Unbroken or Broken?

I saw the movie Unbroken during the Christmas holiday. I had read the book a couple of years earlier and wondered why they hadn’t yet made the story into a movie. It is absolutely unbelievable what Louie Zamperini endured. I cannot imagine being in that situation and surviving not just the physical suffering and deprivation of a POW, but the mental anguish and hopelessness that attends such a condition. As I watched the movie, the word “broken” kept going through my mind. I was assaulted by the brokenness of war; the brokenness of a world where people hate and attempt to dominate and denigrate those who look different and speak a different language; the brokenness of families and systems that grow children into adults capable of such atrocities; and the brokenness of the human heart riddled with sin and allergic to its Creator.

Louis Zamperini, though he endured, was actually a broken man living in a broken world. He was not motivated by love and forgiveness, but survived like so many people on the bread of hatred and the water of revenge. It was only after he gave his life to Jesus Christ at one of Billy Graham’s first evangelistic tent meetings in Los Angeles that he became unbroken; something that the movie unfortunately left out. One needs to be whole before they can be unbroken and Louie was anything but whole when he came back from the war. Whole people do not self-destruct, which was what Zamperini was in the process of doing. In a very real sense he was doing to himself exactly what the Bird (the commandant of the prison camp who was so cruel to Louie) had failed to do. And to further underscore his brokenness, Louie walked out on Billy Graham at the first mention of sin. However, Louie’s wife convinced him to go back on another night and he responded to the good news of God’s love and forgiveness in Christ. Louie became a whole man; an unbroken man, driven by love for broken juveniles and for his broken tormentors.

It is unfortunate that the message of forgiveness and reconciliation was a mere echo in the movie because it is this message that our broken world needs so desperately to hear. Instead we hear hatred preached across the racial divide in our own cities, revenge practiced by the purveyors of Islamic fundamentalism in France, and power-mongering violence of the Assad regime in Syria pushing millions to refugee status and to the brink of starvation. Where is the message of reconciliation for the Palestinians and the Israelis? It lies in the gospel of Jesus Christ; the very message our broken world does not want to hear (like Louie, at first) because of its brokenness.

I recommend the movie even though it misses its chance to be prophetic. Perhaps it will influence people to read the book. By the way, another movie that you may want to see is To End All Wars (2001). It is a true story about four Allied POWs who endured incredibly harsh treatment in a Japanese prison camp during WW2. The movie is based upon the real-life account of Ernest Gordon contained in his book Through the Valley of the Kwai. It is not an easy movie to watch but you will see and hear the message of costly sacrifice and reconciliation that is at the heart of the gospel.

Slaughter in Africa…

mcentafrThis is the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda. A constant message we hear from the nations is one of apology for not intervening and stopping the horrors there before they turned into genocide. A similar horror is taking place in the Central African Republic that demands the world’s attention before an apology will be necessary there as well. The whole world knows about the missing Malaysian airplane with 239 passengers and crew. Forty-four million dollars have already been spent on the search. There are thousands missing in CAR, and it barely makes the news.

Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, wrote the following article last week in in Time Magazine. He recently traveled to the CAR on behalf of the U.S. State Department, along with a Roman Catholic Cardinal and the President of the Islamic Society of North America. The trio was chosen because the religious make-up of CAR is 52 percent evangelicals, 29 percent Catholics and 15 percent Muslims. The following are his comments:

It’s not easy to explain what’s been happening. And, not everyone agrees to any explanation. The best chronology begins with a corrupt and failed central government that has been accused of injustice and incompetence. A rebel group called Seleka swept across the country with brutality and established a new government with a new president. The new president didn’t last long. An anti-balaka militia organized [itself] for protection and retaliation against the Seleka and have been accused of further brutality. A transitional government has been established, but it is poor, weak and often overwhelmed.

We heard stories that break your heart. Thousands killed, often with machetes; widespread rape, destruction of homes, shops and villages. There were 36 mosques in Bangui; now there are seven. One man told us that 13 of his brothers were burned to death the same day. Another told about a hand grenade thrown into a group of people while they prayed. The National Highway was closed by all the unrest, so trucks and supplies can’t access the country. Villagers have fled into the bush out of fear; their villages are empty, and no crops are being planted. One million people have fled the country or are internally displaced. There is a refugee camp at the little airport that swelled to 100,000.

