In the last 24 hours, I’ve received notification via several church members regarding an “URGENT PRAYER REQUEST” to do with systematic beheading of children in Iraq.
How does a pastor handle such things?
To be honest I am a little conflicted.
Those who know me personally will know I am all in favour of prayer for the persecuted saints in Iraq and elsewhere.
I just organised and hosted an interdenominational prayer meeting for Iraq last Saturday. Inspired by Open Doors Australia, and in fellowship with about 45 other venues across Australia, about 100 Christians from Anglican, Baptist, independent Evangelical, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, and Reformed Churches united at St Michael’s Cathedral, Wollongong, to Pray for Iraq.
In 2 Corinthians 1:9-11, Paul and Timothy write that those hundreds of miles away can help those like them “in deadly peril”. How? Answer: “by your prayers”!
I have also been publicly speaking and sharing on social media about persecution of Iraqi Christians by ISIS for well over a month, since at least Sunday 14th July, when our parish’s sermon series on Revelation began and I mentioned the threats to Christians in Mosul that day.
However I am also a little anxious that we check our sources carefully, and be cautious about passing on some of the most dramatic reports.
Even back on July 14, when I passed on reports of church buildings being burned in Mosul, it turned out that the pictures supplied in web stories of the ISIS invasion of Mosul, were not of burnt churches in Mosul at all, but of churches in Syria and Egypt that had been burned months and even years earlier, albeit, it appears by Islamic extremists in those places.
Still terrible, but it’s not honest reporting to use pictures from other events and to claim they showed churches were burning in Mosul.
This brings me to the “URGENT PRAYER REQUEST” forwarded to me, by my prayerful and well-meaning parishioners…
Date: 24 August 2014
Subject: Urgent Prayers needed: Latest ISIS atrocities against Christians
Urgent Prayer Request / Please Pray and FAST – Such evil needs Fasting as well as Prayers
URGENT PRAYER REQUEST!!!!
Please Pray. ..Fast
BREAKING URGENT NEWS! The email below was sent to Benny Mostert from Jericho Walls:
Just a few minutes ago I received the following text message on my phone from Sean Malone who leads Crisis Relief International (CRI). We then spoke briefly on the phone and I assured him that we would share this urgent prayer need with all of our contacts.
“We lost the city of Queragosh (Qaraqosh). It fell to ISIS and they are beheading children systematically. This is the city we have been smuggling food to. ISIS has pushed back Peshmerga (Kurdish forces) and is within 10 minutes of where our CRI team is working. Thousands more fled into the city of Erbil last night. The UN evacuated it’s staff in Erbil. Our team is unmoved and will stay. Prayer cover needed!”
What made me wonder about this email was talk of Qaraqosh falling, and that children are being systematically beheaded.
You see, I’d heard these claims at least a fortnight earlier.
In fact, I know that the fall of Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh – terrible and sad event – was reported in mainline media almost three weeks ago, (for example, in The Independent (UK) on 7th August). It’s not something that is just happening now.
And when I googled “Benny Mostert Sean Malone Qaraqosh” I discovered this “urgent prayer request” has been circulating on the internet since at least August 9th. I saw other examples on 12th and 19th August. Some (not all) people even passed it on on those later dates, seeming to imply it was as if they had perhaps just received the text message personally and directly a few minutes earlier. Not good.
In addition, I shared a “Fact Checker” article published on August 12 from Joe Carter at the Gospel Coalition, urging caution on the claims of “systematic beheading of children”.
Carter does not deny atrocities have occurred, even impacting children. But he notes that most of the information is second hand, and that evidence supplied has been very patchy, largely from a single source located in America (but re-quoted numerous times). In some cases, there are demonstrable inaccuracies.
Even the very disturbing report circulating from Canon Andrew White (which I have viewed on Youtube) mentions just one specific atrocity against a child, which it appears Canon White did not witness, but was told about. He says other terrible things are happening, which he does not specify (at least in the video I watched).
Again, take the email above, from others, quoting Mostert, quoting Sean Malone. You’ll note, Malone is reported as saying ISIS troops have come “within 10 minutes of where our CRI team is working”. In other words, it seems logical that his reports of systematic beheadings of children cannot come directly from his Crisis Relief International colleagues, since they are not in the territory controlled by ISIS. The reports must be at least third hand.
Again, as Joe Carter says, there have been terrible atrocities occurring. No doubt there may even be worse ones than we have accurate, first hand and substantiated information about.
You might want to nuance Carter on this or that detail himself. However I find Carter’s conclusion important…
As Christians, we have a duty to champion the truth. We should avoid spreading unsubstantiated claims and inflaming dread and panic by playing on people’s natural disgust of harm to children. ISIS is an organization that has committed heinous acts of violence and violated the human rights of many of our fellow believers. But we must not partake in the spreading of lies, even if it is against our enemies.
Again, read the whole article, and note the C.S. Lewis quote at the end in his last update.
We ought to be often in prayer for persecuted Christians, and also for all down-trodden and abused people, whether or not we know the details.
But we should also be cautious about passing on highly dramatic reports unless we have taken some care to see if they can be verified or corroborated independently.
We should not need extra drama to persuade us to pray!