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Does the U.S. do enough for Christians in the Middle East?

Published: Friday, Aug. 15 2014 4:50 a.m. MDT

Updated: Friday, Aug. 15 2014 6:23 a.m. MDT

Archbishop Alexios of Gaza leads a prayer during the funeral of Christian woman Jalila Ayyad, 70, who was killed in an Israeli strike that destroyed her house, during her funeral in Gaza City on Sunday, July 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Khalil Hamra, Associated Press

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The United States has sent humanitarian aid and increased its military presence in Iraq in response to the rise of violent militants. But some commentators question whether Americans are doing enough for Iraq's persecuted Christians.

"As IS (formerly ISIS) militants continue their sweep of northern Iraq toward the capital of the Kurdish region, tens of thousands of Christians are on the run, trying to avoid the IS ultimatum given in Mosul and other areas: convert, pay a protection tax, leave or die," Christianity Today reported.

It's a grim description of a dire situation, one that Americans aren't doing enough to end, wrote Mark Movsesian for First Things. The law professor at St. John's University wondered why military and humanitarian responses were mobilized after thousands of Christians had fled.

"We're offering assistance to 40,000 Yazidi refugees whom ISIS has driven from their homes and threatened to slaughter. Great — we should. But in the weeks before ISIS turned on the Yazidis, it had displaced more than 100,000 Christians from their homes," Movsesian wrote.

President Obama did call attention to Christians in his Aug. 9 statement on Iraq. "We will continue to work with the international community to deal with the growing humanitarian crisis in Iraq," he said. "Countless Iraqis have been driven or fled from their homes, including many Christians."

However, the focus of his message was the Yazidi men, women and children stranded on Mount Sinjar. Movsesian argued that it was this group, not Iraqi Christians, that inspired American action.

"There are reasons why America tends to treat Mideast Christians as an afterthought. Mideast Christians lack a natural constituency in American public life. They are, as one commentator observed, too foreign for the Right and too Christian for the Left," Movsesian explained.

That commentator was Ed West in his Kindle Single, "The Silence of Our Friends," who cited French philosopher Regis Debray as the inspiration for the sentiment. His e-book explores the variety of horrors taking place in the Middle East, questioning the lack of response from Christians in the West.

Drawing from West's work, The Week published a commentary in January on Western inaction, noting that the failure to act might derive from fear rather than avoidance.

"Church leaders outside the Middle East are afraid to speak out, partly because they fear precipitating more violence," The Week reported. In 2006, for example, a comment from Pope Benedict XVI was perceived as anti-Islamic and used to justify the fire-bombing of churches in Iraq.

Although individual religious communities hold far less power than the American government, religious freedom activists believe they can still make a difference.

"I think a lot of folks probably feel that this is beyond their ability (to offer help)," Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research at the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told Deseret News National. "It just isn't the case. I would encourage everyone to be praying. We know that God is aware of what's going on."

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas

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