USA (MNN) — It’s official: ISIS is committing genocide against Yazidis, Christians, and Shiite Muslims.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made the designation March 17, marking only the second time the term’s been used by the American Executive branch during an ongoing conflict.
In his remarks, Kerry said that ISIS is “genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions.”
Why did it take a year to reach this conclusion?
A key issue facing the Administration was what kind of obligations would come with the designation. In light of that concern, Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA ,explains, “This does not obligate the United States to step in and stop the genocide. It merely identifies that here is a genocide going on. This definition that was given by the State Department is really quite broad.”
The actions of ISIS cannot go unanswered. On Monday, both Republicans and Democrats in the House joined together 393-0 to back HR 75, a non-binding resolution saying the crimes committed against Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities in the region amount to war crimes and in some cases, genocide.
Co-author of the Resolution, Nebraska Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, praised the State Department for its decision, noting that the United States has now spoken with clarity and moral authority. “The genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and others is not only a grave injustice to these ancient faith communities, it is an assault on human dignity and an attack on civilization itself.”
The unanswered question: If the United States is not obligated to step in and stop the genocide, what is the benefit of the designation?
Nettleton says, “My understanding is that there will be some additional aid funds that will be freed up by this designation. There are also some factors in place for people who are affected by genocide to immigrate to the United States.” So, the genocide factor is a strong statement, but “people wait to see what the actions are that are going to follow up this strong statement.”
VOM contacts in Iraq and Syria ask that we pray for the encouragement and protection of Christians. Many have already fled the country, but these contacts report that some pastors and other Christian leaders have chosen to remain in the area in order to minister to people who have stayed behind. They were not concerned about what a government called their situation. Rather, ”What they were concerned about was: ‘How are we going to serve the Lord? How are we going to reach out with the Gospel? How are going to survive from day-to-day?’”
VOM is assisting Christians with temporary shelter and basic necessities. VOM is also supporting families of martyrs and actively equipping indigenous evangelists in all areas of Iraq as well as those who are planting underground churches and distributing Bibles. (There are other ways to take action. Click here to explore them.)
Here’s why: in spite of persecution and hardship, many Iraqis are now uniquely open to the Gospel. Nettleton says ISIS violence has shocked and horrified many Muslims. “They see these are folks that are following Muhammed. What are the folks following Jesus doing? They are serving. They’re helping. They’re providing for the need. ‘Maybe there’s more to that faith than I’ve been told. I should check that out.’ That really is what’s happening across the Middle East.”
When asked how other believers could be praying, Nettleton recounts the response of one of the pastors he met with while in Iraq earlier this year. “One of the first things he asked was: ‘Pray that God will call Christians to stay here and serve Him. There are so many reasons to leave. Pray that God would call people to stay here and serve, because there’s a great harvest, but we need workers.’”
Pray that God would send confusion and disagreement to those in the ISIS group, to stop them from inflicting more violence to the region, and that their hidden cells would be uncovered by local authorities. Pray that God would grant wisdom in handling the Internally Displaced People (IDP) projects and strength to those who work with them directly. Also, ask God to reveal Himself to them with dreams and visions.