Seven (Lame) Excuses Why Christians in the West Neglect Our Brothers in the East

August 1, 2014

What did you do on Saturday, July 19th? Catch a movie? Visit the beach? Host a barbecue?

Whatever you did, half a world away beneath that same summer sun thousands of Iraqi Christians were being purged from the city of Mosul and told never to return on pain of death. Carrying only the clothes on their backs, they fled from homes in which they and their families had dwelt since the times of the apostles.

Unfortunately this exodus is just one episode in a much larger tale of Christian depopulation in the Middle East. But it’s not the first, and it’s certainly not the last.

Things weren’t always this way. Contrary to popular myth, the Middle East has never been an “Islamic sea” stretching from Morocco to Pakistan. At the dawn of the twentieth century, a full twenty percentof the region was comprised of indigenous Christians – a community that had already been around for six hundred years when Muhammad’s warriors stormed out of Arabia and subjugated the African, Asian, Berber, and Semitic  peoples who lived here.

Today, more than a thousand years later, Christians make up a mere five percent of the population and falling. The expansion of political Islam and its corollary, religious intolerance, has forced hundreds of thousands of Arabic-, Aramaic- and Syriac-speaking Christians to abandon their native lands just like a million Jews before them. Along the way, tens of thousands have been raped, maimed, and murdered under a naked desert sky — heartbreaking stories of injustice that will likely never be told.

Yet as Christianity nears extinction in the heart of its ancient homeland, we in the West do little to stop it. Beaches and barbeques loom much larger in our minds. Some of us pray for persecuted Christians and may even sign an internet petition or two. But that’s about it. We feel sad for them, wish them well, then return to our morning coffee.

My non-Christian friends are stunned. How can we be so indifferent? Aren’t these refugees our brothers and sisters? Don’t we feel some obligation to help them? Why is American Christianity so silent?

These are good questions, and honestly I don’t have a good answer.

At the end of the day, it’s unconscionable. Although the Bible calls us to love all men in the abstract, it also calls us (and much more specifically) to show special affection toward our Christian brothers and sisters. “If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need,” John wrote, “but closes his eyes to his need – how can God’s love reside in him?”

American Christians most assuredly have “this world’s goods.” We know that our brothers are in need. Yet we keep our eyes closed..

So how can we be filled with the love of Christ?

It’s a painful question, and one that will cause Christians to engage in all kinds of excuse-making. Here I’ve listed seven of the most common excuses with the aim of exposing their absurdity and providing a much-needed biblical corrective.

We are busy.

Western Christians lead comfortable lives. Even the poorest among us has tremendous comparative wealth, and few have experienced anything remotely akin to persecution. Softened by prosperity, distracted by entertainment, and consumed by ambition, we ignore the plight of those who live less magical lives. After all, we are very busy.

This nonchalance flies in the face of every model of Christianity shown in scripture. The Apostle Paul directly admonishes us to, “Remember the prisoners as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated as though you yourselves were suffering bodily,” packed schedules notwithstanding.

We are far away.

We Westerners inhabit a world that is quite alien to that of Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. Separated by unintelligible languages, disparate daily realities, and vast tracts of land and sea, we do not — simply cannot — identify with life under Islamic persecution. Though we may read of Mosul in the news, words will never convey what it’s like to hear armed men surround our house or a hooded jihadi demand that we recant or be executed. It’s just not our world.

That being said, there has never been another time in history better suited to discovering and understanding the plight of the worldwide church. Between television, radio, and digital media, we can connect with people in faraway places like never before. Prudence and brotherly love demands that we use these tools to advance the well-being of the church and provide for its needs.

We are divided culturally.

Unlike Judaism, which bears aspects of both a faith and an ethnicity, Christianity is a creed that encompasses a vast diversity of nations and tongues. Although we all follow the same Jesus and pursue his kingdom, we live our physical lives in particular ethnic communities in which we act out our earthly story. These communities cultivate some measure of loyalty within us, a natural sentiment that inevitably colors our loftier brotherhood in Christ. So although aspirationally we are members of one body, practically we are anchored in our present reality.

God never intended mankind to be monolithic; said another way, He enjoys diversity. Not only that, He expects us to remain respectful of the geographic, political, and cultural context in which we are born. However, we as Christians must continually recall the transnational nature of the church and seek to integrate ourselves with that spiritual, albeit invisible, global community while still maintaining our more mundane particular existence. Paul calls us to, “Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.”