Seeds for planting are not available; some will be imported from Cameroon, but they are also in short supply and giving priority to their own farmers saying that any surplus will be sold to CAR. There is threat of wide-scale famine. Before all this CAR was one of the poorest nations in the world with people living on less that $2 per day. Current shortages are inflating food prices. In Bangui, the capital of CAR, chickens are selling for $12 each. (To make a comparison: If you earn $50,000 a year in the United States, it would cost you over $800 to buy one chicken for your family.)

Some say that this is a religious battle between Christians and Muslims. It is a common assertion in our western press. I can see why they say this, since there are similar lines politically, demographically and religiously. However, the leaders we talked to in CAR insist this is not a religious war. To the contrary, the religious leaders are the loudest most courageous voices against the violence and the strongest promoters of peace.

As we sat in the ambassador’s residence, one of the militia representatives said that the people of CAR have not made God the priority. He said that most important in the Central African Republic is for the people of the nation to turn their hearts and actions to God. His prayer was that human tragedy would turn into spiritual renewal.

I am deeply disturbed by the hypocrisy of our own culture to racism. We can take such swift action against the offensive comments of an NBA team owner made in private, while we show little to no concern for Africans starving, suffering, and being slaughtered in CAR. Wouldn’t it be amazing if NBA Commissioner Adam Silver took that 2.5 million he is fining Donald Sterling, added several million more from any other owner or player in the NBA who ever made a racist comment in private, and then sent it to help our brothers and sisters in CAR? That would be an incredible statement! Back to reality- let us pray for CAR, financially help the aid organizations working there, enlighten our elected representatives, and do whatever we can to keep this tragedy on the world stage.

The Christian Church in Syria

christians in syriaAs we continue to pray for a diplomatic rather than a military solution to the crisis in Syria, I thought you might find it helpful (as I did) to learn more about the Christian Church there. Did you know that even before the conversion of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus (ca. 34 AD) there were Christians in Syria? The followers of Jesus were first known as Christians in Syrian Antioch (ca. 46 AD). During the 2nd-4th century a school of theology developed in Antioch, one of whose most prestigious disciples was John Chrysostom. Monasticism flourished from the 4th-5th century with thousands of ascetics, monks and cenobites. St Simeon the Stylite and St Maron lived not far from Aleppo. 5th century Syria was at the heart of the Monophysite controversy. The Council of Chalcedon failed to end the disputes. St Maron’s monks, faithful to Rome, began to seek refuge in Lebanon. In the 7th century Caliph Omar dismissed Christian officials and his successor obliged them to wear distinctive dress. In 722 there were still 3.8 million Christians in Syria out of a population of 4 million.

During the 8th century Abbasid Caliph al-Mahdi forced Arab-Christian Tannukhs to convert to Islam. In 855 Christians in Homs revolted and their leaders were crucified at the city gates. By the 9th century Islam was gained the upper hand and many churches became mosques and, by about 900, half the Syrian population was Muslim. During the 12th-13th century Christians in Syria had problems in areas controlled alternately by crusaders and Muslims. In 1124 the Aleppo cathedral was made into a mosque, but it still contends that it possesses the head of John the Baptist. In 1350, out of a population of one million, 100,000 were Christians (about the same proportion that exists today). In the 16th century, the Orthodox, Jacobite and Armenian Christian communities were recognized by the Ottoman sultan as nations with their own courts and laws. In 1860 there was a massacre of Christians in Mount Lebanon and it spread to Damascus: thousands died. In 1915 vast numbers of Armenians fled to Syria from massacres in Turkey.

Just as Islam is made up of a variety of groups, so the Christian church in Syria is composed of the following, from largest to smallest:

Greek Orthodox There are 500,000 divided into six Dioceses. Their leader is the “Patriarch of Antioch and all the East”, and their liturgy is in Arabic. Damascus has been the Patriarchal See since 1342. Greek Catholics (Melkites) The Greek Catholic Church of Antioch was born of a return to Catholicism by part of the Greek Orthodox Church in Antioch. Armenians The Armenian Church was inspired by St Gregory the Illuminator who made Armenia Christian in the third century.

