Graduate school at the University of Maryland (recently named the 10th best party school in the United States) was quite a shock after the protected, Christian environment of my college. So in the hedonistic sea of fellow teaching assistants and much of the English Department faculty, I was overjoyed to meet another Christian who, like me, was teaching freshmen composition while working on a Master’s degree.
Brian and his wife, Grace, were kind, generous, and added stability to my new life in College Park, far from everyone I knew. When they decided to host a Bible study/worship/fellowship in their little apartment, the “Thursday Night Group” became the place where I was not only spiritually fed, but made life-long friends.
In the years that followed, my friend Brian McLaren pastored a church, wrote lots of books, and became known as the “Emergent Church Guru.” My colleagues at the IRD have written extensively his “generous orthodoxy.” And although I have grieved over what my old grad school friend says in books and in talks that seem so far from the Brian McLaren I knew, I have not responded personally until now.
After reading McLaren’s recent blog post, “Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Peace,” I am compelled finally to respond. Because for much of the time that Brian has been doing his many things, I have been doing things, as well – mostly connected to advocacy for persecuted members of the global Body of Christ and others suffering under grievous human rights violations.
McLaren, along with The Daily Beast’s Kirsten Powers and faith and culture writer, Jonathan Merritt, pose the questions: Why is this kind of anti-Christian persecution happening? and Why is the world, and especially the Christian world, so silent? I asked these questions two decades ago and my daily experience these past twenty years has taught me that flesh and blood testimonies provide far more accurate and truthful answers to those questions than do theoretical statements by those far removed from the reality of persecution.
McLaren suggests six reasons why Christians are silent, adding that he is speaking as “as a Christian who cares but has not spoken up often enough or effectively enough about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.” Presumably McLaren also cares (but has not spoken up often enough) about the persecution of Christians throughout Africa, and in North Korea, China, India, Pakistan, and elsewhere, as well, so I will occasionally mention them. He says Western Christians are silent because:
- They don’t want to add their voices to the growing numbers of Islamophobic voices in the Christian community.
- They already know that much anti-Christian violence is retaliation against hawkish American foreign policy.
- They know that a careless bias against Palestinians – many of whom, by the way, are committed Christians – has become a pre-requisite in some circles for being considered “pro-Israel.”
- They are part of a global oil-based economy, and as such . . . depend on repressive Muslim governments . . . .
- They have accepted superficial clichés (“They are evil” or “Their religion is evil”) and avoided the hard, often unsettling work of understanding how religious identity can be turned to violent ends – in any religion: Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, even atheist.
- They don’t know what can be done practically.
Nothing new here. McLaren echoes the Religious Left’s longstanding discomfiture on the issue of the persecuted Church and its tendency to criticize persecuted Christians’ defenders. Former General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, Joan Brown Campbell, famously opposed the particular advocacy for Christians as coming from the “overly muscular Christianity” of both the persecuted and their advocates. These believers, who are willing to die for their faith rather than compromise with the world systems or convert to other religions, are alien to the “new kind of Christianity” espoused by McLaren.
Based on my experience as a persecuted church advocate, I believe that five of the reasons that McLaren gives to explain Christian persecution are incorrect, in that:
1. Speaking the truth about Christian persecution is not Islamophobia.
You can’t have it both ways. McLaren is concerned that too many Christians are silent about what Powers described as “Christians in the Middle East and Africa. . .”being slaughtered, tortured, raped, kidnapped, beheaded, and forced to flee the birthplace of Christianity” and yet he implies that those Christians who do speak up are “Islamophobes.”
Islamophobia is an Orwellian invention of a Muslim Brotherhood front group, the International Institute of Islamic Thought, designed as a weapon to advance global Islamic supremacism by stigmatizing critics and silencing them. In a defiant manifesto released by authors Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ibn Warraq, and others in the wake of the “Mohammed Cartoons” of Denmark, Islamophobia is described as “a wretched concept that confuses criticism of Islam as a religion and stigmatization of those who believe in it.”