We are divided theologically.

Christians excel at drawing lines between themselves based on theology, personality, and personal preference. Divided into numerous and competing blocs, we sometimes look upon Christian neighbors as hopelessly mistaken in their views of the divine. Upon meeting an Orthodox Christian from the East, many American Christians might express doubt that he or she is participating in the same essential faith as they are. They may even go so far as to deny Oriental Orthodoxy the normative status of true Christianity and thereby remove any obligation to assist “so-called” brothers facing persecution.

It’s a bold claim to be sure. Theological boundaries are important, and there is no denying that Eastern Orthodoxy (especially among non-Chalcedonian traditions) departs in significant ways from most brands of Western Christianity. That being said, we should remain open and affectionate to all who name Christ as Savior. Though we may differ on points of ecclesiology and soteriology, we must humbly accept the idea that these believers are still our brothers and sisters and seek their welfare just as much as we do the welfare of our American neighbors. Christ instructed to allow the tares to grow alongside us until the harvest and, at the very least, we should express solidarity with these believers in order to bring glory to the name of Christ in the eyes of the world.

We esteem suffering.

Our faith has built into it a tolerance of, and even a love for, suffering in the name of Jesus. Our Lord himself told us to expect such suffering and, in fact, called us to rejoice because of it. Unthinking Christians in the West may use such references to justify a sort of religious fatalism, or to imply that Eastern Christians should simply “have faith” and “bear the burden” with joy.

Easy to say from the comfort of your armchair. While it is true that the Bible bestows special honor upon one who is persecuted for Christ’s sake, it does not command us to refrain from all rational attempts at relief. Paul himself escaped from the clutches of would-be assassins on numerous occasions, as did Jesus when almost pushed from the edge of a cliff. While observing the predicament of our brethren under tyranny, we who sit in safety must recall the scriptural command to, “Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

We don’t know what to do.

This is perhaps the most common (and seemingly plausible) excuse for not assisting persecuted believers. We see their plight, we share their pain, and we desire to do something to help them – but we just don’t know how. Without any government position, public voice, or significant financial resources, we doubt that we possess any conceivable means of transforming the situation.

Fortunately, unlike Paul and Silas, we in the West enjoy the benefits of living under a democracy and, as the demos, we retain the authority to demand that our government act (a demand likely to be carried out owing to an overwhelmingly Christian majority and the tacit support of many non-Christians in this regard). What exactly we ask our government to do is a real question that we must carefully discuss, but we must at least start discussing it. There are many options available, ranging from big to small, but whatever we do, it should be something tangible that will provide real relief for people on the ground.

An important pledge was signed several months back that included some tangible provisions (none of which, I’m afraid, were terribly comprehensive), but to date the pledge seems to have sunk into the ocean without much of a ripple. Someone needs to take leadership on this issue and start pushing it, harder, at the highest levels of government.

We don’t want another crusade.

Memories of war in Iraq and Afghanistan are still visceral for most Americans. We all know friends and family who served, and many of us recall those who paid the ultimate price. Large numbers of Americans, Christians included, have been jaded by what happened during those years and feel that all of it – the blood, the treasure, the time – was spent for nothing. Thus, the prospect of doing something tangible to help persecuted Christians – especially something that may involve force of arms or the provision of resources needed to bolster such arms – seems like a fool’s errand. The public discourse that has developed over the past decade labels such activity as nothing more than a bloody crusade.

Recognizing the very real fatigue of war, I would nevertheless argue that armed intervention aimed at protecting Christians – to the extent such intervention is possible and deemed by the American people to be the best course of action – bears important distinctions from a crusade. Taken in its proper definition, a crusade is a war instigated for religious ends. Taken in its historical definition, however – that is, in the pejorative sense that the word is now understood – a crusade is a religiously-motivated war focused on controlling holy sites and establishing religious hegemony over a territory. In other words, a crusade aims to exercise power over place while what we need today is to provide protection over people. This is not a call to arms, but a necessary clarification on how protecting Christians should not be understood as religious motivation for bellicose action.

There are vast differences between what occurred in the Middle Ages under the European popes and kings and what Western countries can do today for persecuted Christians in lands still mired in tyranny.

We have the resources, the government access, and the biblical mandate to assist brethren in need.

What we, the Western church, don’t have is a good excuse for inaction.

Robert Nicolson

Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24