FALLS CHURCH, Va. (ABP) — A Baptist pastor in Baghdad told a European Baptist leader that Christians there are living in fear following an Oct. 31 attack on a Catholic church in Iraq's capital that left more than 50 dead.
Security forces stormed the Our Lady of Salvation Chaldean Catholic Church, where more than 100 worshippers who gathered for evening mass were being held hostage by gunmen who reportedly demanded the release of jailed al-Qaeda militants.
While there have been many attacks on Iraqi Christians since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the Oct. 31 incident was by far the bloodiest and will likely expedite the exodus of Christians of various denominations in Iraq that have dwindled from an estimated 1 million in size to 600,000 or less.
Tony Peck, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, said the pastor of the Baptist Church in Baghdad informed him that the "Christian community is now very fearful for its safety."
"Some of the Baptist believers are talking about moving away from Baghdad to North Iraq, others to Jordan and Syria," Peck quoted the Iraqi pastor as saying.
Peck called that a "very understandable response" that "would leave the Christian church in Iraq even weaker than before."
Some sources suggested part of the attackers' motivation was reports that a pastor in the United States planned to burn copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, in September. While the pastor called off those plans, Peck said the incident points to the need for Christians in the West to "be wise and considerate in the way they engage critically with Islam."
Baptists in Baghdad are also considering changing the day of worship from Sunday to Friday, the traditional day of worship for Muslims, a practice already adopted by Christians in several Muslim-majority countries.
Raimundo Barreto, director of freedom and justice for the Baptist World Alliance, expressed regret for "the unjustifiable murder" of Catholic Christians and affirmed "profound solidarity" with Christians in Iraq.
"As followers of Jesus Christ we advocate for true and lasting peace in that region," Barreto said. "We call on Christians all over the world to diligently work to prevent any escalation of violence, by not repaying evil with evil, but by overcoming evil with good. (Romans 12:17, 21)."
Peck said he asked the Baptist pastor in Baghdad to assure believers in the city that they were in the prayers of Baptists around the world.
–Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.