Iraq: Chaldean bishop protests U.S. evangelicals

The head of Iraq’s largest Christian community has denounced U.S. evangelical missionaries in his country for what he said were attempts to convert poor Muslims by flashing money and smart cars, al-Jazeera reported May 20. Patriarch Emmanuel Delly, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, said that many Protestant activists had come to Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and set up what he called “boutiques” to attract converts. Delly accused the evangelicals of attracting poor youths with displays of money and taking them “out riding in cars to have fun.”

Delly said Iraq did not need missionaries as its Christian churches dated back long before Protestantism. As for trying to convert Muslims, he said: “You can’t even talk about that here.”

Evangelical leaders denied aggressive missionary activities in Iraq. “There may be between 100 and 200 there now,” said Todd Johnson, an expert on world Christianity at the evangelical Gordon-Conwell Seminary near Boston, Massachusetts. “They’re mostly aid workers, I don’t think there is much regular evangelising,” he said.

At least five evangelical missionaries were killed in Iraq last year. Four US Baptist missionaries were killed in Iraq in March 2004 and seven South Korean Presbyterians were briefly kidnapped the following month. That June, an armed group beheaded a South Korean truck driver who was an evangelical Christian. At least 20 Iraqis were also killed in bombings of Christian churches last year. Chaldeans fear missionary activities by U.S. evangelicals may make indigenous Iraqi Christians targets as well.

Delly had no overall figures for evangelical missions in Iraq, but said he knew of 14 evangelical houses in one central Baghdad neighbourhood alone. “I don’t know where their money comes from,” he added.

The patriarch, who vigorously opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq and met last week with French President Jacques Chirac (who also opposed it) declined to comment on Washington’s policy there or whether he had contacts with US authorities. “Frankly, I try to avoid meeting them as much as possible,” he said. “They are the occupiers. The occupied don’t want to be occupied. That’s human nature.”

Christians make up 3% of Iraq’s 26 million people, the largest group being the 600,000 Chaldeans who are Eastern-rite Catholics who recognize the Vatican. Delly, 77, ranks as an archbishop in the Catholic Church and is named as a possible future cardinal. Eastern rite prelates traditionally do not accept such honours but three–a Copt, an Assyrian and a Maronite–are now “princes of the Church.”

For more on Iraq’s Chaldeans and other indigenous Christians, see WW4 REPORT #s 77, 82 & 107

For more on evangelical activities in Iraq, see WW4 REPORT #84