• Lillie Burke

Persecution, Christianity & the Middle East

Christianity and Islam in the Middle East may seem inherently at odds, but a Catholic bishop Wednesday morning dispelled this notion and pleaded for peace and unity in a region desperately lacking both.

“Peace is possible, but it takes hard work,” said Bishop Gregory Mansour. “It takes a little bit of defiance, and it takes young people like you to get old people like me to move forward.”

Mansour and the organization he leads, Christian Arab and Middle East Churches Together, seek to strengthen the ties between U.S. Christian churches and their Middle Eastern counterparts.

“I just want to give you a sense of the amazing unity that is happening today,” he said. “We’re still divided, yes, but I want to give you one example.”

The bishop relayed a story he heard from church patriarchs across the Middle East who had traveled to Iraq to show solidarity with the Christian communities persecuted by ISIS.

Mansour then used this example to springboard into a litany of the problems facing Christians today.

Not listed among them was Islam.

“Christianity in the Middle East is not a victim of the Muslims. Please, let’s be very, very clear about this. It’s not. There is a war, there is a battle within the soul of Islam,” he said.

This battle is being waged between the majority, who are “very devoted to being good, faithful Muslims” and a “very vocal, very strong minority that really is the enemy to the rest of the community,” he said in reference to ISIS.

Based on this, Mansour informed students how to live with the other and not unfairly label any people group as being of all the same mind.

He also encouraged students not to be doormats but to turn the other cheek, referencing three examples of passive defiance from the New Testament.

The bishop implored those in attendance to stand up to those who seek to persecute not just Christians but anyone.

“What is required of you and what is required of me? I think just to be those defiant Christians, to stand with the Christians of the Middle East. To make our voices known that what is true for one culture is true for another culture. It is never permissible in the name of God and religion to do violence to someone else. Never permissible,” he said.

To conclude, he told a story about a group of students in Lebanon who “earned the right to have a day off of school” by working for the declaration of the world’s first Christian-Muslim public holiday, March 25.

“Any small act of love, any small act of defiance is huge,” he said.

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