Please allow me just a moment here to speak as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, as well as a journalist and as, well, an American voter.
In the past several weeks, the crisis in Syria has jumped off the back burner of the mainstream press and into the headlines. There are lots of valid Google search terms linked to this, starting with "Donald Trump," "innocent civilians" and "Russia."
However, there is an angle to this story that means the world to me, yet it's one you rarely see covered in American media.
Believe it or not, religion does play a role in the Syria crisis. The most agonizing reality in all of this -- as I have mentioned before here at GetReligion -- is that several religious minorities in Syria, including the ancient Orthodox patriarchate in Damascus, depend on the current Syrian government for protection from radicalized forms of Islam.
Once again let me confess: My daily prayers include petitions for the protection of Christians, and all of those suffering, in Damascus, Aleppo and that region.
Do these religious believers recognize the evil that surrounds them, on both sides of the conflict? Of course they do. Please consider the message in a 2013 sermon by an Antiochian Orthodox leader here in America, Bishop Basil Essey of Wichita, Kan. He states the obvious:
Anyone who prays for peace in Syria must acknowledge, at the beginning, that "vicious wrongs" have been done on both sides and that "there's really no good armed force over there. No one we can trust. None," concluded Bishop Basil.
"So the choice is between the evil that we know and that we've had for 30-40 years in that part of the world, or another evil we don't know about except what they've shown us in this awful civil war."
This brings me to an important story that ran at Crux, focusing on how leaders of ancient religious communities in Syria reacted to the Trump administration's decision to attack Syria (during the festive week following Orthodox Easter, I might add). Oh yeah, that Pope Francis guy is involved in this, as well.
Have you seen any of this information in other media reports? The headline: "Syrian Christian leaders denounce U.S. air raid as ‘brutal aggression’."
ROME -- Christian leaders around the world, particularly from the Middle East, are raising their voices in favor of an “end to the bloodshed in Syria” in light of a bombing carried out by the United States, the United Kingdom and France this weekend, targeting military compounds that host chemical weapons.
Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill spoke on the phone on Saturday, according to TASS, the Russian news agency, worried about the latest developments in the Syrian war.
“We have come forward with this initiative knowing that the Christians cannot remain on the sidelines seeing what is happening in Syria,” Kirill told reporters on Saturday. “Ours was a significant peacemaking dialogue.”
He also said that the two Christian leaders hope to see an end to the “bloodshed” in Syria.
“We spoke about how Christians should influence the events with the scope of putting an end to the violence, ending the war, preventing even more victims,” Kirill said.
OK, that's Rome and Moscow. I totally understand why the leaders of giant churches in major cities got the ink in this case.
But whose ancient churches were rattled by the attacks? What did people IN THE REGION have to say about the words and actions of America's Tweeter In Chief?
Frankly, I thought this would get coverage in American media, in part because it offered new voices attacking Trump. That usually draws mainstream media attention.
Trump hailed the strike as “perfectly executed” in a tweet posted Saturday, adding “Mission Accomplished!”
Christians in Syria, however, don’t agree with Trump’s assertion.
In a joint statement issued by three Syrian patriarchs, they “condemn and denounce the brutal aggression that took place this morning (Saturday) in our precious country Syria by the USA, France and the UK, under the allegations that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons.”
The statement is signed by John X, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East; Ignatius Aphrem II, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, and Joseph Absi, Melkite-Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem.
The Orthodox would note that the term "Greek" in Patriarch John's title can be a bit confusing and reflects common language in the Middle East. He is actually the leader of the ancient church of Antioch, now based in Damascus. So he is the leader of the Antiochian Orthodox patriarchate, not a leader in Greek Orthodoxy.
Yes, these things are complex. It's easy to assume that this is one reason these churches in Syria receive so little media attention.
One other thing: The Christian leaders in this region make it very clear that they want to see more evidence that the current Syrian government is using chemical weapons. These kinds of public statements are almost always available online.
Now, one can claim that they are living in denial and that research groups outside the region have the proof that they need to justify air strikes, etc. My question: Shouldn't journalists at least be interested in the views of religious leaders in this region, leaders who have openly attacked violence by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as rebels on the other side of the civil war?
A GetReligion reader in Russia, mystified by the lack of coverage, added:
* Do the American media even know how to talk about historical Middle Eastern churches?
* Is there an incentive on the parts of some more hawkish Trump-supporting Christian groups to ignore or downplay the existence of the Coptic, Jacobite, Maronite, Antiochian churches?
* How does the media help create and substantiate the belief among many Americans that countries like Syria are homogeneous Muslim countries? That Islam itself in monolithic (and I don't just mean Sunni and Shia, but also the influential Alawite minority in Syria, for example)?
So go to Google News and search for "Syria," "patriarch" and "Damascus." What kind of coverage to you see? What kinds of publications are missing?
FIRST IMAGE: Patriarch John X of Damascus.