December 16, 2015

Mideast Christians & Genocide

(Here are my remarks at the December 16 “In Defense of Christians” press conference at the U.S. House of Representatives Rayburn Office Building, urging U.S. policy to acknowledge genocide against U.S. Christians.)

(And here’s video of my fast talk!)

A faithful Christian social witness must prioritize advocacy on behalf of religious liberty for all people everywhere at all times. The Christian affirmation of universal human rights, starting with religious freedom, is premised on the understanding of all persons as equally image bearers of God, which accords an intrinsic human dignity that every society seeking justice, decency and peace should respect. Without religious liberty, all other freedoms and human rights are vulnerable. The ongoing horrors in Syria and Iraq under the Islamic State terribly illustrate this truth, as religious minorities are brutalized and murdered because of their faith. That this targeting of religious groups for destruction is genocide should be self-evident.

Unfortunately Christian social witness in America of late on international religious liberty and particularly the Mideast situation has been uneven. Some, including the Catholic bishops and Southern Baptists, have been forthright, specifying that Christian victims of ISIS should be recognized as victims of genocide. But there has been a widespread silence or maybe confusion on this issue within much of Christian conversation and advocacy. There has been a lot of Christian focus on one part of the Syrian refugee issue, which is certainly very important. But American Christians are versatile enough to cover multiple issues. Advocating for Mideast Christians should be a priority for American Christians.

Why the reluctance by Christians to advocate for Christians? There maybe an underlying concern among some American Christians that specific advocacy on behalf of fellow Christians may seem self-serving and parochial. Hence there is often more comfort in addressing human rights and religious liberty generically for all people without specific reference to Christians. But affirmation of religious freedom for all should not preclude specific citation of Christians, especially when Christians are a chief targeted group, as they are in the Mideast.

And here is an important theological point. Christians have a divine command to demonstrate love for their brothers and sisters in faith. We are told that the church is one Body, and that when any part of that Body suffers, all share in that suffering. Christians best demonstrate love to the world when they show the care they have for each other. If Christians cannot publicly stand with persecuted Christians, we are a poor witness to the world, like a dysfunctional family, that tells others how to live, but is indifferent about our own children, spouse and parents.

Hopefully Christians in America will increasing rise to the occasion to confront the genocide perpetrated by ISIS, and encourage our nation to name this evil. Many already are, and their solidarity with the persecuted is a sacred work that never really ends.

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