From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
8th August 2014

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I awoke on Friday morning to the news of Christians fleeing for their lives in Iraq. Over the last couple of months in Iraq, there has been mounting pressure on Christians to convert to Islam.  Now, whole Christian townships have been conquered and the people are fleeing to seek Kurdish protection.

In a world riddled by war, revolutions, violence and ever increasing numbers of displaced refugees it’s strange how distressing I found Friday’s news. It’s not simply because the people are Christians, though no doubt that’s part of it. I suspect my distress is that we are being plunged into the kind of war that we do not want to have and that we have eschewed – a religious war.

As I write, I am still struggling to come to a considered response to this terrible news. Here, in point form, are some things that go towards working out an appropriate Christian response.

War is a dreadful necessity that Christians, and any sane person, would always want to avoid.

Christianity cannot be advanced by war but only by prayer and the persuasion of the gospel.

Religion is often used by leaders

  • to unite their tribe, nation or people
  • to define the enemy
  • to gain sanction for taking life.

Religion is not understood by our secular journalists who

  • use religion as a shorthand way to identify opposite sides in a conflict
  • are generally ignorant of religion and religious ideas and motivations
  • often blame religion for causing wars
  • usually ignore the differences between religions and equate extremists or fundamentalists of differing religions as if they were all the same.

To be a religious war it must

  • conform to the teaching of the religion e.g. the conquest of Canaan by Joshua
  • aim to advance its religious cause by physical threat to life to those who oppose it or will not submit to it.      

However, motivations for war are rarely singular.  

  • Motivations of individuals or parties in a coalition are not always the same.
  • Wars are not usually about religion but land, power, threats, tribalism, etc.

While Christians will have sympathy and seek to help all victims of war

  • we have special responsibility and sympathy for our own families (1 Timothy 5:8)
  • we give some priority to the household of faith (Galatians 6:10)
  • we also seek to identify with and have compassion for those who are suffering explicitly for the name of Christ (Hebrews 10:32f).

Australian culture

  • welcomes immigrants from many differing cultures
  • wants immigrants to leave their homeland conflicts at home and not bring those conflicts into this nation
  • does not want its citizens to privately join in overseas wars
  • in particular does not want a religious war here
  • wishes people to have the freedom to practice their religion here without let or hindrance.

Australian citizens

  • come from a variety of different religions
  • have all the rights and responsibilities of a citizen
  • cannot be called upon to fund or enter into a religious war, not even in defence of a religion that is being persecuted or annihilated.

Nations that have adopted a religion

  • can call upon their people to fight for that religion.

Islam has a problem, as

  • its adherents wish it to be known as a religion of peace but
  • everywhere Islam is in power there is oppression, persecution, violence or war
  • its basic documents contain evidence of the rightness of religious war
  • its leading prophet, who is held up as a model to imitate, was himself a warrior.

Christians are being dragged into a religious war.

  • We can argue that the Armenian genocide of 1915 was ethnic rather than religious.
  • We can argue that the persecution of Christians in Muslim nations is not a war but a government trying to rule its own nation, but when invading armies require you to convert, pay an extra tax or be killed, and when armies are setting up an Islamic state and when they are doing this as a holy war it is hard to see it as anything but a religious war.

The symbol of Christianity

  • is the cross - the great symbol of suffering.
  • Our Lord was not a warrior but a suffering servant.
  • For many of us now the Arabic letter ‘N’ ن has become that symbol.
  • It is the letter that the ISIL followers use to identify Christians.
  • It is the letter painted on the houses and fences of the followers of ‘the Nazarene’.
  • It gives the ISIL followers the right to plunder the property of Christians.

What can we do, apart from cry?

  • Pray for all governments, including our own, that we may all lead a peaceful and quiet life (1 Timothy 2:1f).
  • Work to protect and provide for the refugees from this conflict.
  • Use the Arabic letter ‘N’ ن to identify with those who are suffering for the name of Christ.
  • Pray for our Lord to return.