Church of Nativity 298.8.
(photo credit: AP)
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, writing in The Times of London during a four-day swing through the region, bemoaned the state of Christians in the Muslim world.
"Iraq's Christian population is dropping by thousands every couple of months and some of their most effective leaders have been forced to emigrate. In Istanbul, the Orthodox population is a tiny remnant, and their patriarch is told by some of the Turkish press that it's time he left. In Egypt, where Christian-Muslim relations have been - and still are - intimate and good, attacks on Christians are notably more frequent," Williams wrote.
The Times separately quotes Canon Andrew White, president of the Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East and vicar of St. George's Church in Baghdad: "All my staff at the church have been killed," he said. "They disappeared about a year ago and we never saw them again. Of the rest of my congregation, most say they have been targeted in some way or have had letters delivered with bullets in them."
That the situation is bad and worsening for Christians living in Muslim lands is not in dispute. Nor can anyone disagree with Williams' cry not to ignore their plight. Yet Williams' own conclusion seems to blame everyone but the most obvious culprit.
On his visit to Bethlehem, for example, Williams wrote that the town's Christian population is down to "barely a quarter," and, "There are some disturbing signs of Muslim anti-Christian feeling, despite the consistent traditions of coexistence. But their plight is made still more intolerable by the tragic conditions created by the 'security fence' that almost chokes the shrinking town."
Williams admits that the situation was "difficult" for Christians across the region before the war in Iraq and Israel's security fence, but clearly blames the perception that Christians are part of the "crusading West" for exacerbating the situation.
Unfortunately, Williams' tendency to confuse causes and symptoms could actually contribute to the growing persecution he describes. While decrying and mocking Israel's security barrier, he neglects to mention, let alone condemn, the Palestinian terrorism that necessitated its construction.
There is no doubt that the barrier has saved untold numbers of Israeli lives. Does this not enter his calculus of morality and security? Can he not see that the hatred and violence that has driven out so many Palestinian Christians is being expressed in an even more deadly fashion against the Jewish people?
Muslim intolerance toward Christians and Jews is cut from exactly the same cloth. It is the same jihad. Williams seems to blame this jihad on the "crusading West," as if a decision by the West not to defend itself would lead to harmony between Muslims and Christians.
On Friday, speaking in the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI took a somewhat different approach. He compared the situation in the Muslim world to that faced by Christians beginning in the Enlightenment, when they sought to promote individual rights, including freedom of religion.
"We Christians feel close to all those who, on the basis of their religious conviction as Muslims, commit themselves against violence," the pope said.
This would seem to hold the promise of a more realistic direction than Williams' self-abnegation. Far from blaming the West, the Church should condemn Muslim violence and intolerance, and encourage Muslims who embrace moderation and coexistence.
Earlier this month, during his visit to Istanbul, Benedict backed Turkey's admission into the EU, prayed toward Mecca in a mosque, and called Islam "a religion of peace, tolerance and love."
Christian leaders are right not to act as if Islam as a whole is the enemy. But just as the potential for coexistence with Islam must not be ignored, neither should the jihad against the West that is growing in strength and vehemence.
Christians, particularly at this time of year, bear the message of peace on earth and good will toward all humanity. So does the Jewish people.
We need to stand together with moderate Muslims against the jihadi front that threatens us all. If we do so, and only if we do so, will the plight of persecuted Christians - and of the persecuted Jewish state - be ameliorated.