Christian Iraq?

Following the murder of four missionaries in Iraq, the Los Angeles Times gives us some background, pointing out that Evangelicals are “flocking” to the country (large numbers of Christians always “flock” according to journalists). The article describes a church on an American base where 400 Iraqis worship every Sunday. The article describes the worshippers as

Converted from Islam and from other branches of Christianity

Bit of a difference there! How many from each? I suspect more Christians than Muslims. And were these people previously pious or nominal adherents of their faiths? Our journo fails to ask.

Kyle Fisk, executive administrator of the National Association of Evangelicals, is quoted as saying that:

Iraq will become the center for spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to Iran, Libya, throughout the Middle East…President Bush said democracy will spread from Iraq to nearby countries. A free Iraq also allows us to spread Jesus Christ’s teachings even in nations where the laws keep us out.

Sorry to curb Fisk’s enthusiasm, but even if democracy spreads in the area (and it’s a big “if”), there are a few more points to consider:

  • Proselytism is legal (albeit difficult) in democratic Turkey. But few Turks have converted and it’s hardly a centre for missionaries.
  • Groups like Pat Robertson’s CBN have been active in Middle East for years, based on Cyprus and the Lebanon. Not much to show for it so far, except grief for indigenous Christians across the Middle East.
  • Democracy does not always mean freedom to proselytise. For example, in 1996 evangelism came close to becoming illegal in Israel.
  • 400 Iraqis at a service is not actually all that that impressive. Why should significant numbers of Iraqis be interested in becoming Christians when most Turks are not?

However, the missionaries do have an advantage when we read of the strategy of the Muslim clerics:

Shiite Muslim leader, Sheik Fatih Kashif Ghitaa…said Shiite and Sunni clerics have discussed issuing a fatwa, or religious edict, against missionaries.

Rather less impressive than an intellectual rebuttal, or a plan to make Islam appear more attractive.

Meanwhile, what do the leaders of the local Orthodox and Catholic churches have to say about Evangelical sheep stealing? Alas, the Los Angeles Times does not even raise the issue.

4 Responses

  1. […] Posted on March 24, 2004 by Richard Bartholomew A report in the Washington Times confirms what I already suspected, about the gushing reports of new churches opening across Iraq. The reality, according to a local […]

  2. Hey, I’m a liberal Muslim who randomly came across this article or blog, whatever it is. I think that Christian missionaries have no business in Iraq or other Middle Eastern countries. Under Saddam Hussien, ever during his very liberal early years, would never have allowed missionaires, especially Christian missionaries into Iraq. I personally believe in freedom of religion but I do not believe in the active soliciting of people to join a certain faith or religion. Also, that quote from the Evangelical guy (Fisk), shows that Evangelical Christians have no respect for Muslims or other established religions. Considering what Christian missionaries have done to non-Christians in the past for not conversion, I think they should stay out of predominately Muslim countries as long as the majority of the citizens are hostile to Westerners. Also, security-wise, it is very risky to send missionaries to Iraq, as it is with any Westerner entering Iraq; and people need to stop associating Muslims with tyrannies and opressive governments.

  3. I personally believe in freedom of religion but I do not believe in the active soliciting of people to join a certain faith or religion.

    Fair enough, but if you want the state to prevent the latter you have only a very limited commitment to the former. If Muslims wish to prevent inroads from other faiths, the onus is on them to ensure that their religion appears attractive and intellectually engaged – banning missionaries is a lazy and self-defeating route.

    people need to stop associating Muslims with tyrannies and opressive governments.

    I agree – but if people have ignorant sterotypes about Muslims and Islam, a fair bit of the blame should go to those very tyrannies and oppressive governments which have afflicted so much of the Muslim world for so long.

  4. […] looked at Christian enthusiasm for evangelism in Iraq back in the very early days of this blog, and in March 2004 I noted a quote by National Association of Evangelicals official […]

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