By Andrew Harrod
Speaking on November 5, 2012, before a synod of Germany’s Lutheran Church (Evangelische Kirche Deutschlands or EKD), German chancellor Angela Merkel recently incited national controversy. Merkel’s address in Timmendorfer Strand in the German province of Schleswig-Holstein included the passing comment that “Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world.” The German federal government had thus made the protection of religious freedom, including that of Christians, into a goal of German foreign policy.
Merkel’s singling out of Christianity did not find favor with various human rights advocates, as reported by the German news agency dapd. Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Germany director, Wenzel Michalski, found Merkel’s conception “totally senseless” given that all religious persecution is equally wrong, irrespective of faith. Michalski cited Muslims in Burma, Falun Gong members in China, and Jews worldwide as non-Christian examples of persecution victims. A representative of Amnesty International also found Merkel’s reference to Christianity “not sensible.” Jerzy Montag, a German member of parliament from the Green Party (Die Grüne), likewise judged Merkel’s estimation to be “misguided”, given that any ranking of persecution among religions is “not especially helpful for combating human rights violations.”
The United Nations Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, echoed Montag in assessing Merkel’s qualification of Christianity as “not especially helpful.” Bielefeldt expressed himself as “very reserved” with respect to such quantitative analysis. “Occasionally rumored numbers” indicating a particularly strong persecution of Christians were “not accurately enough demonstrable.”
Yet the German branch of the international aid society for persecuted Christians, Open Doors, supported Merkel. A spokesman for the organization expressed its findings that 80% of all religiously persecuted individuals worldwide were Christian, some 100 million people in all. Volker Kauder, chairman of the Christian Democratic (CDU/CSU) members of the German parliament, also found “accurate” Merkel’s prioritization of Christians amidst religiously diverse victims of persecution globally. Merely listing the world’s regions in turmoil such as Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, and Syria justified Merkel’s statement for Kauder. Kauder thereby placed particular emphasis on the worsening situation in recent years in Muslim countries for Christians, whose fate would naturally draw the attention of fellow Christians in Germany.
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