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http://www.antiwar.com/orig/deliso76.html America's 'Conservative' Christians - and the Middle East's by Christopher Deliso May 8, 2003 As the second phase of the Iraqi occupation unfolds, pro-Israel extremists are teaming up with America's evangelical Christians, in the hopes of an ethnically "cleansed" Israel. This is just one of the logical outcomes of Washington's warmongering in the Middle East. Since the election of George W. Bush in 2000, the world has gaped, in horrified fascination at an administration based on good and evil, righteous war, and the fundamental duty to proselytize. Behind these ideas are America's powerful evangelical Christians - the self-professed representatives of "conservative" Christianity. However, this label is tenuous at best. To be sure, the evangelicals represent a certain kind of conservatism - the intolerant, prudish, and anti-scientific variety. As we will see, however, their fundamental claim to the conservative throne is totally bogus, compared to the real conservative Christians - who inhabit the very countries Washington bombs, or would like to bomb - Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt. All of these countries have age-old Christian communities that speak the original languages and follow the original rites of Jesus' early followers. Some Dangers of Fundamentalism It would be one thing if the evangelicals would just live out their miserable lives and leave well enough alone. If someone wants to believe in creationism, or an upcoming photo op with the Good Lord Jesus Christ - or even hand-to-hand combat with an oozing, sulphurous Beelzebub - well, that's their business. However, in seeking to forcibly impose a specific belief system on everyone else, America's evangelical Christians display cultural intolerance and fascism. Like Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Scientologists, they exhibit traits of indoctrinating, quasi-spiritual cults. At their worst, they tend to spit the same venom as any Islamic, Jewish, Hindu or other fundamentalist groups. Ironically, though these groups inevitably profess the deepest of mutual hatreds, they actually have a lot in common. Indeed, the rest of us would be better off if they - and all the other religious nutballs out there - were thrown together into some empty, high-walled desert where they could proselytize and condemn to their hearts' content. A Unique Crusade As Muslims have long feared, a modern-day "purifying" crusade is being demanded by evangelical groups who, under the pious President Bush, are enjoying unprecedented power. Since 9/11, Secretary of State Colin Powell's repeated statements about religious tolerance have been continually undermined by the hateful words of "spiritual" leaders such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Yet not only does their crusade seek to rid the world of Islam, it may also seek to rid the world of Christianity - that is, all all denominations besides evangelical Americans. On to Iraq! The sinister mission is well underway in Iraq, reports the Independent: ".evangelical charities with an overt hostility to Islam are preparing to distribute food, water, medicine and building materials in Iraq, all in the name of Jesus. One of these (Samaritan's Purse) is run by Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham, who declared after 9/11 that Islam was "a very evil and wicked religion." Another is the Southern Baptist Convention, whose former president once described the Prophet Mohammed as "a demon-possessed paedophile." About 800 of SBC's volunteers are heading to Iraq to deliver food packages labeled with a verse from St John's Gospel, in Arabic, saying that, "grace and truth were realised through Jesus Christ." Disturbingly, it would seem that these folks are literally state-sponsored extremists: ".Franklin Graham, a long-standing friend of the President, was invited to participate in this year's Good Friday prayer service at the Pentagon, angering many in the Defence Department. Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the invitation "sends entirely the wrong message to the Muslim and Arab world. this kind of incident can undo any kind of bridges built by a hundred public affairs officers at the Pentagon." According to Graham's latest book, Christianity and Islam ".are destined to fight each other until the second coming of Christ, which he says is imminent." During a 2002 book tour, he declared that Islam posed "a greater threat than anyone's willing to speak." The same message was proclaimed by veteran televangelist Jerry Falwell, who also called Islam "evil" and Mohammed, a "terrorist." Samaritan's Purse has been spreading the evangelical message since 1970. In 1975, a young Graham went "on a life-changing tour" of impoverished countries, ".where Franklin saw the poverty of pagan religions and the utter despair of the people they enslave. God had captured his heart for missions." Well, Isn't That Special! Unfortunately, the evangelicals' newfound political power means that things are no longer so innocuous as when Saturday Night Live'sDana Carvey (as the "Church Lady") mocked the religious right over a decade ago. Things are now much worse. A World of Lost Souls The second charity mentioned by the Independent, the Southern Baptist Convention, has big ambitions. The SBC administers the International Mission Board; as we learn from the IMB's comprehensive "map of lostness," much of the word is in dire need of salvation. The IMB sends out missionaries disguised as "English teachers," "mountaineers," "businessmen" and even "tea drinkers." Refreshingly, the IMB dubs its foreign missions "cell groups." The terrorist analogy is sustained by the group's own stated method: "IMB personnel are organized into teams. Each team focuses on a people group or population segment. Their goal is to do whatever it takes to begin and nurture a church-planting movement among the people." "Whatever it takes?" If I were a Muslim, I would be terrified. The concept of holy war, blamed on the Saudis, bin Laden, et al, seems to be lurking a little closer to home. Christian Jihad: Two Justifications Indeed, the IMB is determined to share the "God of love" - if not the love of god - with the Muslims. Yet such