I recently came across a short article by Dr Najib George Awad which castigated some of the patriarchs who had participated in an ecumenical meeting called for by Pope Francis.
In his article, Dr Awad who is associate professor of Christian theology at Hartford Seminary in the USA, criticised the Orthodox and Catholic patriarchs for their unstinting support of the Syrian regime
These church leaders had claimed that Syria is governed by a pluralistic secular system and that the only alternative would be an extremist Islamist regime. Contrary to the opinions of the Pope himself, they had also added that Syrians are not ready to live in a democracy - almost as if they could only live under protectionist and oppressive regimes that controlled their every movement and demanded unquestioning fealty.
The article called upon readers to understand the human suffering of the Syrian people over long decades and more particularly of the refugees since 2011 who had lost much of their dignity. The article reminded those leaders that a servant of Christ should understand human suffering let alone express empathy for the millions of refugees and displaced human beings in Syria and the broader Levant rather that evince sympathy for regimes or defend them in closed circles in order to ensure their own security and well-being.
I recalled this powerful article when I read how the Home Office has not admitted a single Christian among the 1,112 Syrian refugees resettled in the UK in the first three months of 2018.
In fact, the four Christians out of 1,358 Syrian refugees recommended initially by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), for resettlement in the UK had been rejected by the Home Office, and only Muslim refugees from the war-torn country were granted resettlement rights.
The information came to light following a freedom of information request by the Barnabas Fund - a charity that supports persecuted Christians.
This information saddened me since I wish Christians to be resettled in case they are facing any persecution in Syria or anywhere else in the region. However, it also saddened me for another reason. And it made me wonder whether we Christians are chauvinistic and narrow-minded when it comes to our faith.
Perhaps I interpret our faith somewhat differently as I try to follow the example of Jesus’ own inclusive ministry let alone his Sermon on the Mount. But instead of complaining how few Christian Syrians the UK has taken in, I would rather complain vociferously about how few Syrians overall we have taken in - no matter whether they are Christians, Sunnis, Shias, Druze or members of other communities who seek our assistance!
Instead of complaining how few Christian Syrians the UK has taken in, I would rather complain vociferously about how few Syrians overall we have taken in
Of course, if the decision by the Home Office were discriminatory against Christians, I would be the first person to table my objections. Or if Christians as a numerical minority in Syria faced persecution far more than others, I would also shout out from the rooftops and opinion pages. But simply to look out for the Christians in Syria or Iraq (or elsewhere) and forget other communities that are facing critical - at times life-threatening - challenges to their lives, livelihoods and properties is wrong too.
For an Armenian Christian like me who is a product of the genocide of 1915, imperfect as I am and struggling daily with my faith as I do, tribalism is not a yardstick of my faith. In fact, to care solely about Christians and ignore the neighbour who is not like me is an utter contradiction of the Gospel.
To care solely about Christians and ignore the neighbour who is not like me is an utter contradiction of the Gospel.
Syria’s population of 22 million have been going through harrowing experiences over the past seven years. Half of them are refugees and internally-displaced, and many of them are facing blind alleys in their lives. Harping on about Christians alone might well come back to haunt those Christians still in Syria - in places like Damascus, Aleppo or Der Zor - when they might one day be asked to account for the behaviour of their brothers and sisters worldwide.
Let me boldly pin my colours to the mast. If Christian organisations or individuals wish to speak out solely about the persecution of Christians, whether by Islamist groups or by regimes, in a neighbourhood of the world that I know quite well, then I try to understand with a heavy heart their personal choices or ethnocentric viewpoints. But I cannot accept that those same people use my faith - our common faith - as a fig leaf for ignorance or even bigotry.
Otherwise, I would sadly opine that we are truly reading two different versions of the Gospel.
Dr Harry Hagopian is an International lawyer. He and Premier's Marcus Jones cover the Middle East-North Africa-Gulf regions in their monthly programme Middle East Matters. His website is epektasis.net