In less than two weeks Iraq went from a semi-functioning democracy to a land divided into regional factions ruled in many areas by the extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is imposing Sharia law after driving Christians out of Mosul and other cities in Iraq.
Syria lies in tatters as Islamic extremist groups battle for control of the country which has been engaged in a horrendous civil war for over three years. Each day creates more refugees. The largest group is Syrian Christians, who are being pushed out of their homeland.
Heading to Africa, you can see the battle for Nigeria, where Boko Haram kidnaps Christian girls daring to be educated. More girls were reportedly kidnapped last week, which adds to the approximately 200 that have been missing since March. Of course, Boko Haram has been attacking churches and Christian villages, as well as other targets, at record rates this year. Kenya, too, has a jihadist group called al-Shabaab which is bringing violence and heartbreak to the Christian population and the country at large.
What do all the Christians in these countries have in common? Well, certainly all are affected by the violence and threats by the various terrorist groups. Al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and ISIS all have similar doctrine and similar funding. In many cases, one group springs forth from another. All have a goal to spread Sharia law, imposing their Muslim faith by force. That means coercing Christians to deny their faith, leave their homes or face death. Many times followers of Jesus are not given the choice; they are just killed. This is a creed all Muslim terrorist groups have in common.
However, it is not just doctrine, tactics and money that connect all these situations. The most powerful part of this deadly stew is the affect of withdrawal…not the withdrawal of American troops, but the abandonment from the Middle East by many from the western Christian church.
There was a time when people of faith understood that to reach a group of people you must first love them, spend time in their lands and break bread together to build true friendships. But primarily western Christianity has ignored these lessons in regard to Muslims.
The assumption that democratic freedom, gained mainly through military force, would provide religious freedom has been a total failure. Most Muslims don't know a follower of Christ personally and have never heard the message of Jesus. They cannot know Christ if they have not heard and felt the love of Jesus. The battle within Islam between radical and moderate factions is largely unaffected by any knowledge of Jesus because there are precious few Christians living in Muslim lands.
To be clear, I'm defining Christianity as a spiritual movement followed by those who love like Jesus, talk like Jesus, think like Jesus and act like Jesus. Muslims don't share that definition. In their minds, Christians are western governments…all westerners. Is that a definition you are comfortable with? Do you want Christianity defined by what is produced by Hollywood and western culture? Neither do I. Yet that is exactly what has happened.
If the lessons of the past several years in the Middle East are not stark enough, let me be perfectly clear – unless Christians begin to reach out and love Muslims, both in the United States and around the world, there is no hope that peace will ever return to the Middle East.
No war will change this situation, no military intervention and no moderate force within Islam.
The question left unanswered is: Why have Christians in the West largely ignored the Middle East?
Certainly people of faith have reached out in love and support, through charitable and missionary efforts, to other cultures. But why, for the most part, not to Islamic culture? Most missionaries continue to go to nations with a high percentage of Christians, according to a 2013 report.
Perhaps we thought that this violent religious surge could only be put down by military force, despite the lesson of the past showing that spiritual movements cannot be put down by physical force. The bottom line is that Middle Eastern Christians are now being threatened and martyred at an alarming rate and many are being left without any assistance and support from their brothers and sisters in the West.
If we don't begin to teach and talk about loving, knowing and reaching Muslims and the Islamic culture from our pulpits, and at the kitchen table, then we will see more and more violence in places such as Iraq and Nigeria. It's time Christians begin to act and think like Jesus…and choose not to withdraw in the face of difficulty and danger, but love, pray and reach out.
One practical way to reach out is to sign up for the Open Doors USA Ramadan prayer campaign at www.OpenDoorUSA.org.
Brother Andrew, founder of Open Doors, writes about outreach to Muslims: "Christians (in the West) need a new filling of the Holy Spirit to love those who disagree with them. And the greatest expression of love is to share with them the most precious thing a Christian has, which is the good news of the salvation of Jesus Christ."