Repentance and Reconciliation – A Response to Rupen Das, on Betrayal and Redemption

reconciliation in Syria

Thanks a lot, Rupen, for your very hearty presentation of the grim situation of Christians in Syria.

You are contrasting in your text two views on what is tragically happening in that country. The view of the West – favouring the rebellion, and the view of Syrian Christians – who seem to prefer the past status quo, of which they were beneficiaries, along with a few others. With a price though.

It is mostly about this price, and its implications, that I want to talk to you and our readers here, by presenting, if I am allowed, a third possible view on this, as painful as it may be for Syrian Christians to hear this. And if somebody is tempted to ask what qualifies me to say what I am going to share with you, I can show you my ‘scars’.

Let me begin with a story. A number of years ago I was in Beirut, Lebanon, at Notre Dame du Mont Monastery, for a conference of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding. Among other invitees, there were four Christian leaders from Iraq, one of them being a general in the Syrian army, and head of the Protestant community there. In their speeches, these four men could not praise more the supposedly deep wisdom and good will towards Christians of their ‘great leader’, the late Saddam Hussein. Allow me not to repeat here their pathetic stories.

Coming from a former communist country, that got rid of its dictator not long before that meeting took place, I had the impression of a flash back, at the time when Romanian Christian leaders – Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants alike, were praising the ‘great leader, Ceausescu’, while we, committed Christians, were actively supervised and heavily persecuted by the communist secret police all over Romania. So, when I hear now Syrian Christians praising Assad, I have the same awkward feeling that something is just not OK in this picture.

First of all, there is a price for everything. Christian in Syria, too, paid a price for their relative peace under Assad, exactly like some Christians paid a price to be left in peace by the communist regime. Often, the price for them was to accept to sacrifice the call to openly witness to Jesus Christ, in exchange for peace. Was it worth it? I doubt it. Besides the fact that such a sacrifice is not without implications to the integrity of the Gospel.

Secondly, let us look at what they got in exchange. Would you call that liberty? If so, it is a very skewed kind of liberty. ‘Freedom’ on a leash, as long and as beautiful that may be, is in fact (almost voluntary) slavery. And Syrian Christians, as people freed by Jesus Christ, know that very well. This being the case, for them to call that freedom was the highest hypocrisy, and the ultimate justification for the dictator.

Thirdly, I think there is a fair degree of selfishness in the decision of the majority of Syrian Christians to support (for that is precisely what they did; we should not avoid speaking the truth about it), with the price mentioned above, the dictatorial regimes of the two Assads. It seems their key priority was how to get the best possible situation for themselves, even if that was going to happen at the expense of others. In other words, ‘to hell with the world, if it’s OK with us’. Would you see that as compatible with Christian love and the ethical values in the Sermon on the Mount? I doubt it. Now, those who have been oppressed under Assad, while Christians had a comparatively easier life, may come on top politically. It seems it is pay-back time; call it poetic justice. This in no way justifies the violence of the extremists. It only explains some of its roots.

Fourthly, let me give you a concrete example. How many years has the Syrian army occupied and has the fierce Syrian secret service, trained by the Russian KGB, oppressed Lebanon? You know better. Have there been any meaningful protests among Syrian Christians against the occupation of Lebanon and the related crimes during this long time? Not, to my knowledge, even when their Christian sisters and brothers were the victims. For them, it seems, in those instances, it was more important to be Syrians than to be Christian. Again, skewed loyalties. They were silent then; now the west is silent about their tragic fate.

So, what will the future hold for Christians in Syria? Of course, there is no way for us to know. But what we do know is that we are free in life to make any decisions we want, but we will have no control over the consequences. If we look at the general trends in the region, in the last hundred years, and at what happened more recently to Christians in Iraq, we may see in the next years only a tiny minority of Christians left in Syria and in the other Arab countries around. And that will be really tragic, not only for the Christians, and for the witness of the Gospel in the region, but, as the Palestinian Prime Minister, Dr. Salam Fayyad said countless times, for the chance of peace in the region. For, Jesus solemnly tells Christians, ‘you are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men’ (Mat. 5:13).

In light of the above, to the two words, ‘Betrayal’ and ‘Redemption’; suggested by Rupen Das, let me suggest two more: ‘Repentance’ and ‘Reconciliation’. I believe that, as hard as that may be, Syrian Christians should sincerely repent, first before God, and then towards their other Syrian sisters and brothers for their selfishness and for supporting the criminal regime of Assad. Furthermore, and that might be even more painful, then and only then will they have the moral authority to humbly extend their hand of reconciliation towards the rest of the Syrian society. Is that, you think, a utopian expectation? Humanly speaking, yes, but nothing is impossible in the power of the Spirit. Furthermore, I find these more compatible with Kingdom values than self-pity, as much as we could understand those feelings of our fellow Christians in Syria. May God have mercy on the great country!

