Friday, December 17, 2004

being christian in baghdad

Quick, how many Christians live in Iraq?

Wrong, my friend (unless, of course, you were right), there are some 800,000 Iraqi Christians, many from one of the oldest Christian sects in the world. Theologically speaking, most might be more akin to the Eastern Orthodox Church. They're not really even Arabic, but ethnic Assyrians. And they speak a modern-day form of Aramaic, the language spoken in Palestine during the time of Christ!

Until the war, they lived pretty peacefully. But now, after our nation did them the pleasure of turning Iraq into a base for Muslim fanatics, their churches are getting blown to smithereens. Some 10,000 or more have fled to safety in Syria and Turkey. Others are considering a mass exodus from their homes in and around Baghdad to northern Iraq, living amongst the (I'm assuming here) more hospitable Kurds.

Sister Beninia Hermes Shoukwana, a Catholic-Chaldean nun, who is the headmistress at a Baghdad public school, says parents have begun taking their children out of her school because of her faith. "For years Christians and Muslims lived like brothers and sisters," Sister Beninia said. "Today the extremists are trying to separate us." In spite of the fact that many Christians are fleeing or at least contemplating leaving their homes, she has every intention to stay put and dialogue with the local Muslim community, because despite their differences, it's still her community.

"Iraq is like our house. It's our duty to try to clean up our house."

For all the talk about democratic elections next month in Iraq, maybe it's time we admit that we could learn more from the Iraqis then we hav
e to teach. Maybe it's time we shut the hell up and listened for a change. If swords are ever to be turned to plowshares in Baghdad, it won't be because of American military might.

Back here in the States, a Methodist minister by the name of Wayne Lavender realized this, and has launched a four-month peace mission, in which he hopes to visit Iraq and meet with President Bush and VP Cheney (who also happen to be a Methodists). He's taken a leave of absence from his church and set out to raise awareness among Christians about the power of church when it comes to peace and justice.

Even though I can't claim to be a strict pacifist, I can't help but get excited about things like this. It just makes me thin -- what if the U.S. had decided to undertake a four-month peace mission in Iraq before employing military action? What if we had sent 100,000 Red Cross workers and doctors to the border with food, medical supplies and clothing? What if we had raised taxes just a little bit, so that we could fund humanitarian airdrops all across Iraq, along with propaganda pamphlets that spoke of the generosity of the American people? What if we had considered sacrificing something other than the lives of U.S. citizens?

Like I said, I make a horrible pacifist, but I still can't help wondering....what if?

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