Tuesday I attended a superb symposium on how to help besieged Christians in the Middle East amid surging Islamist movements, especially the Muslim Brotherhood presidential victory in Egypt. Speakers were Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna, Lebanese professor Habib Malik, and Southern Baptist public policy spokesman Richard Land. The organizer was the Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom headed by Nina Shea and Paul Marshall, who is a longtime IRD board member. Among several dozen religious liberty experts and advocates were 4 other IRD board members: Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America, Tom Farr of Georgetown University’s Berkley Center, Bill Saunders of Americans United for Life and IRD co-founder Michael Novak, the distinguished Catholic philosopher.
Cardinal Schoenborn, the first Catholic leader invited to post-revolutionary Iran after its Islamist takeover in 1979, gave an historical overview of Christian survival in the Mideast across 1400 years since the Islamic conquest. He defended Israel’s right to exist and urged America and the West to insist on protections for religious minorities in the Mideast. Christians in Egypt and Syria deserve a better fate than the Christians of Iraq, he pleaded. And he implored protection for the tide of Asian Christian laborers in the Mideast, including 1 million Catholics in Saudi Arabia.
Malik decried Westerners content to allow Islamist takeover in Arab nations, calling it “catastrophic.” And he called upon the West to preemptively demand of ascendant oppressors that they respect religious freedom for all else pay a price. Land decried President Jimmy Carter’s role in the rise of radical Islam, recalling his undermining the Shah and allowing Iran’s Islamist revolution. “When the U.S. loses its backbone and becomes an invertebrate, the persecuted of the world suffer,” Land declared. And he warned, “We are accountable to God for how we use our sphere of influence.”
Some meeting participants were Christians and other religious minorities from the Mideast who appealed for American sympathy and advocacy. It was powerful and moving. Too many U.S. Christians are indifferent to the plight of persecuted fellow believers around the world. The new Evangelical Left, demanding retreat from “culture wars,” is largely indifferent, preferring the easy path of endless interfaith dialogue to robust advocacy for the suffering. My own United Methodist Church, as I recount in my new book Methodism & Politics in the 20th Century, has mostly ignored persecution of Christians in what was the bloodiest of all centuries for faithful martyrs.
In the 1990′s there arose a new coalition of evangelicals, Catholics, Jews, moderate Muslims and human rights advocates for the persecuted. But the embers have since cooled. May God use yesterday’s gathering to create a new rising force of solidarity with the persecuted.