Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), co-chairs of the bipartisan Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus, hosted a press conference at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, May 7, on Capitol Hill featuring several prominent American Christian leaders who will be releasing a Pledge of Solidarity and Call to Action on behalf of Christians and other religious communities in Egypt, Iraq and Syria who are increasingly threatened in the lands they have inhabited for centuries.

The Pledge, which is signed by roughly 150 American Christian leaders from across ecumenical lines (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox), representing a variety of sectors including thought leaders, clergy, authors, seminary and university presidents, and parachurch heads among others, is a galvanizing call to action in response to the crisis facing these ancient faith communities.

The Orthodox Christian Network, represented by Executive Director Rev. Dr. Christopher T. Metropulos, was invited to attend the press conference and joined these Christian Leaders in signing this pledge of solidarity.

The Pledge, in part, says: “Now facing an existential threat to their presence in the lands where Christianity has its roots, the Churches in the Middle East fear they have been largely ignored by their coreligionists in the West… American religious leaders need to pray and speak with greater urgency about this human rights crisis.”

Among the foreign policy recommendations contained in the Pledge is the appointment of a high-level Special Envoy on Middle East Religious Minorities.  Wolf and Eshoo sponsored legislation to this effect which overwhelmingly passed the House last year and is presently languishing in the Senate.

In addition to the Caucus co-chairs, other speakers included (in alphabetical order, and followed by some comments from their brief addresses):

  • Dr. Leith Anderson, president, National Association of Evangelicals
  • Archbishop Oshagan Cholayan, Armenian Apostolic Church of America
  • Dr. Jerry Johnson, president and CEO, National Religious Broadcasters
  • Jim Liske, president and CEO, Prison Fellowship Ministries
  • George J. Marlin, chairman of the Board, Aid to the Church in Need-USA
  • His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios of Boston, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
  • Johnnie Moore, senior vice president, Liberty University
  • Dr. Russell D. Moore, president, Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
  • Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou, professor of Conflict Resolution, Bedford, MA
  • Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad (Statement read by Joseph Kassab, founder and president, Iraqi Christians Advocacy and Empowerment Institute)
  • Nina Shea, director and senior scholar, Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom
  • Rev. Canon Dr. Andrew White, chaplain, St. George Anglican Church, Baghdad
  • Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington

Representative Frank Wolf
Representative Frank Wolf, who is retiring from his public office after decades of service, said we should not be surprised by this down turn in the way people interact with each other.  This trend has been going on for years.  The real question is why have we taken so long to respond.

Representative Anna Eshoo
The co-sponsor of the legislation and this effort Representative Anna G. Eshoo lauded her co-worker in the House for his word on behalf of others around the globe and wishes him well.  She stated emphatically that this effort should start a movement by all Christians to respond to the tragedy of the killing of the faithful around the globe because of what they believe and that a special envoy dealing with the persecution of Christians in the Middle East should be appointed by President Obama with an official position at the White House.  The room was filled to capacity with religious leaders and media from around the country. Rep Eshoo thanked all of the leaders for signing the pledge and said there should be no question that their signatures will go a long way in having others join the effort.

Dr. Leith Anderson
Dr. Leith Anderson said make no mistake about it, we are experiencing an ecumenical cleansing in the Middle East the likes of which we have not seen where Christians, Muslims, and other minority faiths are being persecuted. He urged everyone to ask every candidate during this year’s elections what their position is on the persecution currently being waged in that part of the world.

Cardinal Wuerl
The persecution of Christians in not something new in the history of mankind.  What is new is the intensity we see it at every day in some media channels. The amount of violence against vulnerable people is unprecedented.  He posed the question of, Why does this happen?  It happens, he said, because of our silence.  The people of the Middle East and all of the people in the world who are vulnerable are waiting to hear from us.

Jim Liske
Why should we care?  We care as Christians because we know that everyone has an intrinsic value and all are created in the Image and Likeness of God.

Archbishop Oshagan Cholayan
Archbishop Oshagan Cholayan, Armenian Apostolic Church of America, spoke passionately about the genocide of Armenian Christians and urged the media present to tell the story of those Christians who have no voice.

Rev. Canon Dr. Andrew White
The Christians of Baghdad feel forgotten by the greater Christian Church.  When one Christian is deprived of his right to worship, all Christians feel the hurt and violence.  However, when you have your faith, it doesn’t matter how difficult things are because God is with us.  We are the voice of the martyrs, the forgotten by the Church.

Metropolitan Methodios of Boston
His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios of Boston, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, spoke with great passion about the difficulties of the Christians in the Middle East, but also in Turkey, which is where the Ecumenical Patriarchate is located.  He reminded those present that for decades now, the Greek Orthodox people have been persecuted and that the School of Halki, the theological school of the Patriarchate, still remains closed and has been for over 40 years.  His Eminence mentioned that when he was traveling to the gathering, today he saw signs in the airport which stated, “If you see something, say something.” He asked us to do the same with the Christian minorities throughout the world.  Clearly, something is wrong, and we all know about it.  Now it is time to move forward and gather the Christians of the world for this greater cause.

Nina Shea
Was one of the organizers of the press conference.  She stated that our hope is that this gathering will be the beginning of a concerted effort of people of good will to engage in prayer and help with foreign policy intervention to alleviate this crisis.

Johnnie Moore
Johnnie was one of the youngest speakers, and he spoke with concern about the youth of the world.  He reminded those in attendance that 50% of the world population is under 30 and that they were the ones for the most part suffering the most from the religious persecutions. The people’s response to this issue must be a response of grace and an amazing heroic and martyric witness. Johnnie also noted that 85% of the people in the world live in a country where persecution is taking place and are in constant fear of being killed. If this has been an important issue, why have we not done something about it? The youth of the world want to know.  We will be the victims of our own story.  When the best of religions is persecuted, we are robbed of our collective roots.

Video and audio recordings of these speakers will be available shortly on the OCN website. It was an impressive gathering at the Capital of clergy and lay people, and members of non-profit organizations. The real question is, what happens now?  Will any action be taken by Christians throughout the world or will this just pass by as another good photo op?  I believe the people of the Middle East deserve better.  Don’t you?

Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network.  You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.

About author

Fr. Chris Metropulos

Shaped by a life of service to Christ’s Church, Fr. Christopher has dedicated himself to using all the tools God has placed at his disposal to spread the light of Orthodoxy across America. As Founding Father and host of the Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) and the “Come Receive The Light” national Orthodox Christian radio program, he shepherds a dynamic and rapidly expanding ministry bringing joy, hope, and salvation in Jesus Christ to millions of listeners on Internet and land-based radio around the world in more than 130 countries. Fr. Christopher is the former President of Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and Parish Priest of Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.