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Moore: Mideast oppression becoming ‘personal’

WASHINGTON (BP) — Evangelical Christians are becoming more concerned about persecution in the Middle East as they begin to identify with their heritage and as they take a personal view of the suffering, Southern Baptist religious freedom advocate Russell D. Moore [[email protected]@180=“This is our story and our history, and this ought to matter.”
— Russell D. Moore] told a nationwide television audience.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Moore said the widespread persecution that is largely eliminating communities of Christians — and other minority religious adherents — in countries such as Egypt, Iraq and Syria is beginning to gain evangelical attention in the United States.

One way for evangelicals to become more sensitive to the suffering of fellow disciples in the Middle East is by “turning [in their Bibles] to the back to the maps and to say, ‘Iraq. That’s not just a national security issue. That’s where Abraham was from. And Syria, that’s the road to Damascus. That’s the apostle Paul. This is our story and our history, and this ought to matter,'” Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said Jan. 24.

“I’m from Biloxi, Miss.; you’re from Pensacola,” Moore told host Joe Scarborough. “And when the oil spill happened [in the Gulf of Mexico], we paid attention to that, because that’s our home. And I think evangelical Christians are starting to become aware this is our heritage, these are our people and we ought to be more concerned about it.”

The growing attention is occurring also because “it’s becoming personal,” said Moore, who cited the imprisonment of American citizen Saeed Abedini in a brutal Iranian prison.

“Facebook is full of evangelicals calling on one another: ‘Let’s pray for Pastor Saeed,'” Moore said. “So I think as it becomes personal, it starts to become more of an issue for people.”

Evangelical leaders are seeking to call American evangelical churches “to care about this, to talk about it in sermons, to pray about it on Sunday mornings,” Moore said.

One reason more is not heard about Christian persecution in the Mideast, he said, is “because so many people wonder, ‘Well, what can we do about it anyway? We’re not going to invade the Middle East again in order to deal with it.’ So I think a lot of people just don’t know what to do.”

The Syrian civil war is a case in point, Moore said.

The threat to the Christian community is “one of the reasons why evangelicals had a lot of ambivalence about military action in Syria,” he said. “We all hate the Assad regime, but we said we don’t want to create anything that’s going to destroy Christian communities in Syria.”

The United States government is demonstrating “a growing interest” in the issue, Moore said.

“The question is: What do we do? I think there’s some really practical things we can do,” he said of federal officials. “One of those things is offering Internet freedom, working to come in and break down firewalls across the world where some of these persecuted communities can get in touch with people on the outside to know what’s going on, to connect with one another. I think that’s going to be a major, major initiative in fighting religious persecution around the world.”

Congress and the White House recently heeded ongoing requests from the ERLC and other religious and human rights organizations for increased spending to help breach Internet firewalls. President Obama signed into law Jan. 17 an omnibus spending bill that doubled the amount of funds for the online freedom program of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

The law requires a varied, government-wide plan to achieve Internet freedom and continuing research on and development of technology to help in that effort.

The BBG is an independent federal agency that supervises all federally supported, non-military media in promotion of freedom, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia.

Open Doors, which serves the persecuted church overseas, placed five Middle Eastern countries in its top 10 list of the world’s worst persecutors of Christians. In its Jan. 8 report, Open Doors included the following from the Middle East: Syria; Iraq; Saudi Arabia; Iran; and Yemen.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).