The number of Presbyterian families in Iraq has decreased from about 750 to about 250 since the 2003 U.S. invasion, an Iraqi Presbyterian pastor told the Presbyterian News Service in a June 28 interview at the Presbyterian Center here.
The pastor, who cannot be named for security reasons, is in the United States to visit family and as part of a mandate from the 219th General Assembly (2010). The mandate calls for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to invite Iraqi church partners to speak at events such as this summer’s Big Tent.
At that event, June 30-July 2 in Indianapolis, the pastor spoke about the situation for Presbyterians and other Christians living in Iraq.
Of five Presbyterian churches that were once in Iraq, two are now closed — including one in Mosul that was founded by missionaries in 1835. The other closed church is in Baghdad, where one other Presbyterian church remains open.
“When Christians flee, that means that place is very dangerous,” the pastor said.
Before 2003, Christians made up 4-5 percent of the Iraqi population, numbering between 1.5-1.7 million people. Now, there are 600,000-700,000 Christians left in Iraq. The rest have fled to surrounding countries and even to the United States and Canada.
Although Saddam Hussein was a tyrant and an “evil man,” his regime was more tolerant of Christians, the pastor said.
“The situation is worse than under Saddam,” he said. “We were more respected then and even the fanatic Muslims knew that we are peacemakers. Saddam was a tyrant but for Christians it was better.”
Since 2003, the only benefit Christians have seen is an increased freedom to evangelize. That freedom is mainly a result of a weakened government that no longer monitors citizens or enforces laws, the pastor said, adding that this freedom applies to both Christians and criminals.
“(Iraqi Christians) did not get any benefit from the American army in our country,” he said. “If you ask me if I wish the 2003 war had never happened, I would say ‘Yes, I wish it had never taken place.’
“What have we accomplished ― for the Americans and the Iraqis?” the pastor said. “You cannot benefit from war ― only lose. I cannot see that the Americans are building anything in Iraq for Iraq’s benefit.”
Many Iraqi Muslims believe that the American army came to Iraq to convert the country to Christianity, and so they associate Iraqi Christians with Americans, the pastor said.
Iraqi Presbyterians gather at assemblies at least twice a year to talk about plans for the future. One such plan is to open a new church in Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Americans need to know that there are Christians and Presbyterians in Iraq and that not all Iraqis are like Saddam Hussein, the pastor said. He hopes that Christians don’t continue to leave. When they do so, they rarely come back, and Iraq needs Christianity.
“Wherever there is a church, there is a blessing of God at that place,” he said. “So I want the church to remain in Iraq because I love my country, I love my people and I want them to be blessed.”