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Sep. 12, 2014

Boos for Cruz Shouldn’t Overshadow Christian Persecution

Senator’s support for Israel displeases some, but the real issue is far bigger.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was booed off the stage of a Washington, DC, summit exploring the plight of Christians in the Middle East because he supported the nation of Israel. The whole episode illustrates the complexity of the Middle East – especially when it comes to our understanding of the region’s religious and political tensions.

A video of the event shows Cruz standing before the crowd, which was murmuring angrily. “I will say this,” Cruz said. “I am saddened to see that some here – not everyone, but some here – are so consumed with hate.”

The audience grew angry and a man near the camera shouted, “You speak for yourself!”

“If you will not stand with Israel,” Cruz said, “then I will not stand with you,” walking off the stage. The camera follows him, catching the words projected onto the wall: “Solidarity Dinner.”

The summit, put on by In Defense of Christians (IDC), brought together Coptic Christians, Evangelicals, Orthodox Christians and Catholics, as well as Democrats and Republicans alike. All were there to raise awareness of the threats to religious freedom in the Middle East, particularly ISIL’s threat of genocide against Christians.

IDC president Toufic Baaklini said the goal of the summit was to “empower the Middle Eastern Christian Diaspora and energize the American people to stand in solidarity [with] the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East. Their survival is vital to stability in the region, and their ability to flourish in their countries of origin has national security implications for the United States.”

Unfortunately, that laudable goal will be eclipsed by click-bait headlines focused only on the brief altercation with Cruz. Meanwhile, the intolerant drum of radical Islam beats stronger and stronger in the dissolving states of the Middle East.

While the gathered Christians may have been of one Lord, one faith, one baptism, they were not all one with the state of Israel. Let’s give Cruz the benefit of the doubt on this one, as this misunderstanding is a common problem between Evangelical Americans and some of the Christian communities still living in the land where Jesus walked. Religion News Service points out:

> “The episode highlighted a central tension between U.S. evangelicals, who strongly support Israel, and Middle Eastern Christians – including thousands of Palestinian Christians – who hold Israel responsible for expropriated Arab lands and the death toll in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

However, despite the well-documented brutality of dictators like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Assads in Syria Christians in those countries prefer the relative stability of those dictators to the jihadist alternatives. The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan writes, “An estimated two-thirds of the Christians of Iraq have fled that country since the 2003 U.S. invasion. They are being driven from their villages in northern Iraq. They are terrorized, brutalized, executed. This week an eyewitness in Mosul, which fell to Islamic State in June, told NBC News the jihadists were committing atrocities. In Syria, too, they have executed Christians for refusing to convert.”

IDC set a lofty goal. In its statement after the disruption, Baaklini admitted that people in the Church and in the field of foreign policy thought the organization would fail. “For more than 48 hours,” he said, “our initial IDC conference was successfully bridging divides of faith, language, geography and politics.”

The views of the speakers ranged across the spectrum. Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA) spoke, as well as writer Eric Metaxas, who schooled president Obama at the 2012 Presidential Prayer Breakfast. On the other hand, some of the Christian leaders from the Middle East supported groups like Hamas or Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, The Washington Free Beacon reported.

Within that spectrum of Christians stood Sen. Cruz. In a statement explaining why he left the dinner, Cruz outlined his message on Israel:

> “When I spoke in strong support of Israel and the Jewish people, who are being persecuted and murdered by the same vicious terrorists who are also slaughtering Christians, many Christians in the audience applauded. But, sadly, a vocal and angry minority of attendees at the conference tried to shout down my expression of solidarity with Israel.”

Cruz is right to show solidarity with Israel, a key ally of the United States and the only nation in the Middle East where Christians needn’t fear persecution. But Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist argues Cruz is no hero for what he did, saying he approached the whole speech politically, meeting with The Washington Free Beacon beforehand and using the situation generally to advance his platform.

“When Cruz was supposed to give the keynote address and discuss the deadly serious topic of persecution of Christians,” Hemingway wrote, “he instead insulted a largely immigrant and foreign crowd as a group that didn’t understand their own political situation and stomped out of the room after calling them a bunch of haters.”

Thus was the IDC summit reduced to another sound byte in the Beltway political machine. But its purpose remains paramount: Christians are being threatened in the Middle East – Christians with complex and nuanced geopolitical views based on interests sometimes not aligned with the U.S. If they fall, the region – and the world – will be far worse for it.

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