While the American and international debate about the necessity to invade Iraq, to punish and change its oppressive regime and to eliminate its potential danger to the outside world carries on, the physical, moral, and historical Iraqi and non-Iraqi cost escalates and the grim consequences taint the globe.
From the very start, statements and sentiments of churches in the Middle East warned against much of what we complain about today. It was obvious then that by going to war, Iraq, the Middle East and the whole world could become a more dangerous place, that the Christian Middle Eastern population would be unfairly made to pay a price, that internal Iraqi conflicts would flare, and that the evil of the past would not necessarily give room to fair and free systems or smooth inter-communal relationships.
Today, there may be many ways of interpreting the situation, and justifying military action and ongoing intervention. However, it is not too difficult to realize that the Iraqi people are suffering radically and that prolonged and multifaceted problems in and because of Iraq will become harder and harder to heal.
Due to the situation described above, as members and leaders of the churches in the Middle East, we have found ourselves caught in the midst of contradictory factors, relationships, convictions and commitments. For example, our Christian ecumenical partnerships keep us close to the churches; our experience of the general benevolence of the American people helps us look up to their culture; but our Christian mission and vocation keep us in solidarity with our neighbors in the region who may be specifically suffering due to the invasion or double standards of foreign , mainly American powers; our prayerful understanding of justice and peace oblige us to take perspective and address or confront all powers near and far and ask for love and reconciliation; but also, our experiences of political and religious oppression in a number of Middle Eastern countries silence us in the face of non-Middle Eastern interference, even injustice.
In spite of all the complications in our situation as churches, here are a number of convictions all churches whether in the USA, the Middle East, or elsewhere should consider if healing is to have a chance in our world:
Admitting that our political understanding is limited and that war is evil:
No community, no government, and no person, has the ability to comprehend the full picture of a situation. We need to grow in humility and confess that we are always limited and flawed in understanding situations. Such humility requires that we turn the easy justification of a war into an ideology. All wars, even those which are possible to justify or politically understand, are evil. When involved in a war, we have no choice but being either victims or victimizers, sometimes both.
Perceiving Others as People:
As churches, we are called to think about others as individual people created in the image of God and as communities that have the same basic needs as all others. In that regard, Iraq is not simply a country, the Middle East is not simply a region, and the Iraqis are not simply a category. All life is human life and countries, nations, including those in unknown, distant and even enemy states are human lives. The language of the church is always a godly language of the people and for the people. Thus, we all need to humanize the news we hear, and personalize the reports we receive.
The Middle Eastern church are suffering:
The churches in the Middle East are facing a double edged sword. The military and political offensive of the contemporary western powers, as led by the USA, has turned the Christians of our lands even more defensive in the face of radical Islam, less than democratic regimes, and economic hardships. "Why should we be held responsible for the actions of countries that are rightly or wrongly known as Christian", or "why should we need twenty-four hour armed guards around our churches" many Iraqi Middle Eastern Christian victims of local retaliation always ask.
The Unity of the Body of Christ implies Partnership:
Our churches, whether in the USA, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine or elsewhere, are part of the Body of Christ, whose head is the Lord Jesus Christ. No church is the head. No church is independent. No church is separated from the other for political, economical, geographical, or even ideological reasons. No church is complete without the others and especially without the head. We are all partners in brokenness, and we are all partners in the reconciling joy of Christ. Our ongoing task is to always look for ways of receiving the spirit from the head and practically and symbolically enlivening the partnerships with other churches so that our ministry to all may be fruitful and pleasing to God. Partnership, especially Christian fellowship, always means “to be with” not simply “to do things for.”
The Rev. Dr. Paul Haidostian is the Chair of the Central Committee of the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East and President of Haigazian University, Beirut, Lebanon.