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September 16, 2014 7:03 am

A Cruz Critic at The New York Times Discovers Christians in the Middle East

avatar by Dexter Van Zile

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Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has discovered the plight of Christians in the Middle East. In a September 14, 2014, column about Ted Cruz’s appearance at a Gala Dinner organized by In Defense of Christians, Douthat acknowledged the threat radical Islam presents to Christians in the region. He states that the American government has done little to prevent the destruction of Christianity in the Middle East and that for a number of reasons, American elites have failed to lift up the cudgel on behalf of these beleaguered Christians.

So far so good.

Douthat goes off the rails, however, when he unfairly blames the Israel-supporting Evangelical right – a group that has vocally condemned religious persecution in the Middle East – for America’s failure to respond to violence against Christians in the region.

Douthat’s ignorance became known in a tweet he issued prior to the article’s publication. In the tweet, Douthat stated that Christians in the Middle East were “insufficiently pro-Israel” to merit Ted Cruz’s support.

Douthat’s assertion that Cruz isn’t supportive of Christians in the Middle East is false, and demonstrably so. Senator Cruz spoke at a July conference about Christian persecution in the region sponsored by Coptic Solidarity. During his talk, Cruz railed about the mistreatment of Christians throughout the Middle East.

Cruz also spoke about Coptic churches being destroyed in Egypt, and of Christians being oppressed in Syria and Iraq. He spoke about Iran’s imprisonment of Saeed Abedeni and of Sudan’s mistreatment of Miriam Ibrahim, who was sentenced to death by the Sudanese government.

Cruz was not the only one drawing attention to Ibrahim’s case, but he was part of the group of activists who helped achieve her freedom.

To add to his error, Douthat suggested that Christians in the Middle East are too “culturally alien” to garner the support of Evangelicals who are more interested in Israel than they are their fellow Christians. (Again, it’s kind of an ironic criticism coming from Douthat, who hasn’t made much of a mark when it comes to pro-Christian activism.)

In fact, the Christians who have been most supportive of Israel, Evangelical Protestants, have also been at the forefront of the effort to protect Christians in the Middle East. They pay attention -close attention – to the issue of religious minorities in the region.

How do I know? The organization I work for, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) has hosted two conferences about the status of Christians in the region. The first conference took place near Chicago in 2011, and the second took place near Boston in 2012. The vast majority of attendees at both conferences were Evangelical Protestants, not Catholics or Orthodox Christians. Yes, there were a few Orthodox Christians at these conferences, but most of them were invited speakers. The Catholics in Chicago and Boston simply did not warm up to the cause, while Evangelical Protestants showed up in droves.

I was mortified when one of the attendees at the Massachusetts conference asked an obvious question during the Q and A period. “Where are the Catholics?” she asked. About the only thing I could do was to point out that I was a Roman Catholic, as was one of the pro-Iraqi Christians who spoke at the event. The preponderance of attendees were Evangelical Protestants.

And in Chicago, where the audience was mostly Evangelicals, a good number of the speakers were activists from groups like Open Doors, Voice of the Martyrs, and Christian Solidarity International – all organizations that rely mostly on Evangelical Protestants for their funding – who have been raising a hue and cry about the violence against Christians in the Middle East for years – long before ISIS made the headlines and long, long before IDC was even founded.

Christians in the Middle East have never been “invisible” to pro-Israel Evangelicals in the U.S. It’s been a top-of-the mind concern for this community for a long time – despite the theological differences between American Evangelicals and Christians in the Middle East. That’s why the IDC invited Cruz, a Southern Baptist, to their conference, and it is why his being booed off the stage was a disaster for IDC’s cause.

One of the reasons why mainline Protestants have been historically reluctant to raise the issue of Christian suffering under Islam is that it is a “Evangelical” issue, and the last thing mainliners want to do is suggest that Evangelical Protestants might be right about the issue.

For Douthat to implicate the Evangelical right in the failure of American elites to seriously address the issue of the persecution of Christians in the Middle East demonstrates that he simply does not know what he’s talking about.

It’s a convenient talking point for Douthat to use to beat up on Cruz and Evangelical Protestants, but it has no basis in fact.

Dexter Van Zile (@cameraorg) is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (@cameraorg).

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