Syriac/Syrian The Syrian Church was born in the mid-6th century from the dispute about the two natures of Christ. Jacob Baradai ordained Monophysite priests and Bishops, setting them beside the Catholic hierarchy. This Jacobite Church was joined by most of the Syrians who opposed Byzantine rule. Assyrians and Chaldeans Assyrians are Christians who belonged to the Nestorian Church established in Mesopotamia, and the Chaldeans are those who returned to Catholicism in 1681. Maronites The monks of St Maron founded the Church in Antioch by the Orontes River. Maronites are Catholic; persecuted by the Monophysites and then the Arabs, the majority were forced to take refuge in Lebanon. Latins The 3,000 Latins, mostly Catholics from Palestine or Europe (French and Italian), are under the jurisdiction of the Vicariate Apostolic of Aleppo for Latins, established in 1762. The majority of these Latins live in Damascus and Aleppo. Protestants A few thousand members of various denominations form the Superior Evangelical Council of Syria and Lebanon. Evangelical congregations are less than 1%. (This historical and statistical information was taken from L’Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English)

In Syria, Islam is not the state religion. The country is secular, which ensures equality for members of other religions. Christians can buy land and build churches. Clerics are exempt from military service and schools provide Christian and Muslim religious instruction. This is why Syrian Christians have been generally supportive of the Assad regime and why they were not calling for the proposed American missile strike. Syrian Christians believe that the government guarantees their survival. They fear extermination if Muslims take over and force Islam on the country. They have already seen what happened to Iraqi Christians. If you have time, I invite you to watch a news special by CBN from two years ago, just at the beginning of the uprisings. I think you will find it insightful. http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/world/2011/August/Muslim-Syria-Full-of-Christian-History/



Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, said that the NAE recently surveyed evangelical leaders to ask whether Congress should authorize US military intervention in Syria. “Sixty-two and a half percent said ‘no.’ Thirty-seven and a half percent said ‘yes.’ I was surprised because I expected the answers would be the other way around.” Evangelicals do not often agree on a lot, but I think this is a significant response.

The Syrian civil war is a nightmare with more than 100,000 dead and over a million people displaced. The recent chemical attack which killed somewhere between 500-1400 has evoked moral outrage from most of the Western World. Since World War I there has been a general international consensus that “all is not fair in love and war,” and that chemical weapons should never be used. The fact that such weapons were used upon one’s own people presents a special case of injustice that begs to be confronted and rectified.

However, does that mean that there should be intervention even if it is a relatively limited punitive missile strike? Apparently our allies do not think so nor a majority of the American people. There are three major views that make up the landscape of Christian response to war and the use of force. The first is the Just War theory held by most Catholics and conservative Protestants who believe that war is justified if certain criteria are met. The second is the Pacifist position which believes that violence in any form is incompatible with the gospel and that Christ’s command to “turn the other cheek” is not just a personal ethical response to evil, but a national one as well. Recently, there has been a third view called Just Peacemaking, which sees itself as a corrective to both of the major views.

In scanning the response of those who hold these views, I have seen a consensus that a punitive strike by the United States acting alone is neither justified nor wise. They have brought up a variety of concerns that no one is answering: What American interest are we protecting by such a strike? Won’t such a military action add to the human suffering and not alleviate it? How would this affect Christians in Syria and in that part of the world; would it add to their persecution like what happened in Iraq and is happening in Egypt? Would such a strike help or hurt Israel and Turkey? Finally, what is the point of such an intervention? A regime change; do we really know who the good guys are? I like what one proponent of the Just War theory said, “Saving national credibility is important but does not make a war just…It seems that the Administration is giving an altar call for a limited war, without having preached the sermon to make the case.”

What I hope for is that Congress will vote against such a strike and instead will draft a resolution that strongly condemns Syria’s action as unconscionable to the American people and to humanity. The resolution should call for the UN to live up to its principles by making a rigorous case for international intervention in the Syrian crisis and holding Russia complicit to the genocide taking place in Syria. As one writer in the Chicago Tribune said, “make Russia own Syria.” The resolution should also state that if the United Nations fails to act, the US will pull out and demand that the UN move its ineffective organization to Brussels or Geneva. This is a significant moment where we can use what moral leadership we have left to call the only organization in the world created for such a time as this, to put up or close up. One final point to the resolution, Congress should designate additional funds for the Syrian refuge relief effort and call upon the international community to also increase their efforts to alleviate the civilian suffering.

I do not expect Congress to pass my resolution. That is why we need to pray for our country, Syria, and the world—for God to accomplish what we cannot.