obviously duplicitous gestures conceal a more menacing reality. The SBC mission, known as "Partners in the Harvest," is quite direct: ".it is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations." And, should even believers fall into despair, comforts the SBC, they can always take succour in the impending apocalypse: ".when that (evangelical) work is done and when the church of Jesus Christ is complete, that is when God will bring down the curtain on the affairs of this sad world. May God help us that we may have that special view of the world which comes from dwelling near the throne." The End Times - for Rational Leadership, That Is A similar line is taken up by Pat Robertson's powerful Christian Broadcasting Network. According to its website, ".the mission of CBN and its affiliated organizations is to prepare the United States of America and the nations of the world for the coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. Our ultimate goal is to achieve a time in history when "the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea." According to the CBN, Hollywood's anti-war stars have "links" with terrorists. It also advertises something called "the Presidential Prayer Team" - where one can spiritually adopt US military personnel. A sympathetic Australian report reveals a frightening detail about the "team": ".it is huge and it caused Bush to tear up in front of the White House press corps. Every few weeks, an email goes out to those whose email addresses are registered with an office affiliated with the White House and, on behalf of Bush, they are asked for their prayers over a specific challenge facing the President and his cabinet." It is gratifying to know that the efficacy of the decisions made by the most powerful man on earth are determined by the prayers of the evangelist flock. Might this account for the Iraq disaster? The Divine Right of. Presidents? However, as I have argued, this very connection between leadership capability and "morality" is being made by the evangelicals to justify the war of a "moral president" - proving again that America is headed back to the Middle Ages. Frighteningly, the Southern Baptists have adapted this concept to fit today's "democratic" government. NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports that: ".Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention says even if Bush were not a born-again Christian, evangelicals are inclined to fall behind rather than stand against their government in times of war. Why? Because according to the New Testament, he says, it is God who places people in positions of governmental authority." How Will Candidate Bush Benefit? Complementing the president's religious fervor, we have the recent photos of a "Top Gun" George W. Bush in military attire. This bizarre spectacle seems to confirm that America is becoming a military theocracy - again, a truly Medieval concept. It is well known that Bush has strong affinities with the evangelicals. But what makes these "conservative" Christians politically significant is their new alliance with the Israeli lobby. Even last year, it was noted that Iraq would be "America's and Israel's war." This most dangerous alliance has united religious nutballs, neocons and Israel-firsters. Enraptured by dreams of the biblical Israel, charged with purpose by an outpouring of messianic and imperialist rhetoric, this coalition has strong overlapping interests. A leading group is the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, led by the Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition. Evangelical Reed also heads a subsidiary site, Stand for Israel. This union means that the Republicans might finally win the Jewish vote - and so never again have to worry about "hanging chads." The Bushies hope that, when the time comes, Jewish voters will remember that the real goal behind the neocons' constant warmongering has been to protect Israel. But Who Are the Real Christian Conservatives? Poised to counter Shiite desires for a Taliban-esque Islamic state are America's evangelicals, who long for a final apocalyptic battle between Christianity and Islam. Their arrogant missionary view presupposes that their beliefs (as with American democracy) are superior to those of the outside world - and so must be exported, whatever the price. The Catholics - Conservative Enough? The Pope has taken a courageous anti-war stand throughout. On 18 March, as the threat of war hung ominously over all, he called into question President Bush's spiritual legitimacy: "Whoever decides that all peaceful means under international law have been exhausted is assuming a grave responsibility before God, his conscience and before history," Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said." The Pope has led world religious leaders in opposing the Iraq war. Should his voice not be heeded? Indeed, the Catholic Church is far older than the evangelical orders, and has a long conservative tradition. Should the Pontiff not enjoy the moral authority that comes with such time-honored values? The answer, of course, is yes. That said, however, even the Catholic Church has older Christian predecessors. These, the Orthodox churches, view the Vatican as guilty of minor theological "innovations" and the arbitrary elevation of the pope above the seven traditional patriarchs. Historically misunderstood and mistrusted by fellow Christians, the Orthodox practice the oldest forms of Christianity - and especially those in the Middle East, which America would like to bomb into oblivion. An Iraqi Easter Full of Foreboding While predominantly Muslim, Iraq is also home to Christian minority denominations of great antiquity. Among them are Assyrian, Armenian and Chaldaean Christians. While other Middle Eastern churches cancelled Easter because of the war, the Chaldaeans in Baghdad decided to celebrate this Easter's miracle - namely, that they survived the bombing. Nevertheless, the future is decidedly uncertain: "'.we are afraid that the fanatics could do something bad, especially among our Muslim brothers,' says Bishop Ishlemon Wardouni. ".they are keeping a low profile. The Chaldeans, members of a church founded by St. Thomas in the first century, celebrated their traditional midnight mass on Saturday afternoon, so as to be home by nightfall." As the US occupation continues to spark Shiite rage, chances increase that Iraq's Christians may suffer. Although Bishop Wardouni stated that the two religions have long lived in harmony, chances are that misdirected Muslim rage will hit his flock: ".Shiite Muslims in his neighborhood, who he says are followers of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, have said they want to convert a building next to his church - formerly belonging to the ruling Baath Party - into a mosque. "'If this sort of thing happens, maybe later there could be problems,' Wardouni worries. 