Last week, I talked with John Stonestreet of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview about the literal war on Christianity taking place in Iraq.
NICK EICHER: Retired Iraqi Gen. George Sada is a Christian. He was also one of Saddam Hussein’s trusted advisers. Now living in London, Sada spoke last weekend with John Stonestreet on his weekend radio program, Breakpoint This Week, saying:
“These groups, they come very powerfully. When they are coming to a place, they are destroying everything, killing people and beheading many.”
The groups he refers to are the ISIS, or Islamic State, extremists who’ve captured the attention of the world and drawn a reaction from the United States, especially after the gruesome butchering of American journalist James Foley.
The last time we talked about this, John, was right after the Obama administration finally heeded Congressman Frank Wolf’s impassioned speeches on the floor of the House. The United States finally responded with airstrikes against ISIS. You asked Sada a question about the American response, and he said:
“This is very, very, very, very little. And then, it is done only after the people have killed and after the Christians have fled. You know, the Christians were depending on America, thinking that they will come and save them. But unfortunately the biggest, biggest losers of all what happened in Iraq are the Christians.”
Is that what you expected General George Sada to say?
JOHN STONESTREET: It was. It wasn’t any less difficult at that point to hear because people tend to look to Americans, and to American Christians in particular, to stand up [against] injustices around the world. It’s one of the best parts of our heritage. We always have this hesitation to go out and be a police state. … Without a doubt, this turned into, very quickly, a full-blown genocide. The response on our part was dreadfully slow. I know what people expect around the world. This is certainly what General Sada expected to see, and he didn’t see it.
NE: Talk about the general’s background. I did not realize how very close he was to Saddam Hussein. He had been a brutal dictator, and yet, there was Sada right by his side, working for him. Is Sada compromised, in your opinion?
JS: It’s a remarkable story, isn’t it? Sada has told his story in a book called Saddam’s Secrets, which is an incredibly interesting read. Sada was one of the top military commanders in Saddam Hussein’s close interior of advisers. According to Sada, the reason he was able to get such close access to Saddam Hussein is because he would tell Saddam the truth. A lot of the others were scared of Saddam, scared to tell him something he didn’t want to hear. They had seen first hand how he treated, even killed right there on the spot, individuals who chose to cross him. It reminded me of Paul talking about Christians being in Nero’s household. … The fact that God is working everywhere puts Christians in these positions of influence. Sada left before this latest conflict really escalated—actually fled. [He] was pretty sure that because he had crossed Saddam Hussein’s son that his son now would try to kill him. … God used him. … One particular story he told me [was] when Saddam Hussein was pretty committed to invading Israel. He asked him what he thought, and he honestly answered, you’re probably not going to win this one. A tough thing to say to someone who’s probably hell-bent on destroying Israel, but there you go. The story is fascinating, and it’s incredible how God works.
NE: Isn’t this a good reminder of how difficult it is to conduct foreign policy? So many tradeoffs, so many unintended consequences. I think back to the time before the breakup of the old Soviet Union when the United States backed the Afghan rebels. Now their descendants are basically the Taliban. Maybe that’s part of the reason why it’s so difficult for us in the West to advocate a consistent foreign policy approach that maximizes religious freedom but that at the same time keeps America safe.
JS: There’s no question it’s incredibly complicated. At the same time, there are some things that are pretty cut-and-dry. IS, or ISIS, marching through Iraq and beheading Christians and crucifying 4-year-olds. This isn’t one that’s very hard. … If we have the capacity to stop evil, in particular grave evil, we need to do it. Now, the long-term impact also needs to be thought out. This is where worldview—I hate to say it so flippantly—but it really comes in handy. You can see the sort of values and commitments based on someone’s worldview that they’re going to hold and they’re going to espouse. … Unfortunately, the understanding of worldview had been put aside. We tend to see things only through economic lenses or only through post-colonial lenses, rather than seeing the diversity of worldview and how different people are going to evaluate the situations they’re in, how different cultures are being shaped because of the the underlying belief systems they have. Getting some of that back in the State Department would be quite helpful.
NE: I raised the issue of the Western mindset, the American mindset, and what makes it so difficult for us to understand or even identify with the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Why do you think that’s the case?
JS: This also goes back to worldview. Many Christians don’t have a global sense of the kingdom of God. We’re Americans, and I think that affects us in two ways. First, we don’t think of people in certain areas of the world as really being Christian. Sada was a Syrian. The church of Jonah that he talks about, this is the oldest Christian community, probably, on the planet. And yet, when we think of Iraq, we think of Muslims, we think of Arabs, we think that all Arabs are Muslims. … We have a very limited perspective on the global shape and scope of the church of Jesus Christ. We’ve got to get beyond that because these are our brothers and sisters. Obviously, Christians should stand up anytime anyone is being persecuted or terrorized because they’re made in the image and likeness of God. At the same time, Paul says to particularly care for those in the household of faith. I think our limited understanding of the kingdom of God is one of those things at play. The other is how the American Christian worldview has been shaped and infiltrated by consumerism. We go to church for the moralistic, therapeutic, deism sermons that we hear, and I think that’s one of the things that the church in America needs to do some serious introspection on. What are we talking about on a Sunday morning and why? Is it OK that we’re doing this when all of this stuff is happening around the world to our brothers and sisters in Christ?
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