Christians who do care about the persecution of their brothers and sisters around the world need to be fearless about speaking the truth, and willing to be called Islamophobes. The media, the governments of nations, and the churches are increasingly self-censoring for fear of this bogus epithet — exactly as the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates had hoped. Ironically, many of those who are called Islamophobes are doing far more to help individual Muslims (such as women who are victimized by misogyny and honor killings, or people who seek to bring reform and modernization to Islam) and even entire Muslim ethnic groups (such as the indigenous African Darfuri, Beja, Nubian, Nuba, and Blue Nile Muslims of Sudan victimized by the racist, genocidal Islamist Sudan regime) than those whose moral superiority and self righteousness renders them silent.
And of course, the Islamophobe label is not even relevant to Christian persecution in various other parts of the world — China, North Korea, Cuba, India, Vietnam, etc. So all the cautious, thoughtful Christians worried about joining their voices to the Islamophobic louts can rest easy if they want to make an effort for Christians in the non-Islamic world!
2. Christian persecution has little to do with American foreign policy – but a lot to do with various ideologies.
Actually, in a sense, McLaren is correct about American foreign policy exacerbating the persecution of Christians — but not in the way he describes.
American foreign policy has been so scrupulously devoid of any efforts to assist the minority Christian populations (perhaps for fear of inflaming the radicals) — whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, or Syria — that it has often signaled a green light to the continued oppression of and violence against beleaguered Christian communities. In Iraq the United States eagerly assisted in the inclusion (supremacy) of the Sharia as the basis of the new constitution. In Nigeria, the U.S. State Department refuses to designate the bloodthirsty jihadists Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Instead the victimized Christian community in northern Nigeria is blamed for not getting along with their Muslim neighbors. And we have new evidence every day of how U.S. government moral equivalency is pushing for the inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egyptian governance, and is refusing to help those who are seeking true, secular democracy and the prevention of a terrorist takeover both in Egypt and in Syria.
In terms of McLaren’s portrayal of much anti-Christian violence as retaliation against American hawkish foreign policy, invasion, occupation, torture, drone strikes, etc. it doesn’t seem as if McLaren knows that Islamists will use any excuse — or none at all — for killing Christians. In Nigeria, long before Boko Haram made its gruesome appearance on the scene, Christians in the north were being slaughtered on a regular basis over such insanities as a flippant comment about Mohammed by a reporter during the Miss World pageant and the advent of a solar eclipse.
And who can forget the “Teddy Bear Jihad” in Sudan in which a Western schoolteacher allowed a Muslim child to name his stuffed animal “Mohammed.” Dealing with Islamist’s “feelings” is truly a mine field. The teacher would have been condemned as disrespecting Islam’s prophet if she had refused to let the boy use the name, but instead she was condemned (thankfully, just to deportation!) as disrespecting Islam’s prophet for allowing the boy to use the name. It is always a lose-lose situation. Additionally, even if American troops were helping people, handing out candies to the children providing medical care, and protecting civilians from violence (oh, wait a minute, they were doing that, and they are doing that!) to the Islamists they are “occupiers” just by the fact that they are infidels on Muslim land (land which Islam itself took originally by savage, violent occupation).
Once again, none of this has any bearing on Christian persecution in North Korea, one of the most brutal and repressive regimes for all people and particularly for the Christians. There, the entire outside world is demonized like a monster in a fairy tale told by the Kim line of totalitarian rulers to its brainwashed people. Shortly after his takeover, Kim Il Sung believed he had completely eradicated Christianity when a community of Christians was discovered by workers building a new road for the Dear Leader. Kim Il Sung, believing they were the last living Christians, gave the command for all of the leaders to be crushed to death under a giant steamroller. No American foreign policy influenced his actions.
In part two I will challenge McLaren’s statements concerning Israel, dependence on Arab oil, and “superficial clichés” about evil.