June 8, 1999
Why Do Christians Keep Silent about Persecution, Part II
-- Martin E. Marty
An early volley in the religious controversy over the Kosovar conflict was a well-timed conservative Protestant critique by Harold O. J. Brown in the RELIGION AND SOCIETY REPORT newsletter whence we took our sighting yesterday and which we continue to note today. Brown faulted "us" Western Christians in government, the media, and the churches for "aggression" against Serbia, for driving a wedge between the West and Eastern Orthodoxy, and for the failure (by Christians) to come to the side of their own when they are attacked. Brown charged that powerful forces in the Christian West have no passion for "the uninteresting poor" and suffering. By that he means those who, if we support them, cannot benefit our causes or ambition.
The Brown piece is worth revisiting for the purposes of citing and examining the familiar case he represents. Jews come to Jews' aid in warfare, he says. Muslims (usually, he cited exceptions) come to Muslims' aid or at least don't side against their fellows. But Christians? One accusation he made would represent good public relations: Muslims, such as the Kosovar victims of ethnic cleansing, are often the "interesting poor" to government, media, and churches. This would counter charges by many American Muslims who claim to be victims of prejudice and global Muslims who see the West and its historic faiths as oppressors.
Looking at the rest of Brown's case, we read that "we are selectively outraged, selectively, prudentially, and perhaps culpably silent," "guiltily silent," "apologetic and self-condemning," "Christians refuse to see the logs in others' eyes, being paralyzed if they see a mote in their own"; "we" have "selective self-reproach," are fearful of charges of "racism, Eurocentrism, and imperialism"; we "tend to ignore or gloss over aggressions against Christians elsewhere"; "ashamed of being in some vague, historical sense Christians," "embarrassed and exculpatory when other Christians are victimized," "not wishing to be chauvinistic or exclusivistic"; thus "perhaps [showing] a perverse sort of superiority complex, as though Christians or Caucasians were the only human beings capable of actual moral delinquency"; offering little sympathy for the eleven million Germans who became refugees after World War II.
Is there something to be rescued from Brown's case statement, especially if we disagree, as I do, with most of it? The one glimmer: there often is self-criticism by the West--perhaps to atone for a century of Christian chauvinism--that its virtues and achievements don't show. Don't trust a nation or a cause that is a victim of self-hate. How to affirm one's cause and deal fairly with the other, the enemy, the different one--that is the challenge for the new millennium.