Watching ancient Christian communities stand nearly defenseless as Islamic militants roll across swaths of the Middle East, coalitions of Christians are banding together to sound the alarm and demand government action.
The most recent effort is a three-day conference in Washington, D.C., which gathered Orthodox Christians, evangelicals, Roman Catholics and others for prayer, speeches and a lobbying push on Capitol Hill.
“If Christian voices are able to ring out as one from Egypt to Syria to Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, then we really do believe it will be possible for Middle Eastern Christians to survive,” said Andrew Doran, executive director of In Defense of Christians, which organized the conference.
Doran, who describes himself as a Catholic with a great affinity for Orthodox Christianity, said the gathering has shown how Middle Eastern Christians can put aside their sometimes 1,500-year-old disagreements and take up the cause of their beleaguered brethren.
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Bishop Angaelos, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of England, called for unwavering unity in combating the “medieval” mindset and violence faced by Christians and other minorities in the region.
“We haven’t seen this since the atrocities of Genghis Khan in the 13th century,” Angaleos told several hundred people in a Washington hotel ballroom Wednesday.
There are about 12 million Christians in the Middle East – about 5 percent of the region’s population – and they represent the second-largest religious group after Muslims. At the beginning of the 20th century, Christians represented about 1 in 5 Middle Easterners, but many have emigrated due to war and persecution.
Iraq’s Christian population, for example, has fallen from 1 million to 400,000 in the past 10 years, according to the IDC.