BAGHDAD, IRAQ – When members of the National Evangelical Baptist Church in Baghdad celebrated Christmas at the end of 2007, they were also closing their fourth year of existence in Iraq. While many news stories today focus on the dissolution of Iraq’s 2000-year old Christian communities, today there are few articles examining the activities of evangelicals.
A recent report again denominated the many dangers facing Iraq’s Christians, death, kidnapping, extortion, and torture among them. However, the nearly complete absence of mention of Christians other than Iraq’s traditional Chaldean, Assyrian, and Syriac sects is telling. Although it is clear to any observer that these communities are the largest and thus those most at risk, it is also clear that there continues to be underlying conflict between Iraq’s traditional Christians and newcomers, evangelical or otherwise.
One report gave a 100% breakdown of Iraq’s Christians that included only the three main groups in its numbers: “Of the remaining 800,000 Christians, 65 percent are Chaldeans, 25 percent Syriacs, and 10 percent Assyrians.”
Statements such as this, and the vast disparities in total population of Iraqi Christians quoted by the many reports and articles about the dangers they face further muddy a complicated situation. The estimates of Christians remaining in Iraq since the American invasion range from 800,000 to less than 300,000. Even more dramatic, numbers of Christians living in Iraq prior to 2003 range from 800,000 to 1.35 million or slightly more.
Although there have been many articles in 2008 examining the ongoing struggles of Iraq’s Christian minority, they focus almost entirely on the largest portions of the minority, Assyrians and Chaldeans, as well as examining almost exclusively their future in Iraq’s north and the potential for a protected autonomous area for Iraq’s historic Christians. It appears that Evangelicals and other newcomers have not been investigated in depth since early in the war, between 2003 and 2005. This hole in reporting on Iraq’s Christians is made even more dramatic given the veracity, if infrequence, of reporting on the repression of Iraq’s larger Christian communities.
Alive in Baghdad’s depiction of Iraqi Evangelical Baptists celebrating Christmas mass and discussing their hopes and difficulties does not aim to provide a wide depiction of Christian life in Baghdad or Iraq, but will hopefully provide further insight into one of Iraq’s newest Christian minorities.