When it comes to understanding the present plight of Middle-Eastern Christianity, one author to whom I usually turn is Father Benedict Kiely. He’s the founder of Nasarean.org, which tries to help persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
Sometimes Kiely’s observations are difficult to read, not least because they force Western Christians to face up to the full nature of the plight confronting their confreres that no amount of happy-talk can quite disguise. In a recent Catholic Herald article entitled “The Harsh Truth about Christianity in Iraq,” for instance, Kiely marshals a formidable array of facts that underscore the bleak future facing Iraqi Christians.
Leaving aside the on-going harassment, Iraqi Christians face major economic challenges. Once upon a time, Christians in Iraq and many other Middle-Eastern nations were disproportionally represented among the commercial and business classes, partly because they were often legally restricted from entering other professions. That overrepresentation of Christians in commerce is still true in countries like Jordan and Lebanon.
In today’s Iraq, however, the situation is very different. As Kiely states, “The steady dwindling of the Christian population of Iraq continues because of the lack of security and employment. Without jobs, families have no incentive to stay, and without security they will not stay.”
Kiely also underlines another dimension of the problem: the awkward silence from so many Western Christian leaders about the plight of their Christian Iraqi brothers and sisters. He notes how Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil in Iraq views such Western Christians as being—as they are on so many other subjects—paralyzed by political correctness and fear of being labeled “phobic.”
“A phobia,” Kiely writes, “is an irrational fear: there is nothing irrational about the fears of Iraqi Christians.”