By Jonathon van Maren
It was Thanksgiving in Canada this weekend, a day when Christians, as our Parliament put it in 1957, have a “day of general thanksgiving to almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.” (Atheists may be thankful too, of course, but unfortunately have no one to thank.)
Anti-Christian bigotry is on the rise in North America, and with news stories of graduates from Christian universities being rejected by law societies, governments trying to force Christian companies to fund abortion and birth control, and Christian businesses closing their doors rather than violating their consciences, it is easy to feel as if Christians may have less to be thankful for than in years past.
Thus, a sense of perspective is more important now than ever before.
A few weeks ago, I interviewed the Reverend Canon Andrew White, also known as the “Vicar of Baghdad.” Iraq is where his Anglican church is located, and that was where I reached him by phone. The stories he related from St. George’s Church, Baghdad make the challenges Western Christians face seem less like “persecution” and more like harassment. I remember bringing up the persecution of Christians in the West to British commentator Peter Hitchens some time ago—he snorted and said as much. Not until I heard the words of Canon Andrew White did I fully realize how right he was.
Events in Iraq, the Vicar of Baghdad told me in his almost drawling British accent, a side-effect of his multiple sclerosis, are either “terrible or really, really terrible, or awful. Most of the Christians have been made to flee to the north. They’ve had to leave their homes in Mosul and Ninevah, which has been a traditional living place for years. And now they’re living as refugees in camps along the Kurdish border. And they’ve got very little resources. We’re having to provide everything. My colleague is just going around seeing how many disabled people will need wheelchairs bought for them.”
It is worth noting that as I write this on Thanksgiving Day, ISIS cutthroats are advancing on the Syrian border town of Kobani while their bombs rock Baghdad neighborhoods. It is known to all what happens when ISIS militants take over new territory: A bloodthirsty binge of rape, decapitation, and mass executions. Christians and other non-Muslims are favorite targets. In a chilling echo of the Holocaust, ISIS militants painted the letter “N” on the doors of Christian homes in Mosul—“N” for the Nazarene. Many have been fleeing to Baghdad for safety.
“A lot of the people have come down from the north to Baghdad to find shelter amongst friends,” Rev. White noted, “One lady has a very small apartment, just two rooms, and she’s got thirteen people staying with her now. So everywhere is just crowded full of people who have been ousted from their residences and are just suffering.”
“What kind of suffering?” I asked him.
“Well, there’s one man and he was disabled and had hidden his children in his house in Kirkush and ISIS came in one day and said, ‘You’re Christian. You either convert or we chop off the heads of all your children.’” Rev. White replied, “So he was forced to say the words of conversion and they spared his children, but they said if he came back and they saw he had been doing any Christian things they would kill them all. And he phoned me and said, ‘Father, Father! How could I do this? Will Jesus not love me anymore because I’ve done this?’ And I said, ‘No, whoever is in this situation would have done the same to save their children. And you will not lose them and you will not lose your faith. And you are still a Christian.’”
Much of the media has said that the stories of atrocity are exaggerated, or at least unverifiable. I asked Rev. White if they were true.
“It’s just been terrible. They have been amputating people’s heads and putting them on railings. They have chopped children in half. You know, I write some of these things on my blog and nobody believes it,” he said in frustration, “They say you must be making this up, that there’s no evidence of this, this isn’t in this paper or that paper. Here we are living with it and people can’t accept it. There is no other Western person here in central Iraq. Not one. I’m the only one and they can’t believe it.”
The Reverend Canon Andrew White remains in Baghdad, ministering to refugees, trying to do all he can to save those who cross his doorstep. He has been kidnapped and suffered countless death threats. Members of his staff have been killed. And yet, he does not give up.
His words and the chilling tales of others have been hitting home, and the world is beginning to realize that a new genocide is unfolding in the chunks of territory carved up by ISIS. The despised followers of the Nazarene are again the targets of forces of Darkness flying the black flag that declares “no quarter.” And as we sit down with our families to eat our Thanksgiving meals and carve up our turkeys, we would do well to remember that not all are so fortunate.
On Thanksgiving Day, I give thanks for the example we have in people like the Reverend Canon Andrew White.