Yesterday morning, Ted Cruz sat down for some breakfast with Alana Goodman and other staff of the Washington Free Beacon:
A few hours later, Goodman had posted a story headlined:
Cruz Headlines Conference Featuring Hezbollah Supporters
The Beacon’s motto for its “combat journalism” is “Do unto them,” which typically makes them a fun read. And boy did they “do unto them” in this piece. It turns out that the topic of the conference wasn’t Hezbollah support but, rather, persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Here’s how it was described elsewhere:
Washington– The deteriorating situation facing millions of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East will be the focus of a bipartisan and ecumenical conference in the nation’s capital next month. The three-day event sponsored by In Defense of Christians (IDC) will feature speakers from all over the globe.
The IDC Summit for Middle East Christians, whose theme is “Protecting and Preserving Christianity, Where It All Began”, will be the first occasion in history where six Christian Patriarchs from the Middle East will gather together in the United States.
You wouldn’t know it from much of the media, but the global plight of Christians is worsening as followers of Jesus are suffering and dying at the hands of oppressive regimes. The past century has seen the eradication of Christians in former strongholds in the Middle East. And this is something that people have been working very hard to fight. Many hoped this conference would draw much-needed attention to their suffering.
Goodman’s piece, in vintage WFB style, is filled with alarmist language. We learn of a Maronite Christian seeking a liaison with Hezbollah and it sounds horrifically bad until you realize the purpose is to work together to fight ISIS, for instance. Her descriptive language for the various Christian leaders (e.g. “Antioch Church patriarch”) suggests a lack of intimacy with the topic.
The real problem, of course, is just the messiness of the situation in the Middle East vis-a-vis foreign policy interests and religious persecution. Is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad the enemy or a friend? The United States considers him an enemy. The Free Beacon really considers him an enemy. But Christians in the region view him differently because his regime is fighting the guys who are killing them and seeking their eradication.
So Goodman writes:
However, critics fear several of the speakers will try to use the event to bolster Washington’s support for the Syrian regime in its ongoing civil war and help Bashar al-Assad restore his legitimacy and power.
The roster of speakers includes some of the Assad regime’s most vocal Christian supporters, as well as religious leaders allied with the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah.
Well, yeah. It’s messy.
Anyway, hopefully we can all recognize the importance of dealing with this huge problem of Christians being killed and oppressed even if our politics aren’t all the same, right? Perhaps especially if our politics aren’t aligned?
Maybe not. When Cruz was supposed to give the keynote address and discuss the deadly serious topic of persecution of Christians, 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. You can get the details and transcript here.
Sheesh. Or as Michael Brendan Dougherty put it about the general brouhaha:
I guess someone has to stand up against the menace of Maronite Christians and their powerful American mouthpieces.
— Michael B Dougherty (@michaelbd) September 11, 2014
The fact is, as Mark Tooley explains in a very thoughtful and balanced piece, that Christians who are persecuted have political views that may not align with U.S. interests. Who knew? For many of us, our concern about genocide of Christians isn’t limited to those who are perfectly aligned with our views. Someone will have to explain to me how positioning Cruz and the Free Beacon this way — as the go-to group for missing the point on Christian persecution — is a good thing for either of them or the military solutions they seek.
Clearly Michael Goldfarb, who founded the Free Beacon, thinks it was a home run all around:
— Michael Goldfarb (@thegoldfarb) September 11, 2014
The “keynote,” if you can call it that, turns out not to have gone over quite as well with the persecuted groups or their allies, if you can imagine. Seraphim Danckaert explains over at Orthodox Christian Network:
[I]t 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.
One can certainly argue in support of Cruz’s statement — politically, at least — and yet also recognize how fraught the topic is for Christians in the region.
While the case absolutely can and should be made that support for Israel does help the fight against Christian persecution, it would be naive and wrong for Christians to think that the United States has their interests at heart globally (or domestically, it seems!). And the United States has no governmental obligation to help out the Christians who are dying in the Middle East, although it would be wonderful if we could stop doing things that lead so quickly to their persecution. But I do wonder if some hawks misunderstand or underestimate American Christian sentiment about our brothers and sisters in Christ at their peril.