Culture At Large

Iraqi Christians paid dearly for survival

Andy Rau

A disturbing secret about Iraqi Christianity is emerging now that the violence in the country seems to be settling down: over the past several years, Iraqi Christians paid hefty ransoms to spare their families and congregations from murder by insurgents.

The issue first attracted attention when it became known that Archbishop Rahho, a respected and internationally-recognized leader of the Christian community in Iraq, paid "protection money" for years to spare his congregation. Two weeks after he stopped paying the extortion money, he was murdered. From the NYT story:

These payments, American military officials and Iraqi Christians say, peaked from 2005 to 2007 and grew into a source of financing for the insurgency. They thus became a secret, shameful and extraordinary complication in the lives of Iraq’s Christians and their leaders — one that Christians are only now talking about more openly, with violence much lower than in the first years of the war.

“People deny it, people say it’s too complex, and nobody in the international community does anything about it,” said Canon Andrew White, the Anglican vicar of Baghdad. Complicating the issue further, he said, some of the protection money came from funds donated by Christians abroad to help their fellow Christians in Iraq. [...]

Officials say the demands could be hundreds of dollars a month per male member of a household. In many cases, Christian families drained their life savings and went into debt to make the payments. Insurgents also raised money by kidnapping priests. The ransoms, often paid by the congregations, typically ran as high as $150,000, several priests and lay Christians said.

My heart weeps for fellow believers caught in such an awful dilemma: pay the extortion money, and fund the insurgency, or have their leaders, families or entire congregations killed. The article notes the shame that many feel for having paid—but I don't think anybody could fault Rahho and other Iraqi Christians for acting the way they did in the face of such a horrifying choice.

I normally try to close posts like this with a discussion question, but the thought of me tossing this issue out like a Sunday School discussion question ("What do you think they should have done?") makes me feel ill. Come soon, Lord Jesus...

Topics: Culture At Large, News & Politics, World