Call to Prayer for the Christians of Iraq
Baghdad/Prague – Following the terrorist attack on a Catholic church in Baghdad resulting in 58 deaths, the European Baptist Federation (EBF) has requested prayer for the Christians of that country. A letter from Tony Peck (Prague) addressed to European Baptist leaders states: ‘Let us pray for the whole Iraqi Christian community at this time, that they may be protected as they make their witness to Christ the Prince of Peace in the midst of the bloodshed and violence which is Baghdad today.’ Peck had spoken on the phone with a Baptist pastor in Baghdad and had assured him that the world’s Baptists were praying ‘that somehow the Lord will heal and bring peace to this land.’
On 31 October, a terrorist commando group armed with explosive belts and hand grenades had burst into the evening mass in the Karrada region of the city and taken the roughly 120 persons in attendance hostage. When Iraqi security forces stormed the church four hours later, a number of the terrorists blew themselves up. Fourty-one persons died, including two priests, 12 policemen and five passers-by; 75 were injured. A group related to the Islamist Al Qaeda network, the ‘Islamic State of Iraq,’ confessed responsibility for the deed and announced the planning of further attacks on Christians.
Peck reported that ‘the Christian community is now very fearful for its safety. Some of the Baptist believers are talking about moving away from Baghdad to North Iraq, others to Jordan and Syria.’ Peck added that ‘this very understandable response would leave the Christian church in Iraq even weaker than before.’ Baghdad’s Baptists are also considering moving their day of worship from Sunday to Friday – when Muslims also worship.
Peck cited experts on the Middle East, who have noted that hostilities towards Christians increased after a US-pastor called for a burning of the Koran. But after worldwide protests, the act had been called off. Peck wrote: ‘This shows again how Christians in the West must be wise and considerate in the way they engage critically with Islam.’
The EBF’s General-Secretary is convinced that the coalition forces which invaded Iraq in 2002 ‘bear a heavy responsibility for what has followed and should be called to repentance. One factor among many is the terrible irony that Iraq's Christians generally had more religious freedom under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein than they have now.’ In the past 10 years, the number of Christians in Iraq has dropped by more than 50%: from 1,2 million to roughly 550.000. Christians now make up 1,6% of the country’s population.
Politicians and church leaders across the globe have condemned the attack on Baghdad Christians. lav Fykse Tveit, General-Secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, demanded a halt to the on-going violence directed at Iraqi Christians. Pope Benedict sent his condolences to the country’s Christian minority. He encouraged them to ‘remain strong and steadfast in their hope.’ Raimundo Barreto (Falls Church near Washington), the Baptist World Alliance’s (BWA) Director of Freedom and Justice, reminded that Christians are called to non-violence and should not repay evil with evil, but rather overcome evil with good. BWA-President John V. Upton (Richmond/Virginia) declared that violence will only increase if Christians in such a situation count on ‘anything other than the grace and peace of Jesus Christ.’