Washington (BWA)-- Baptists and other Christians in Baghdad say they are living in fear following an attack on a Roman Catholic Church in the Iraqi capital that left more than 50 Christians dead.
The massacre occurred on October 31 when al-Qaida-aligned gunmen attacked worshipers from Our Lady of Salvation Chaldean Catholic Church in central Baghdad leaving at least 58 dead, the majority of them worshippers, including two priests, and another 75 wounded.
Tony Peck, Baptist World Alliance (BWA) regional secretary for Europe and general secretary for the European Baptist Federation (EBF), reports the pastor of the Baptist Church in Baghdad informed him that the "Christian community is now very fearful for its safety" and that "some of the Baptist believers are talking about moving away from Baghdad to North Iraq, others to Jordan and Syria."
Baptist churches in the Middle East are affiliated with the EBF, one of six regional fellowships of the BWA.
Peck fears that "this very understandable response would leave the Christian church in Iraq even weaker than before." It has been estimated that since the invasion of Iraq by the United States and its allies in 2003, approximately half the Christian population have fled the Middle Eastern country, leaving an estimated 550,000 believers. Many of those who remain are increasingly harassed and often experience violence.
News reports suggest that part of the motivation for the attack was the plan by a pastor in Florida in the United States to burn the Quran, Islam's holy book, in September. The pastor abandoned his plans, under pressure. "It shows again how Christians in the West must be wise and considerate in the way they engage critically with Islam," Peck declared.
In the wake of the attack, Baptists in Baghdad are considering changing the day of worship from Sunday to Friday, the traditional day of worship for Muslims, and a practice already adopted by Christians in several Muslim-majority countries.
"We deeply regret the unjustifiable murder of Roman Catholic Christians during worship last Sunday in Baghdad," said BWA director of Freedom and Justice, Raimundo Barreto. "We affirm our profound solidarity with the Christian community in Iraq as they mourn those who lost their lives. We assure our brothers and sisters in Iraq of the prayerful support from the larger Christian family around the world," Barreto stated. "As followers of Jesus Christ we advocate for true and lasting peace in that region. 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 asked the Baptist pastor in Baghdad to assure believers in the city of the prayers of the worldwide Baptist family.