June 7, 1999
Why do Christians Keep Silent about Persecution, Part I
-- Martin E. Marty
As conflicts and negotiations in Yugoslavia end one phase and start another, arguments about American religious positions will intensify. Harold O. J. Brown in the June 1999 RELIGION AND SOCIETY REPORT newsletter (phone: 815-964-5819) tosses out a first word. He calls Kosovo "the aggression by a coalition with a combined population of over half a billion against a small nation with ten million people." He chides Western Christians, especially the United States and England, for "creating hostility between Eastern Orthodoxy and the churches of the West."
Brown chides Western Christians, and especially the United States, its government, its media, and most of its churches for "guilty silence" against what he calls our aggression in Serbia. Brown picks up a nice distinction from Jacques Ellul, who was a professor of law and lay theologian, between sufferers who are "the interesting poor....for whom our concern will help our ambitions" and "the uninteresting poor" whose fate interests only themselves. "We"--Brown's regular term--found the Serbs uninteresting sufferers. But the ethnic Albanians we find to be "interesting poor." So "we" are silent. And guilty.
Brown lists cases in which "we" found the sufferers uninteresting and thus took a pass on involvement: Sierra Leone, Tutsis in Rwanda, Tibet, East Timor, the Sudan, India, and elsewhere and observes that "people who are persecuted because of religious affiliation [especially Christians] are not interesting. That is to say, they can only be interesting if agitation on their behalf in some way serves our perceived interest." So "we are selectively outraged, selectively, prudentially, and perhaps culpably silent." Most of the places and peoples Brown mentions are Christian, whom "we are bombing," who were "massacred," "killed, sometimes even crucified," "sold as slaves," "killed by fanatical Hindus," "charged with blasphemy in Pakistan."
Brown: "Even large-scale atrocities that were within the ability of the so-called Christian powers to prevent or at least to modify are neglected." In Rwanda, "it would have been within the power of the Belgians, the former colonial rulers, largely Roman Catholics, to stop the massacre" Once-Catholic France "could have intervened." While Jews "are always alert to atrocities against their fellow-believers," Christians hardly notice Muslim aggression, as in the Sudan. A young Moscovite asked Brown, "Why do you Americans always support the Muslims?" Brown writes: "We do not support ALL Muslims who are being persecuted, but only those who happen to be being afflicted by Christians." "Muslims seem to be rather immune to criticism when they attack Christians." Indian and Pakistani Christians who suffer from Muslims and Hindus are "uninteresting poor." Why? asks the conservative Christian. The answers he gives are important, interesting, and they prompt tomorrow's "Sightings" about arguments in American religion.