A programming note: this coming Wednesday (October 21), I will participate in a panel here at St. John’s University on the war in Karabakh, “The Crisis in the Caucasus.” Other panelists include Siobhan Nash-Marshall (Manhattanville College) and Artyom Tonoyan (University of Minnesota). The event, which will cover the history of the conflict, its religious implications, and its importance for the international human-rights community, is sponsored by the university’s Institute for International Communication. Details and login information are available at the link.
I enjoyed appearing yesterday on Ave Maria radio’s “Kresta in the Afternoon” show to discuss the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Karabakh. The host, Al Kresta, was most interested in talking about the effect the war is having on Christians in Karabakh. The effect is substantial. Just today, in fact, Azeri forces shelled the Armenian Orthodox cathedral in the town of Shushi, which I had an opportunity to visit years ago.
My interview with Al is linked here. I appreciate his having me on to discuss this vital topic.
Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
- The Voice of the Martyrs, a nonprofit that aids persecuted Christians around the world, reports that COVID-19 has not stopped the Chinese Communist Party from persecuting religious minorities.
- The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales decided to close all churches to the public until further notice, even though the United Kingdom’s stay-at-home order specifically exempted houses of worship.
- As state health officials make plans to decide who to prioritize to receive critical care when there is a shortage of available equipment, lawyers, ethicists, and theologians warn that denying care based on age or disability violates federal law.
- The Ohio Attorney General’s office has ordered health care providers in the state to halt all nonessential or elective surgical abortions to help conserve medical supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Louisiana’s Catholic Governor, John Bel Edwards, asked fellow citizens to pray and fast on March 24 for those affected by COVID-19.
Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
- The U.S. has officially opened its embassy in Jerusalem; at the same time, ongoing Palestinian protests at the border between Gaza and Israel have left dozens dead.
- A chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is suing a California police department after male sheriff’s deputies allegedly forcibly removed a Muslim woman’s hijab.
- After Pope Francis backtracked on critical comments regarding an alleged serial child abuser priest in Chile, new allegations of abuse surfaced involving the Marist order in that country.
- A Muslim family in Indonesia who appeared normal to their neighbors carried out a series of suicide attacks targeting Christians; the Islamic State has claimed responsibility.
- In light of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Trinity Lutheran case, the Education Department is revising its guidelines regarding public aid to religious schools.
In December, Routledge Publishing will release Christian Communities in the Middle East: Faith, Identity, and Integration by Fiona McCallum (University of St. Andrews). The publisher’s description follows:
The Christian communities in the Middle East exist in an environment where religion has retained strong social significance but society is dominated by a different faith. This work explores the different historical processes of state building to examine regime policies towards the Christian presence in Syria and Jordan, identifying the methods used to accommodate groups with a distinct identity and integrate them into the nation state. This volume aims to give an overview of the under-studied Christian groups in this area, providing much-needed information on these minorities, assessing the implications of these policies on the two countries with reference to the question of regime legitimacy and determining if they can prove insightful for other regional governments in their efforts to integrate Middle Eastern Christian communities.
By examining different approaches such as secular nationalism, cultural pluralism, protected minority (dhimmi) and coercion, it would appear that there is a constant dilemma between attaining regime stability by promoting a national identity and allowing minority groups to retain their own identity. As indigenous communities, the case studies of the Christians of Syria and Jordan demonstrate to what extent the two regimes have successfully addressed this dilemma. The two countries offer interesting comparisons, and McCallum is able to highlight both the contrasting regimes and the similarities in the ongoing crises facing the region – economic problems, cultural change, the growth of political Islam and challenges posed by regional conflict. This new research will demonstrate that their role as interlocutors continues today and that their experience of living in this region has provided them with a rich knowledge and understanding of their coreligionist that is crucial to our understanding of Middle Eastern society.
Tackling issues central to the relationship between religion and politics including secularization, religious revival and the legal status of religions and their adherents, this work will be of great interest to all scholars of Religion, Comparative Politics and the Middle East.
This June, St. Augustine’s Press will release “Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy” by George J. Marlin (Aid to the Church in Need-USA). The publisher’s description follows:
Even before ISIS launched its ultra-violent campaign targeting Iraqi Christians in the summer of 2014, Pope Francis proclaimed that the current wave of Christian persecution in the Middle East is worse than the suffering inflicted on believers in the centuries of the early Church. Since the Arab Spring and the start of the civil war in Syria in 2011, which have thrown the region into utter chaos, Muslim extremists have killed thousands of Christians every year, while destroying and desecrating countless churches. Christian communities in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt have been hardest hit.
In his new book, author and political commentator George J. Marlin, chairman of Aid to the Church in Need-USA – an agency under the guidance of the Pope that supports the persecuted and suffering Church around the world – describes the sharp rise in Christian persecution in the Middle East. After brief narratives on the rise of Christianity, Islam, and terrorism in the Middle East, Marlin documents country by country, acts of twenty-first century Christian persecution that is nearing a bloody climax that could produce the unthinkable: a Middle East without Christians and the destruction of an ancient patrimony that has been a vital link to the very birth of Christianity.
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?