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It’s Thursday, May 23. In today’s issue: Christianity in the Middle East, Obama’s heir, MTHFR, and more.

23 and B

The Democratic field for 2020 has ballooned to at least 23 candidates (bet you can’t name them all), yet the name that looms the largest is Number 44, Barack Obama, who’s trying to meet his book deadline between rounds of golf and very successful fundraising for his foundation. He’s yet to endorse anyone, hasn’t even put in a word for his vice president, and remains firm that an endorsement isn’t coming soon. But his favor would no doubt put the thumb on the scale. As Edward-Isaac Dovere writes in this juicy piece on what the former president has been up to: “Obama is literally more popular than Jesus among Democrats.”

MTHFR and Anti-vaxxers

Anti-vax doctors have looked to a decade-old paper titled “Genetic Basis for Adverse Events after Smallpox Vaccination” to support testing for something called the MTHFR gene. Some anti-vaxxers believe children with certain mutations of this gene might be vulnerable to bad reactions to vaccination (to reiterate: science doesn’t support the link between vaccines and autism). So they might, say, order easy mail-in DNA tests from companies such as 23andMe, and use a third-party app to check for the MTHFR gene. But even the senior author of the 2008 paper spares nothing when it comes to debunking his own work: “It’s just not even a valid study by today’s methodology,” he told Sarah Zhang. What happens when outdated research takes on an alarming new life?

+ Did you know that there’s a government compensation program that has paid out billions over the years to people who’ve claimed injury by vaccines? Its very existence feeds conspiracy theories. But here’s why the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program was created in the first place (think legal protection for drug companies).

The Decimation of Christianity in the Middle East

Emma Green traveled to the Nineveh Plain in Iraq, where she met a family grappling with their fate: Will they ever be able to return to, and feel safe in, their homeland? Their struggle is the struggle of so many in the region today.

The call came in 2014, shortly after Easter. Four years earlier, Catrin Almako’s family had applied for special visas to the United States. Catrin’s husband, Evan, had cut hair for the U.S. military during the early years of its occupation of Iraq. Now a staffer from the International Organization for Migration was on the phone. “Are you ready?” he asked. The family had been assigned a departure date just a few weeks away.  

“I was so confused,” Catrin told me recently. During the years they had waited for their visas, Catrin and Evan had debated whether they actually wanted to leave Iraq. Both of them had grown up in Karamles, a small town in the historic heart of Iraqi Christianity, the Nineveh Plain. Evan owned a barbershop near a church. Catrin loved her kitchen, where she spent her days making pastries filled with nuts and dates. Their families lived there: her five siblings and aging parents, his two brothers.

But they also lived amid constant danger.

What is the future of Christianity in the place where the faith first took root?

When Post-Election Riots Turn Deadly

Incumbent President Joko Widodo was reelected president of Indonesia, over his rival Prabowo Subianto. Subianto’s supporters protested, and demonstrations turned deadly, reportedly leaving six dead and hundreds arrested.

See other scenes from Jakarta here.

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    This email was written by Shan Wang with help from Saahil Desai, and edited by Isabel Fattal. Questions, suggestions, typos? Write to swang@theatlantic.com.

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