Politicians in most countries present themselves as people of faith. Many genuinely are, but they present themselves as such not for religious but political reasons. If you are a good Christian/Moslem/Jew/Buddhist, it means your actions are guided by a moral code respected and understood by the population of that country, regardless of what those actions actually are.
Indeed, “political Christianity” is more popular than the Christian faith itself. Most European countries have a major Christian Democrat party, often founded by an actual church, whose policies are theoretically determined by Christian morality, even though this subtly differs between the majority Christian groups in each country (i.e., there is a “Catholic social teaching” and a “Protestant work ethic”). As for the US, it is sufficient to cite the 1980s satirical show “Whoops Apocalypse”, which portrayed college students being recruited to serve their country, without payment, by being nailed to a life size cross on the White House lawn.
So what is the response of Christian political leaders to the executions and forcible conversions of Christians in Mosul, conducted by US-inserted, trained and funded ISIS terrorists? Or look at the ongoing persecutions of Coptic Christians in Egypt? The same West which won’t allow Turkey into the EU because its Islam contradicts the values of Europe’s good Christians is doing precisely nothing to stop the persecution of Christians in other parts of the world.
Why? Is it because “political Christianity” is exactly that … u can only be a “political Christian” if you are assumed to be pro-Western, whatever that means at a given time, and “fit in” with Christians of the West. If you don’t, you don’t count as a Christian, no matter what your faith may be. It is all about political expediency and what use you can play as part of the game, either live or dead.
Such an attitude is fundamentally opposed to the Christian faith, whatever branch of it a believer may belong to. But the new religion of “political Christianity” is using the term “Christian” in the same way Communist states called themselves “democratic”. When other Christians are being used as collateral damage to achieve “political Christian” objectives, our rulers have no right to call themselves Christians of any kind, even fallible ones, as all are.
With us or against us?
There has always been a relationship between Christianity and politics, as we can saw only too clearly in the George W. Bush administration and during US elections. Either it is a state religion, an important institution with a central place in society, or an anti-state religion, which must be persecuted or otherwise marginalised because its teaching is contrary to the prevailing wisdom.
However the various divisions of Christianity have pitted Christian against Christian in political as well as theological terms, and the configuration of these divisions has been determined by economics, not questions of faith, and then exploited. Even political parties are drawn along religion lines and religion is manipulated by the media for political and economic gain.
From the earliest time there were divisions between Christians in, say, Rome and Jerusalem, each arguing for their own practice, as Saint Paul mentions in his epistles. The root of these divisions however was not usually theological but political: Christians in one camp regarded themselves as politically and socially different from those in the other camp.
The first major division of Christianity, following the Council of Chalcedon of 451, pitted accepting subjects of a Christian Empire against independence seekers on its fringes. The Great Schism between Rome and Constantinople, conventionally dated to 1054, coincided with Rome’s transformation from a provincial city to the centre of a Western Empire which rivalled the Eastern one, and claimed primacy in church matters.
The rise of a Germanic political identity was the backdrop to the Catholic-Protestant schism which was in full swing 450 years later. Other churches have been caught up in each of these disputes either by accident or design, on each occasion making a theological choice which changed their political relationships with the countries other Christians lived in, but confirmed the existing political orientation of that country.
Thus there have always been “in” and “out” Christians. Majority Protestant countries are generally wealthier than majority Catholic ones, so Catholics are on the political fringe in countries where they do not form the majority. In such countries practising Catholics generally fall on the political left, in majority Catholic democracies they are usually on the right. Orthodox countries are less wealthy than Catholic, so they have no influence in countries outside the Orthodox world – no one takes the Orthodox opinion into account elsewhere, or even acknowledges their fasting requirements at public functions.
But bottom of the heap are those who didn’t accept Chalcedon. The independent Eastern churches are so far beyond the pale in political terms that they can be categorised as “accidental Christians”, people with whom Western political Christians have nothing else in common, and can’t really be the genuine article because they don’t accept certain theological positions. There may be theological grounds for such a view, but there are no theological grounds for leaving them to be persecuted, or actively supporting such persecution, in the name of the interests of the Christian West.
The current situation might perhaps be best expressed by a comment made by John X, the Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and brother of Bishop Paul Yazigi, one of the bishops kidnapped in Syria last year and still being held hostage. Whilst giving a talk at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge, England, before he became Patriarch he was asked whether Syrian Christians used the ancient Syriac language in their liturgy. He replied, “As faithful sons of the Syrian state we use Arabic, but the (non-Chalcedonian) Jacobites, they use Syriac”. Christians are either “in” or “out” even in a Moslem state.
