The Religious Left’s traditional silence or muted tones about Islamist attacks on Christians globally is becoming increasingly difficult. Attacks on Iraq’s diminishing Christian community have prompted left-leaning U.S. and Western church groups to speak. But Iraq was always easier, because the Religious Left could ultimately blame the U.S. The New Year’s Eve attack on the Egyptian Coptic church in Alexandria, killing 21, and wounding 80 or more others, could not be directly faulted on U.S. policy. But the assault was so brutal that some response from otherwise usually tepid church groups was required. Acknowledging Islamist brutality must be discretely handled, because the Religious Left in no way wants to disrupt interfaith dialogue or publicly admit to any intrinsic problems with any form of Islam.
A news release from the Geneva-based World Council of Churches condemned the “vicious attack” in Egypt and recalled another attack on Coptic worshippers last year. It urged Egyptian President Mubarak and others in the region, including “religious leaders,” to “act swiftly and boldly to safeguard the fundamental religious rights of worshippers of all faiths.” The WCC cryptically noted that “many different faith traditions have been targets of violence by extremists,” without explaining who these “extremists” are. It implored a common political and religious front against “negative trends” through “peaceful means,” including “dialogue and partnership between Christians and Muslims in Egypt and throughout the world.”
In a separate letter to the Coptic Pope, the WCC shared its “great sadness and shock” over attacks against “innocent worshippers,” amid “continuous threats and attacks on the churches in Egypt and in other parts in the Middle East.” Again, the perpetrators of these “threats and attacks” were not named or even described. But the WCC promised “solidarity” and hoped for Coptic “courage to withstand these difficulties.”
Somewhat similarly, the chief of the U.S. National Council of Churches regretted the “perpetrators of this outrage are apparently so blinded by hatred that they have lost touch with the tenets of any known faith.“ He insisted: “It is simply agonizing to think that many around the world will mistake this horror as the attack of one religious community on another.” And he asserted: “Christians, Jews and Muslims around the world are united by their outrage and condemnation of this soul-less act.” The NCC chief strongly surmised: “This is not a struggle between religions but between those who value the life of every neighbor and those who clearly do not.”
As if to prove its insistence that the anti-Coptic attacks were not by “one religious community on another,” the NCC news release extensively quoted not one but two officials of the Islamic Society of North America who deplored “reprehensible” violence by a “small faction of fanatics.”
The NCC chief followed up by writing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to share “profound concern” over “recent violence against minority Christian communities around the world.” He declared that “attacks on Christians anywhere in the world are attacks on Christians everywhere.” And he pressed for Egypt to “protect Christians and other minorities” while bringing the unnamed attackers to “justice.”
Traditional Religious Left groups like the WCC and NCC should not be mocked for their careful condemnations of the anti-Christian attacks in Egypt. At least they are speaking. The NCC chief even called the attacks “evil.” And acclaiming the Coptic Christians as “brothers and sisters,” as the NCC chief did, is surely progress. In recent decades, much of the Religious Left has been loath to proclaim special concerns about or association with persecuted Christians, preferring instead an abstract solidarity with all of the “oppressed,” without “privileging” Christians.
It also should be noted that many Religious Left groups so preoccupied with social justice have so far said nothing publicly about the anti-Coptic killings. As of January 6, Jim Wallis’s Sojourners website seemingly had not posted any mention. But it does feature the recent death of a Palestinian activist killed by an Israeli tear gas canister during a “nonviolent” demonstration against the “separation fence,” as reported by a member of Christian Peacemaking Teams. Israeli security forces report that protesters were throwing rocks. In some Religious Left eyes, perhaps the inadvertent death of a Palestinian protester is more significant than the murder of 21 Christian worshippers outside their church.
Almost none of the NCC’s large Mainline Protestant member denominations seem to have said anything about the Coptic murders, although these churches have social justice and communications agencies that routinely commentate on global events. And former National Association of Evangelicals lobbyist Richard Cizik’s New Evangelical Partnership, founded ostensibly to tout a new progressive vision of social justice focused on Global Warming and fighting U.S. “torture,” seems to have no comment about the Coptic murders so far.
So at least the NCC and WCC have commendably spoken about the outrages against the Copts, but without citing the likely perpetrators and their motives. And they strangely claim that the unnamed, abstract Islamist killers were not motivated by religion but merely by an isolated and ethereal fanaticism. Perhaps the Islamic Society of North America officials, whom the NCC quoted extensively, could have clarified this situation by specifically condemning radical Islam rather than just “fanatics.” Even more, the Islamic Society and its friends at the NCC and WCC could have observed that the Copts are threatened more broadly not by Islamist terror but by ongoing Egyptian state sanctioned discrimination, which includes widespread non-prosecution of anti-Coptic crimes.
But for Religious Left groups like the NCC and WCC, maybe the baby steps should be appreciated, in anticipation of hopefully eventual more comprehensive acknowledgement of the global Islamist war of terror against Christians, Jews and other targets intolerable to jihadists.