. To be a refugee is not a choice one wants to make but is one people are forced to make. I can’t imagine any justification for making people refugees. It strikes me as always wrong.
However Christians are always homeless. That is why God comes to us no matter our location. Christians don’t require a location or shrine or temple to be Christian. Yes, the geography should-n’t be destroyed – it speaks of God’s faithfulness to his people – but it is not essential to the Faith. But but but we still don’t want to flee and we want all people to be safe in their homes!
The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Iraq, Patriarch Sako, this week wrote this Prayer for Peace: Lord, the plight of our country is deep and the suffering of Christians is severe and frightening.
Therefore, we ask you, Lord, to spare our lives, and to grant us patience, and courage to continue our witness of Christian values with trust and hope. Lord, peace is the foundation of life. Grant us the peace and stability that will enable us to live with each other without fear and anxi-ety, and with dignity and joy. Glory be to you forever.
May we say ‘Amen’ … and more.