Let's run through this life-and-death equation again, because it's at the heart of this week's GetReligion "Crossroads" podcast, which centered on two different posts (here and here) about threats to the ancient Christian churches in Syria. Click here to tune that in.
Start here. You are a priest in an ancient church in Syria, part of a body linked to a form of Eastern Orthodoxy or with Catholic ties of some kind. In recent years you have seen members of your flock -- perhaps even a bishop -- kidnapped or killed. This may have been by the rising tide of the Islamic State or by one of more of the insurgent groups that is trying to defeat the armies of President Bashar al-Assad.
You know all about the crimes of the Assad regime. However, you also know that -- at the moment -- Assad knows that religious minorities of all kinds in Syria are under attack and thus they are standing together.
The bottom line: ISIS is killing Christians faster than the anti-Assad Sunni Muslim insurgent forces, some of which are receiving U.S funds and help, but the insurgents are pretty good at killing infidels, as well. Deep down, you wonder if the insurgents -- most allied with Saudi Arabia -- will end up trying to divide Syria with the Islamic State. The main thing you fear is complete and total chaos, since the one thing the insurgents and ISIS leaders agree on is that they want the current government gone and those who supported it dead, in slavery or driven away in the river of refugees.
So, what do you think of the following news from -- pick an elite U.S. news source -- The New York Times?
WASHINGTON -- After struggling for years to identify groups in Syria that it can confidently support, the Obama administration on Friday abandoned its effort to build a rebel force inside Syria to combat the Islamic State. It acknowledged the failure of its $500 million campaign to train thousands of fighters and said whatever money remained would be used to provide lethal aid for groups already engaged in the battle.
Senior officials at the White House and the Pentagon said the strategy to pull fighters out of Syria, teach them advanced skills and return them to face the Islamic State had failed, in part because many of the rebel groups were more focused on fighting the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.
But officials said they were trying to adapt their strategy by seeking to identify the leaders of “capable, indigenous forces” in Syria who — after what the officials described as a vigorous vetting process — will be the first time the Pentagon has given military equipment to rebel leaders to distribute to their forces engaged in fighting on the ground. The C.I.A. has for some time been covertly training and arming groups fighting Mr. Assad.
So this hypothetical priest, and his flock -- having watched the slaughter of Christians and other minority believers in the Nineveh Plain -- know that their only hope for survival is for Damascus and other key Assad territories to remain unconquered by one army or another linked to a form of Islam that considers them infidels worthy of death. Is it good news that the U.S. government is now going to hand more weapons, but under less control, to insurgent anti-Assad forces than in the past? Do you trust these forces, in the end, to oppose the Islamic State?
The story mentions, as it should, the efforts by President Vladimir Putin to use Russian clout to help defend Assad. The Times story, when covering that move, does not mention any of the following terms -- "Orthodox," "Catholic," "Christian" or "churches." There is no mention of Damascus being one of the only remaining Christian strongholds in this embattled regions, the center for churches that are literally mentioned in the New Testament Book of Acts.
Do Americans care about what happens to these endangered religious minorities? Is this threat playing any role in U.S. strategy?
Let's look at one more piece of this story, which is rather depressing to me as an Orthodox Christian layman:
The closing of the program comes as the administration’s attention is shifting to northeastern Syria, where it hopes to assemble a group of Sunni tribes in a “Syrian Arab Coalition” to fight alongside Syrian Kurdish forces against the Islamic State. ...
The new program, the official said, will begin in the next few days, though it may well run into many of the same problems of conflicting loyalties and ancient animosities that helped sink the first effort.
Anti-Assad insurgents say they have never heard of a group called the Syrian Arab Coalition, though they welcomed the prospect of increased support.
So the next plan is for U.S. backed insurgents to work with an Arab coalition that insurgent leaders tell the Times that they have not heard of?
Is this story complicated enough for you?
OK, one more question: You are an American pastor or priest. Based on what you are reading in your morning newspaper, or hearing through your church structures, do you even know that any of this is going on? Do you know, and do you care, that more ancient Christian communities may fall to Muslims practicing a form of Islam that, basically, says Christians are not "people of the book," but infidels who should die?
Enjoy the podcast. Once again, is "enjoy" the right word?
VIDEO: Yes, this is a report from RT News, which is funded by the Russian State.