 

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

6 thoughts on “Repentance and Reconciliation – A Response to Rupen Das, on Betrayal and Redemption”

  1. Wow. Thanks for articulating my intuited concerns so clearly. Closer to (my) home I recall a meeting with Indonesian Christian friends/colleagues around the time that the Indonesian Army was occupying East Timor. I listened to their blinkered support for their government’s actions with stunned disbelief. Literally, took my breath away. So certain was their position that I was filled with doubts about my own ability to know what was going on. A humble, but in the light of history, faulty assessment. Thanks for articulating a tragedy of too many faithful Christians the world over, and having the humility to point out it happens in our own countries too – Romania, Australia, etc. I never fail to be impressed (disappointed?) by the human ability for self-deception (including my own, of course). But that’s another topic…

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    1. Thanks, Philip. It was hard for me to write this, because I know it will not be easy to be received by my Syrian friends. Yet, as painful as it may be, the truth must be spoken. Because without the truth, there will be n o reconciliation. And without reconciliation, there will be no redemption>
      I have walked myself this painful road, and I have made my own mistakes; that is the only reason why I dared to speak. I hope I will be forgiven.

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  2. I really appreciate your taking my comments and expanding on them. The crisis in Syria remains a very difficult one with somewhat defined opposing positions being pushed to the extreme by both sides with each passing day. The parties in the conflict and their international backers have defined the issues in a very simplistic good versus evil paradigm. There is not only no humanitarian space left, but there is no political space in-between for peace-building and bridging the growing divide between the communities. Some have commented saying that the middle of the brutal civil war is not the time to do peace-building. Yet if one does not start now, it may be too late.

    You’re absolutely right in the way you have charted out the way forward for Syrian Christians. If they are unwilling to take these difficult next steps of repentance and reconciliation, they will have no place in whatever Syria emerges from the rubble of the conflict. It is the Syrian Christians who need to step in and create this space through repentance and reconciliation which will lay the foundations for a just society. This is not about politics but about being a prophetic voice.

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  3. Hallo Rupen . Thank you for a balanced view of the Christian situationn in Syria. The feeling of betrayal is all over the region, not only in Syria and Iraq.Christians in Lebanon are very scared. The Western media is so biased to present the fight in Syria and before in Iraq , Lybia and Egypt as a fight between good and evil. Anyway, who controls the American media.Saddam was evil but what came after was much worse ,.What the West and, particularly USA, cares for is Israel and oil. For that they are ready to spill much blood.
    It seems since the Crusades , the Christian Arabs reputation was spoiled. This is a region that never forgets even after hundreds of years. Actually , the West has never left us alone even after the defeat of the Crusades.The story of double betrayal and abandonment is really the story of the cross. This story has been playing in the ME for hundreds of years. Christians have been living in agony for centuries .
    It is a blessing that many pastors and other Christians are doing to Syrian refugees but let me say that Christians of Lebanon do not blame Syria’s Christians for the behavior of Syria in Lebanon. Most of us in Lebanon have family relations in Syria. In fact most Christians are afraid that the new persecution of Christians in Syria will eventually spill over . lebanon is not safe unless a political solution is found for Syria.
    Let me here make some observation on what mr.Danut M’s remarks. I think you are quite judgemental. I happen to know that Christian Iraqi General . He was never the head of the protestant community. He may have assumed it for a while. Any way , he migrated.
    ..The sermon on the mount is God’s standard for judgerment .I do not believe that an Christian has ever come close to living at that high standard. This is why we can come to the cross and ask for forgivenes we do not deserve since we continue to sin no matter hwo much our committment is .We are frail and weak and we need to repent always .Confession , repentance and trust in God and the power of the cross is and should be a continuous process.

    The political choice facing Christians of the ME is a choice between bad and worse untill God shows a third way. The Arab world is not yet ready for democracy, American style. It is plagued with ethnicity, confessionalism , tribalism and a patriarchal culture.
    Yes let us pray for repentance of ME Christians but also for repentance of the West and North America. No one can really sense the magnitude of damage Zionist Christianity in America is doing to our cause .Let us also pray for a political solution , not only for Syria but also for Iraq and Palestine / Israel. There is so much need for reconciliation and forgiveness in this region at the political level as well as the spiritual level.Let us pray to our father in heaven , in Jesus name, that ” THY KINGDOM COME , THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN”
    AMEN

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