Iraq (MNN) — More Christians have been fleeing Iraq in recent months than ever before.
Carl Moeller with Open Doors USA says extremists are calling for the complete extermination of believers in the country.
"We've been calling this a 'religicide'–which is the systematic destruction and elimination of a religious group simply for being that religious group. And we see this now unfolding in a very shocking way," says Moeller.
The number of Christians in Iraq has dropped dramatically in the last few decades, dropping from 850,000 believers in 1991, to 550,000 believers in 2003, to 345,000 believers in early 2010. Now perhaps less than 250,000 Christians call Iraq home, a number which includes those who have been permanently displaced from their homes.
The loss of so many believers in just a year can be attributed in part to one significant event: "Last October 31, 60 Christians were killed in a terrorist attack by al-Qaeda-linked groups at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad," Moeller reminds us. As a result, "We've now seen an additional perhaps up to 95,000 Christians leave the country since that attack."
At the current rate of the exodus, Iraq will not have any Christians left in three years, according to an Open Doors' field worker.
To some, it might seem outlandish to suggest that an entire religious population would be wiped out from a nation, but believers have reason to fear the threat of total extermination. "Their families are threatened. Even young children are being killed. Extremists want to eliminate Christians from Iraq," said Moeller in a recent Open Doors report.
More than that, Iraq has a history of "religicide," which most notably occurred with the country's Jewish population.
"The Jewish community in Iraq 60-70 years ago in the 1930s and 40s was thriving and vibrant," says Moeller. "Then, systematically, as our friends at the Simon Wiesenthal Center have pointed out to us, they were targeted by extremist Muslims in the region for extermination and for extinction from that community. Now I can say, categorically, there's no Jewish community that is of any size in Iraq."
If it happened with a "thriving and vibrant" religious group, fear is understandable for another consistently persecuted minority.
The absence of any Christian community in Iraq would undoubtedly throw a bit of a wrench in the spread of the Gospel in the country. However, even amid some of the worst persecution in decades, Iraqi Muslims are still coming to Christ. Moeller says the suffering of believers is a witness of the reality of the truth of the Gospel–just as it was for the Apostle Paul–and many are drawn to Jesus Christ as a result.
Nonetheless, Open Doors will not stand by as believers are hunted. Moeller says Christians everywhere have a responsibility to pray and help. "Especially as a Christian, we should be there because these are our brothers and sisters in Christ."
Open Doors USA continues to petition U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to work with the Iraqi government to immediately form and implement a comprehensive plan of action to protect the vulnerable community of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq. The ministry has already faxed over 10,000 signatures on the petition, but more are needed. Sign the petition here.
In the meantime, pray hard for our fellow brothers and sisters in Iraq. Pray for their safety but also for courage unknown to share the Gospel with those who are seeking. Pray that the government would put an end to this "religicide" and that ultimately the Lord's sovereign will would reign.