There was good news and bad news around an open letter released in Ottawa last week.
The bad news was the letter concerning the persecution of about 230 million Christians worldwide faced with “daily threats of murder, beating, imprisonment, and torture.” An estimated 400 million more Christians face appalling discrimination in housing and jobs.
The good news is the post-Hanukkah/pre-Christmas missive came from Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, Co-Chair of the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus and by Most Rev. Douglas Crosby, Bishop of Hamilton and President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In poised yet implacable words, these esteemed leaders of their two faiths laid out the case that even in a world awash in the blood of tormented minorities, virtually every credible human rights observer agrees Christians experience religious persecution more than any other faith group on a global scale and in absolute numbers.
They note both Pope Francis and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, have described what is happening to Christians in parts of the Middle East and Africa as outright genocide.
“From Egypt to Iran and from Iraq to Nigeria, Christian communities throughout the region experience persecution in various forms, ranging from state discrimination to intimidation by local populations to attacks by terror groups on churches,” Bishop Crosby and Rabbi Frydman-Kohl write. “In some countries this has (caused an) exodus of local Christians – an added tragedy given that many of these communities have existed for millennia in a region that is the birthplace of Christianity.”
The bad news is that the despite the calibre of the religious leaders making the plea, there was distressingly little news coverage from journalists who would normally run around in excited and ever-diminishing circles at the palest exhalation of the word “genocide.” Doubly troubling was that a rabbi and a bishop joining in common cause should itself have been a compelling news hook.
Given the blood-soaked history of Christians and Jews, the joint appeal merited natural attention at this time of year. More, it came only days after the release of a marvellous document from the Vatican’s Commission For Religious Relations With The Jews.
As the noted Anglican journalist Michael Coren wrote in the National Post, there is a sense of history being fully turned by the Vatican commission’s affirmation that Jews have never been excluded from salvation for refusing to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Son of God. The commission goes even further when it says that salvation “is not a matter of (Christian) missionary efforts to convert Jews, but rather the expectation that the Lord will bring about the hour when we will all be united….”
These are not dusty theological points to glaze the eyes of secularists.
The contrary view, that Jews were anathema for refusing to profess Christ, was a ground for almost two millennia of horrifying persecutions and pogroms and violent hatred suffered by God’s chosen people, Israel. Historically, it justified the torments against Jews that Bishop Crosby and Rabbi Frydman-Kohl now protest against being inflicted on Christians in the Islamic world.
Surely days before Christmas, only hours after Hanukkah, such rapprochement and common cause by two of the world’s three great Abrahamic faiths is a good news story to be told by all. But no. It’s silent night for religious harmony and, oh, yeah, for Christians facing genocide.
The danger of that deepening silence affronted a friend recently as he was watching CBC’s Power and Politics discussion about Syrian refugees in Canada. One panelist, Supriya Dwivedi, said this: “(Stephen Harper) tried to come across as emotional but it was lost in all the Conservative…wink-wink, nudge-nudge of ‘we’re only accepting those who are most vulnerable’ which, as we know, were really code for Christian refugees and I think that that probably put a bad taste in a lot of Canadian’s mouths.”
What stunned my friend was that no one else on the panel spoke out. No one raised three axiomatic concerns: 1) Why do we suddenly need to speak in code about Christians? 2) How do we “all know” speaking about Christians creates a bad taste for Canadians? 3) Don’t we face a serious problem of emerging anti-Christian bigotry if 1 and 2 become persistently true?
The good news is Christian and Jewish leaders are joining voice to articulate what happens to the world when the bad news of religious intolerance is ignored.