Septimius Severus, Roman emperor from 193 to 211 AD, was a psychopath and sociopath. Citizens in his empire who had religious views different from his, particularly Christians and Jews, were persecuted severely during his reign. He made Nero and Domitian look like Girl Scouts, sane ones.
Severus interpreted Roman law such that no other religion but the Roman one (with gods for everything) could be tolerated. And of course Severus declared himself a god. How nice for him.
Christians and Jews in the Empire were given the option of cursing Jesus or Yahweh, or be killed. Up to 3,000 were beheaded or crucified. Both forms of murder are meant to be brutal and painful, and of course very public in a way that sends a message.
Severus — or at least his ilk — has returned in the form of the Islamic State (formerly called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, or ISIS). Over the past few months, this Sunni extremist group has been making its way from Syria to Baghdad, giving the estimated 200,000 Christians who remain in Iraq a choice: Run for your life, convert to Islam, pay a religious levy, or die.
The Islamic State says they have warned Christians, declaring, “there is nothing to give them but the sword.” Ah, Islam, “a religion of peace,” so say the Muslims. Right. The prevailing thought in Islam appears to be, “Islam is a religion of peace, and if you say it isn’t we will kill you.”
So, now across Iraq, particularly in the north, Christians are fleeing anywhere they can. Others are huddled in refugee camps, trapped in the desert or in their homes.
Keep in mind that Christians have lived peacefully in northern Iraq and Syria for 2,000 years — 600 years before Islam. Yet today, they face extinction in these regions. Even the ancient Christian city of Mosul has lost its Christian communities.
Christian homes are painted with red letters, and the ones who have escaped report being deprived of all their belongings except their clothes. Everything they own is confiscated.
The ones who stay, many of whom are too destitute to travel or who have family members not able to make the trek to relative safety in the desert, await their death.
Not even in my most unsettling nightmares would I have imagined what is now taking place in Iraq. There are Christians — men, women and children — being beheaded, kidnapped, raped and crucified simply for adhering to their faith. The brutality and cruelty is mind-boggling, unrestrained, and monstrous.
The most disturbing image I have seen in years, and one I hope I never forget, is of a little girl’s beheading by ISIS terrorists. It is so horrific, it is — at least to me — physically painful to see. Actual photos are available of these evil acts on the Internet. But I warn you: You have may trouble sleeping after seeing them. ISIS has also released videos of beheadings. Why release a video? They do so precisely so the world does see; they are sending a message.
When President Obama met with Pope Francis in March, Obama “reaffirmed that it is central to U.S. foreign policy that we protect the interests of religious minorities around the world.” Now that Christianity is a persecuted religious minority in a region where we have troops, it will be interesting to see if the president follows through.
In any case, we can and must speak out through our representatives, letting them know what we think. It is our obligation to do so.
In the end, what I find absolutely amazing is that these animals believe they are faithfully doing the work of Allah. They are not. They are doing the work of Emperor Severus — a lunatic.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.