Want to make your pastor squirm uncomfortably, stammer tremulous non-answers, and then avoid you on sight for a month? Read this post, and bring up Syria with him. You see, events in Syria appear to be heading in a very uncomfortable direction for those evangelicals (read: the vast majority) who have a theologically systematized way of viewing the Middle East, and it just might end up becoming totally unexplainable. And since evangelicals seldom relish trafficking in the unexplainable, brace yourself for a deluge of off-topic platitudes about God’s sovereignty. You might even want to wear hip-waders or bring a raft.
Allow me to present the problem, in 5 simple assertions:
1) Syrian Christians generally support Assad I’ve mentioned this one before, but it bears repeating as most American news sources continue to assume American opposition to human-rights violating tyrant Bashir Assad. The man may use chemical weapons on his own people (and by ‘may’ I mean absolutely, positively, inarguably has and will), but he doesn’t kill Christians. Under him, Syria has been regarded as the safest Middle Eastern country for Christians, and the Syrian Church has been predictably grateful for that. Although it doesn’t appear to have offered open institutional support to the Assad regime, the pre-war status quo was definitely OK with the Syrian Church, and Assad’s armies include numerous Christian soldiers. Admittedly, some key rebels are Christians too, but for reasons addressed in #2 below, that may not prove decisive if Christians are forced to choose a side en masse; inasmuch as generalizations can be made about this, it seems like Syrian Christians tend to prefer Assad.
2) The Rebels increasingly consist of and depend on Jihadists Since help from Western governments has been sparse and few of us are willing to die for a Syrian cause, the rebels have found help where they could: the Islamic extremists who loathe Assad but love fighting and dying for causes in which they can believe. Media reports have suggested that the extremist element among the rebels has flourished, both in numbers and in status. For obvious reasons, this complicates the willingness of most democracies to aid the rebels, which only serves to increase the relative power of the Jihadists within the rebel movement. It’s not fair to say the rebels are all Islamic extremists, but it is fair to wonder who would actually hold the power if the rebels achieved whatever would pass for a win in this conflict (Since it appears Russia will not allow Assad to lose but the rebels could presumably maintain an insurgency indefinitely, an outright win seems unlikely for either side, and the remaining options defy characterization in a mere blog post).
Also, the influx of Islamist fighters into the rebel forces has rendered neutrality virtually impossible for the Syrian Church. Assad will let them live, but the Jihadist rebels are increasingly giving them the choice of emigration or death, so the Church’s efforts to stay out of the fight on an institutional level appear to be timing out.
3) Hezbollah is now openly helping Assad, and he’s doing well The rebels aren’t the only ones getting help from Islamist whack jobs – Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite Islamists who have often received support from Assad in their battles against Israel – have now openly entered the fray on the side of their patron. I’m not entirely sure how much of a difference this will make for Assad, but the war is increasingly going his way, and it looks like the war’s end will find him still holding power in at least a portion of sovereign Syria, and likely most of it. Which means Hezbollah’s willingness to die for him in his hour of need will probably mean great things for Hezbollah in the future, but lousy things for Lebanese Christians and Israeli Israelis.
4) It is now conceivable that Israel could be dragged into an open war What was unimaginable is now disconcertingly conceivable, however unlikely it remains. Israel may not care whether their blood enemy Assad or a bunch of Islamic terrorist rebels win the war, but it matters immensely to Israel that Hezbollah not receive Syrian chemical weapons. Look for Israel to ignore shipments from Lebanon to Syria – it would serve Israel well for more Hezbollah people and resources to be exhausted in Syria – but bomb the crap out of anything moving from Syria to Lebanon, if only to be safe. Just don’t expect Assad, as his fortunes continue to improve, to take that lightly. Will Israel end up in a war with Syria or Lebanon? Probably not. But don’t bet your house on it, because it is definitely now in play.
5) This would mean evangelical-supported Israel killing Christians So, with Syrian Christians being driven increasingly into the arms of Assad and with Israel seemingly heading for a conflict with the Hezbollah/Assad alliance (and whatever the odds against open war, Israel has never had qualms about isolated incidents, unacknowledged attacks, and all the covert options genius can devise), we seem headed for a military conflict in which some of God’s Chosen People kill some of the Body of Christ. Israel would never openly make war on Christians for the sake of their being Christians (They need what few global friends they have, and also, it would be wrong. And my money says the reasons belong in that order), but attacks against any non-Hezbollah parts of the Syrian government forces would be attacks against Christians just the same. Which is theologically problematic, to say the least, for those evangelicals who hold that Israel can do no wrong.
So there it is. Evangelicals overwhelmingly support Israel, in both political and economic ways, but Israel appears to be on a crash course with an army that includes significant numbers of Christians. I expect many churches will rationalize this by suggesting that opposing Israel is always wrong, no matter what, as well as arguing that the Christians in Syria are cultural Christians and not really Born Again. The type of people who read my blog will recognize that for the specious calumny it is, but just in case, permit me to retort: it is unacceptable for American evangelicals who risk literally nothing to be Christians to denounce as phony self-proclaimed Christians who risk their very lives in that proclamation. We who shoulder few burdens cannot denounce as fake those struggling under real crosses.
Well, I said cannot, but of course we can. But your pastor probably won’t be that stupid/insensitive, and that’s why he’ll squirm and avoid you if you bring this up. It’s actually to his credit.