Seraphim Danckaert is Director of Mission Advancement at St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary. He holds an M.Div. from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and is a Ph.D. candidate in theology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
Seasoned Washington insiders say they’ve never seen anything like it.
Sen. Ted Cruz, a high-profile speaker at The IDC Summit for Middle East Christians in Washington, D.C., was booed off the stage last night by a gathering of religious and political leaders concerned about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
What led to this unexpected outcome?
Near the beginning of his address, Cruz implied that the government of Syria was no better than ISIS or al-Qaida, and that “we shouldn’t try to parse different manifestations of evil that are on a murderous rampage through the region.”
He then insisted that “Christians have no greater ally than Israel,” at which point members of the crowd began to yell “stop it” and booed him.
Given his comments, and his response to the people who reacted by booing, it appears Cruz has no meaningful exposure to the actual experience of Middle Eastern Christians, nor does it seem he is even aware that there are millions of Middle Eastern Christians (and Jews, for that matter) who are strongly opposed to the official political and military policies of the modern state of Israel.
The phrase that ignited the disagreement is particularly telling: “Christians have no greater ally than Israel.”
What kind of worldview or theological bias would allow for such a statement? Only one that presumes there is a definite conformity between the needs and desires of Christians everywhere and the Middle East policy of the United States of America. It seems to me, in other words, that when Ted Cruz says “Christians have no greater ally than Israel,” he really means that “America has no greater ally than Israel” — and that the subjects of those two sentences are identical in his mind.
Such an idea, so disconnected from the personal suffering and experiences of the actual Christians who live in the Middle East, found little sympathy in a Washington, D.C. ballroom crowded with Christians from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, and surrounding lands.
Fr. Christopher Metropulos, the Executive Director of the Orthodox Christian Network and a Greek Orthodox priest from Florida, was in attendance.
“I have never seen anything like this before,” Fr. Chris said. “Clearly, Cruz was out of his league and didn’t know the audience he was speaking to. They were highly offended by what he said, and, rather than backing off, he just kept digging in his heels. A huge mistake, leading to a sour moment in what was a very good conference.”
To learn more about the experience of Middle Eastern Christians, please listen to Fr. Chris’ interview with His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America. Members of Metropolitan Joseph’s family have been killed and wounded in the current crisis, and he notes that nearly every family in his American Archdiocese has been impacted in some way. “We cannot accept the Middle East without Christians,” the Metropolitan says. “That would be an unforgivable crime.”