The following is an excerpt of an interview with Canon Andrew White, the chaplain of St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad:
INTERVIEWER: Finally, Father, can you conceive of a moment where you might advise your own congregation to quit Iraq, a day when perhaps there’ll be no Christians left in the country at all.
CANON ANDREW: I have always said to our people, “I’m not going to leave you. Don’t you leave me.” Now I can’t say that any longer. If I tell them not to leave, I’m saying, “You have got to be prepared to die for your faith.” And that is what is happening. We have had people’s heads chopped off. We are having people convert. We are even having children slaughtered and cut in half.
And these fine words from “Archbishop Cranmer,” who complains that Western governments too often prefer words to action when it comes to protecting Christians (although U.S. intervention to save the Yazidis is still welcome):
But the persecution of Christians throughout history has ultimately failed because it has tended to separate the wheat from the chaff and caused growth. Eusebius’ account of the martyrdom of Polycarp tells us: “When one governor in Asia Minor in the second century began persecuting the Christians, the entire Christian population of the region paraded before his house as a manifesto of their faith.” The suffering of some Christians spurred others to more faithful living. Martyrs were perceived as having heroic qualities, and many peasants, onlookers, soldiers and members of the nobility became Christians through their witness. Tertullian observed: “The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.” Tacitus agreed, after the persecutions of Nero, that “in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition broke out afresh, not only in Judaea… but even in Rome”.
The blood of Christians is seed.
Muslims loyal to the Islamic State will do what they believe they have been called by their prophet to do. Presidents and prime ministers will try to bomb them to hell. But the Living God will strengthen His people to be courageous and fearless. And persecution is nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, it is one of the marks of true gospel ministry and discipleship. Sharing in the sufferings of Christ translates into sharing a future glory. As St Peter says, it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God: “But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled” (1Pt 3:14).
Canon Andrew White suffers with his people because Christ suffered for him, leaving us an example, that we should follow in His steps and in his steps. He is a bold and gracious witness to the whole world.
I prayed for the safety of Christians and Yazidis in Iraq last Sunday and that the American intervention there will play a role in bringing peace with justice. I hope you’ll join me in this prayer. I’m reminded of the words from this great hymn:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!