In the Boston Globe, the always worthwhile John Allen analyzes today’s meeting between President Obama and Pope Francis. Although the two men will agree on issues like economic inequality, Allen says, they will likely differ on others, including, notably, Mideast policy.
Pope Francis often highlights the crisis Mideast Christians face; President Obama, not so much. “Few on the Catholic side are inclined to see the Obama administration as a great defender of those Christians at risk,” Allen writes, “while standing up against violent anti-Christian persecution is emerging as a cornerstone of Francis’ social and political agenda”:
On Egypt, Obama took a “pox on both your houses” stance last summer with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood and the army after a military council declared controversial President Mohamed Morsi deposed. The Vatican was more favorable to the military intervention, inclined to see it less as a coup and more as a reflection of popular will.
In Syria, the Obama administration has made the removal of President Bashar al-Assad a precondition for any negotiated end to that country’s civil war, while the Vatican is more skeptical about regime change, in part out of concern that whatever follows Assad might actually be worse.
Underlying these contrasts is that the Vatican’s reading of the Middle East is heavily conditioned by the perceptions of the Christian minorities in these countries, who generally see either a powerful military or strong-arm rulers as a buffer between themselves and Islamic radicalism. They often point to Iraq, where a once-thriving Christian community has been gutted in the chaos that followed the collapse of Saddam Hussein.
You can read the full article here.
This March, Thomas Nelson will publish Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians (2013) by Paul Marshall (Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom), Lela Gilbert (Adjunct Fellow, Hudson Institute) and Nina Shea (Director, Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom). The publisher’s description follows.
Christians are the world’s most widely persecuted religious group, according to studies by the Pew Research Center, Newsweek, and the Economist, among others.
A woman is caught with a Bible and publicly shot to death. An elderly priest is abducted and never seen again. Three buses full of students and teachers are struck by roadside bombs. These are not casualties of a war. These are Christian believers being persecuted for their faith in the twenty-first century.
Many Americans do not understand that Christians today are victims in many parts of the world. Even many Western Christians, who worship and pray without fear of violent repercussions, are unaware that so many followers of Christ live under governments and among people who are often openly hostile to their faith. They think martyrdom became a rarity long ago.
Persecuted soundly refutes these assumptions. This book offers a glimpse at the modern-day life of Christians worldwide, recounting the ongoing attacks that rarely make international headlines.
As Western Christians pray for the future of Christ’s church, it is vital that they understand a large part of the world’s Christian believers live in danger. Persecuted gives documented accounts of the persecution of Christians in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and former Soviet nations. It contains vivid stories of men and women who suffer abuse because of their faith in Jesus Christ, and tells of their perseverance and courage.
Persecuted is far more than a thorough and moving study of this global pattern of violence—it is a cry for freedom and a call to action.
CLR’s Mark Movsesian will give a lecture on March 7 titled, “Equality for Christians in the Middle East: Yesterday and Today,” at 6:00 pm at the offices of the magazine, First Things. Details at the link.
A short editorial in The Economist on the subject. Here’s a bit that I found somewhat perplexing:
Compared both with the wars of religion that once tore Christendom apart and with various modern intra-faith struggles, such as those within Islam, little blood is being spilt. But the brutality matters. Even if Western powers no longer see promoting Christianity’s interests as a geopolitical priority, it is hard to imagine American evangelicals ignoring a full-scale clampdown on house churches in China. And whatever their own beliefs, Western voters have other reasons to worry about the fate of Christians. Regimes or societies that persecute Christians tend to oppress other minorities too. Sunni Muslims who demonise Christians loathe Shias. Once religion is involved, any conflict becomes harder to solve.
This makes it sound as if under ordinary circumstances, “Western voters” would not care very much about Christian persecution, but they ought to care for instrumental reasons — because Christian persecution often goes hand in hand with religious persecution of other groups. Why would “Western voters” care more about the persecution of “other minorities” than persecution of Christians? I should think that “Western voters” would be concerned about religious persecution irrespective of the group being persecuted — not for any ulterior motive but because religious persecution is an evil. Indeed, one might even think that “Western voters” might care very much about persecution of Christians in particular — even if the “Western voters” that the editorial is talking about are not, or are no longer, Christians. Western culture — in its laws, in its ethics, and in countless other ways — is heavily indebted to Christianity. Why shouldn’t the persecution of Christians be of special concern to “Western voters”? And what does it mean to say that “any” conflict becomes harder to “solve” once religion is involved? Conflicts can be intractable for any number of reasons, many of which have little or nothing to do with religion. Whether a conflict involving religion is harder to “solve” than “any” other conflict will depend on the particular conflict that we are talking about, won’t it?
A very interesting book by the historian Elizabeth DiPalma Digeser (UCSB), A Threat to Public Piety: Christians, Platonists, and the Great Persecution (Cornell University Press 2012), about the conflict between early Christians and Romans before the Edict of Milan and the Council of Nicaea. The publisher’s description follows.
In A Threat to Public Piety, Elizabeth DePalma Digeser reexamines the origins of the Great Persecution (AD 303–313), the last eruption of pagan violence against Christians before Constantine enforced the toleration of Christianity within the Empire. Challenging the widely accepted view that the persecution enacted by Emperor Diocletian was largely inevitable, she points out that in the forty years leading up to the Great Persecution Christians lived largely in peace with their fellow Roman citizens. Why, Digeser asks, did pagans and Christians, who had intermingled cordially and productively for decades, become so sharply divided by the turn of the century?
Making use of evidence that has only recently been dated to this period, Digeser shows that a falling out between Neo-Platonist philosophers, specifically Iamblichus and Porphyry, lit the spark that fueled the Great Persecution. In the aftermath of this falling out, a group of influential pagan priests and philosophers began writing and speaking against Christians, urging them to forsake Jesus-worship and to rejoin traditional cults while Porphyry used his access to Diocletian to advocate persecution of Christians on the grounds that they were a source of impurity and impiety within the empire.
The first book to explore in depth the intellectual social milieu of the late third century, A Threat to Public Piety revises our understanding of the period by revealing the extent to which Platonist philosophers (Ammonius, Plotinus, Porphyry, and Iamblichus) and Christian theologians (Origen, Eusebius) came from a common educational tradition, often studying and teaching side by side in heterogeneous groups.
This is an illuminating report on a number of fronts, not the least of which is its discussion of the State Department’s judgment. — MOD