One in Christ?
Indeed, if political Christians want to talk about faith and morality they would find better examples in Syria and the Near East than practically anywhere else. There is an ancient Syrian Christian tradition that an unmarried man in each family devotes himself to God, living as a monk, whilst at the same time living within the family. If you think the regimented life of monasteries is tough, try being a monk in a completely opposite environment. Very few Christians of any persuasion can claim such levels of devotion and application. Similarly, one of the great ascetic writers is Saint Isaac of Nineveh, whose affiliation with mainstream Orthodoxy is somewhat borderline but is nevertheless recognised by all Orthodox churches as a saint.
But what is happening in the parts of the world where non-Chalcedonian Christians live? On June 20th the monastery of Mar Behnam, which belongs to the Chaldean Church, a formerly non-Chalcedonian and now Eastern-rite Roman Catholic body, was taken over by ISIS militia. ISIS has vandalised and desecrated a number of other Christian sites it has taken over, and this also seems to be what is intended in nearby Mosul, as Christian homes are being marked with the Arabic letter ‘n’, meaning ‘nasarah’ or Christian, before their inhabitants have responded to the ultimatum about forcible conversion – a practice borrowed, of course, from the Nazis.
Mar Behnam is a few miles from Qaraqosh, a mostly Christian city. Chaldean priest Nizar Semaan, who is a cleric exercising pastoral care and not a politician, has pointed out that:
“The international community has recorded a disturbing passivity about what is happening in that area. They should leave behind the vague statements and put in place concrete measures at a humanitarian and political level. For example, the time has come to include these groups in the list of terrorist organisations condemned by international bodies, and above all it is necessary to make public the names of the countries and forces that finance them. Intelligence agencies and the governments of various countries certainly know where the weapons and money that keep these groups going are coming from. If the flow were stopped for a month, these groups would not have any more force”.
Fr. Semaan also pointed out that Sunni Moslem groups themselves may well be interested in isolating the jihadists acting in their name, as their actions are contrary to Islam. Like all such groups, the jihadists really act in the name of those who finance and arm them, as these groups always set conditions for this essential support. As has been pointed out elsewhere in this journal, the ISIS commanders were trained and armed by the US, under various guises, and are now fulfilling US objectives by creating reasons to stay in Iraq and achieve US economic and energy objectives there.
Nor is Iraq an isolated case. The US-backed Libyan government, whose members are described as “al-Qaeda” elsewhere, has bombed churches and tortured and killed Christians of all persuasions to such an extent that Christians can claim to have been better off under international pariah General Gaddafi. In Sudan and Egypt US-funded governments have sponsored or executed the mass displacement of non-Chalcedonian and other Christians, and the desecration of their places of worship, to pursue political objectives which are supposedly guided by Christian values.
In Iran and Lebanon, other areas where non-Chalcedonian Christians have traditionally been in strength, those groups have been funded by the US and its allies to oppose the government of the day, whatever it might be, and then watched the same US sponsor their persecution for running liquor stores or living in the wrong part of the country. Clearly we have not moved on from the days of the Bosnian war, when NATO pilots dropped bombs daubed with the words “Merry Christmas” on Serbian homes to highlight that they were celebrating on the Old Calendar Christmas, January 7th.
New wine in old wineskins
Politicians stress their faith connections because it wins votes. No one campaigns on the basis that they have no moral values except doing what they want. Even Giulio Andreotti, the man Margaret Thatcher described as “having an aversion to principle” long after the Italian people had drawn the same conclusion, continued to be a Christian Democrat even when his actions had nothing to do with that party’s principles, and continued being supported for that reason.
We may say that only those who adopt our version of Christianity are genuine Christians. But that is a theological position rather than a humanitarian one, as all self-proclaimed Christians and the Gospels themselves state. If the perceived interests of “political Christianity” contradict those of Christians themselves those who further them are not acting in the name of Christ but taking up arms against Him. As ever, the human cost never comes into this equation.
A number of prominent Christians, including clergymen, are also Freemasons. Freemasons worship a deity called Jah-Bul-On, a combination of three pagan gods. If you do that, you no longer worship the Christian God and are not a Christian. Maybe this explains what “political Christianity” is really trying to achieve.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs together with Dutch National, On Special Assignment, Marcel Marie Brandsma, Holland exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.