The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has definitely made a name for themselves. In some ways, their passion and vision has to be applauded, at least in the same way that American, German, and Japanese generals and admirals were able to “admire” each other’s talents. The real problem for the global Christian community is what exactly ISIS has been destroying.
Mesopotamia was so vital to early Christians because it was firmly part of the ancient civilized world, connected to the Mediterranean by flourishing trade routes, while at the same time, it usually lay beyond the Roman Empire’s political power.
When they faced persecution in Syria or Palestine, early Christians tended to move east, where they joined the ancient Jewish communities based in Babylon. These churches were rooted in the oldest traditions of the apostolic church. Throughout their history, they used Syriac, which is close to Jesus’ language of Aramaic, and they followed Yeshua, not Jesus.
Meanwhile, the collapse of trade and commerce crippled cities, leaving the world much poorer and more vulnerable. A hungry and desperate society looked for scapegoats. Europe’s Christians turned on Jews, killing and expelling hundreds of thousands; in Mesopotamia and elsewhere, Muslims inflicted a similar fate upon their Christian neighbors.
Christian communities were uprooted or wiped out across the Middle East, and ceased to exist in most of Central Asia. Churches suffered mass closure or destruction, including at such ancient centers as Erbil, Mosul, and Baghdad. Bishops and clergy were tortured and imprisoned.
(Source: Recovering Church History: Exile from Babylon, Christianity Today)
When we see articles describing the savage nature of ISIS and their brute, systematic killing of Christians (Warning: images are extremely graphic and horrifying), we know that this isn’t just the oppression of a minority group… this is the extinction, or near extinction, of one of the cornerstones of the Christian church. The place that believers used to call a safe-haven from the Assyrians and Palestinians and then a safe-haven from the Romans has now become a captive killing ground to ISIS.
It is ironic that among the savagery, the one group that has come to defend the Christians is the Kurdish minorities of Northern Iraq and Syria. These people, while holding theological differences, know what it is to be oppressed and are so moved that they are now helping a Christianity minority that, in some ways, was responsible for helping establish Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party that oppressed the Kurds for so many decades.
It’s easy to hear about violence in the Middle East and treat it with a sense of casual fatigue. “More fighting in Iraq? Really? Oh well.” However, we as a unified body in Christ should feel heartbreak and sorrow for these ancient Christians. It should put into perspective exactly how hostile of a world we truly live in and how casually much of the world treats the oppression of any people, even those of the Christian faith. The true blessing of living in Western culture is that we are geographically and politically protected from this variety of oppression. Just as Paul encouraged the early church of Corinth to act even more boldly in their faith by citing the passion and spirit of the less fortunate churches in Macedonia (2 Cor. 9), we too should be emboldened to act as boldly, and even ‘radically’, as many of our Christian brothers and sisters who are able to maintain their faith even in the face of a massive terrorist army bent on wiping them off the face of the earth.