'We have heard their slogans, "No Saddam, No Bush, Yes to an Islamic State."' "Christians here say they enjoyed as many rights and freedoms as any other Iraqis under Saddam Hussein, who made one of their number, Tariq Aziz, an influential deputy prime minister. "'We enjoyed total religious freedom and there was no religious discrimination' against Christians, said Armenian Archbishop Avak Asadourian." Of the 650,000 Christians in Iraq, most are Chaldeans, but Syrians, Latins, Armenians and others are also to be found. In neighboring Syria, where the neocons and evangelicals would like to bomb next, the Christian tradition is even richer. Syria's Christians The next country in Washington's crosshairs is Syria, where Aramaic - the language of Jesus Christ - is kept alive by Christians with ties to earliest Christianity. In Roman and early Byzantine times, the patriarchy of Antioch was one of the most powerful and influential of the eastern patriarchies. Syria's Christians preserve the living and textual histories that enable historians to learn about Christianity's early days. Monasticism also has a rich tradition here. Virtual visitors can also check out the Syrian Orthodox Church's innocuously musical homepage. Syrian Christians hoped that the Pope's 2001 visit would bring the different Christian churches closer, and also improve Syria's image. One local priest, Father Tawfiq Eid, told the BBC: ".his visit to Syria will bring a different way of looking at things here, [it will show] that Syria is not a terrorist country, so the world will know Syria better." Sad to say, this didn't happen - and will not, so long as the current administration and its "Christian" enablers remain in power. And in Turkey. Last October, I visited the Syrian Orthodox church in Mardin, Turkey. Although the congregation is small, it has vitality. A large and time-worn bible, printed in indecipherable Aramaic characters, lay on the lectern. The simple, almost childlike artwork on the wall hearkened back to a simpler, primordial time for Christianity. There are a few hundred Syrian (or Assyrian, as they are sometimes called) Christians living in southern Turkey. The Kurds claim to have another long-established Christian minority, mostly from Hakkari to the Syrian border. Most of the "tens of thousands" of Christian Kurds live in Turkey. Palestine and Lebanon Jesus, of course, was a Jew with other plans and no place can boast closer ties with ancient Christianity than Palestine. The Orthodox Church here has survived for millennia amidst constant oppression and uncertainty. Should Palestine win independence, these Christians might run the same risk as those in Iraq (i.e., marginalization by fundamentalist Muslims). However, the current Israeli intimidation is no better option. Nevertheless, the Church struggles to maintain its independence and integrity - as when it banned top US and British leaders from visiting Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. The Israeli government is occasionally rebuked for its oppression of Christians. And the Israeli government is frequently at odds with the Patriarch over the Orthodox Church's landholdings in Jerusalem. The long-established Christian tradition in Lebanon is also facing an uphill battle for survival. Finally, Egypt Egypt, which has been described as "the prize" by overzealous Neocon warmongers, has one of the richest Christian heritages in the world. Best known is the monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai. Here are preserved very ancient and valuable Christian texts and relics. Egypt's Christians are the Copts, who also have a musical homepage and whose church was founded in the first century by Saint Mark. Then Greek-speaking Alexandria, site of one of the seven original patriarchates, was also home to important early bishops (such as St. Athanasius) and exegetes (such as the prolific Origen). Athanasius, in fact, authored the universally used Nicene Creed, and inaugurated the hagiographical tradition with his Life of St. Antony. The first of the "desert fathers," Saint Anthony pioneered eremitic monasticism; countryman Pachomius later began the more settled coenobitic variety. Antony, Pachomius and St. Paul, it is believed, were all Copts. Early redactions of the Bible and other important texts are preserved in thousands of Coptic manuscripts worldwide. Today, out of a population of 57 million, over 9 million in Egypt are Copts. The End Times - but for Who? Today, Christians in the Middle East face an uncertain future. They may suffer misplaced Islamic rage. These true Christian conservatives - who speak the languages of Christianity's earliest days, follow the same rituals, and worship in the same churches as the founders of the faith - are in danger because of the destructive messianic fever of America's "Christian" charlatans. Their inflammatory, anti-Muslim statements are whipping up general anti-Christian sentiment from Muslims the world over. And, in a show of blinding ignorance and impossible condescension, these latter-day "fishers of men" from the West would like to re-convert their "lapsed" Christian brethren, who apparently aren't trying hard enough to keep the Holy Land holy. In other words, Christianity's real conservatives are just not doing enough to instill religious hatred and the apocalyptic showdown that must certainly herald the end times and second coming of Christ. Even if the real Evangelical fantasy here - the resurrection of the Biblical Israel - is not presaged by the arrival of a gleaming red heifer, it is possible that Jesus will come back soon enough - if just to knock some sense into these people. _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk