National Council of Churches Apologizing for Islamists
By Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | February 2, 2007
Like most of the religious Left, the National Council of Churches (NCC) never has much to say about religious freedom issues affecting Christians. But any implied criticism of Islam sends the NCC ladder team flying out the door in a frenzy! The latest peril to religious liberty that the NCC confronted was the “inflammatory” remarks of Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode. In a letter to his constituents late last year, Goode wrote: “When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Quran in any way.” He was responding to the swearing in of Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison, who had used a Korean in an unofficial ceremony. Speaking on the subject of immigration, Goode added, “if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Quran.”The NCC typically does not say a word about the tribulations of persecuted Christians around the world. North Korean Christians can starve. Churches in
Indonesia can burn. Clergy in
Iran can be assassinated. Burmese Christians can languish. Vietnamese and Chinese priests may sit in prison for years. The Saudi religious police can round up whomever. Nary a word from the NCC’s headquarters on the upper west side of
Manhattan. Even in the U.S., secularists can mock Christianity, stereotype Christians, desecrate religious symbols, silence praying school children, censor school books and remove historic plaques and statues that may inadvertently reference
America’s religious heritage. The NCC’s silence in such situations is almost golden. But Congressman Goode’s “inflammatory” remarks, received by the Baptist and Methodist farmers and small town people who inhabit his largely rural district in
Central Virginia, aroused the NCC’s sensitive conscience for religious liberty. Like Patrick Henry, standing in Richmond’s
Church, sounding the tocsin against the depredations of King George, the NCC quick response team rushed to action. First the NCC circulated a petition entitled an “Interfaith Call for Reconciliation in Congress,” demanding Congressman Goode’s apology for inflaming rural Virginians against Muslims, “who feel targeted by repression and abuse…and a growing climate of fear.” It urged Americans to stand up for religious freedom and deplore “hurtful words” by any public figure about any religion. It also invited Congressman Goode to join an interfaith delegation in a mosque visit, so the “healing” can begin.Armed with that petition, the NCC led an interfaith delegation to visit Congressman Goode this week. The get together was seemingly affable. The congressman’s office included a frame poster declaring “In God We Trust,” the NCC reporter noted. Even more ominously to him, Fox News was on the television. But the NCC delegation, comprised of two NCC officials, a Baptist minister, and three Muslims, bravely moved forward into the lion’s lair. The delegation shared the feelings of pain with the congressman, the anguish no doubt enhanced by the background noise from Fox News. Congressman Goode thanked his visitors but, according to the NCC, stood by his remarks, saying, “I didn’t say anything that was untrue.” The NCC delegation agreed that Goode’s statement was technically “factually supportable,” but that its implications were distressing.
Congressman Goode expressed appreciation for
America’s religious freedom but warned the delegation that “if this nation had a majority of Muslims…I’m not sure it would be the case.” But Goode avuncularly pointed to Sayyid Syeed, of the Islamic Society of North America, and added, “Of course, if they were all more like you, I don’t think there’d be a problem.” The lead NCC official found this remark to be condescending but acknowledged that it was intended as a “kind gesture” that even became a “holy moment” of personal connection. Congressman Goode suffers from “preconceptions, misconceptions, [and] misunderstandings,” the NCC official lamented in his report, but this was one of the first times the congressman had “met a peace-loving, broad-minded Muslim who is far more like him than unlike him.”
According to the NCC, Goode agreed to visit a Muslim service in his district, where he will meet “peace loving, broad-minded Muslims, like those in our little group, who love their country and wish the best for all Americans.” That is, provided he actually meets such people there at the mosque.But Sayyid Syeed’s Islamic Society of North America’s own attitudes towards religious freedom could bear some scrutiny. An exponent of Saudi-style Islam, the group is less than quick to denounce Islamic repression and terror. Certainly, it would never denounce its Saudi sponsors, who have outlawed all non-Islamic religion in their own land. But for that matter, the NCC would never criticize
Saudi Arabia’s religion repression, no matter how many Christians and “apostates” are imprisoned or murdered there.Instead, the NCC is focusing its deep concern on the ominous threat to freedom posed by the attitudes of Congressman Goode and his rural Virginian constituents, whose letters to their Congressman over the Koran issue have largely been supportive. No doubt, the Muslims of Bedford and Danville and Appomattox, and in countless other villages throughout
Virginia’s 5th district, are living with great trepidation under the reign of Congressman Goode. Maybe they can now empathize with the suffering Christians of Iran and Pakistan and Syria and
Indonesia and in at least a dozen other Islamic countries.
Goodness knows, the NCC’s empathy will never extend to those Christians, who live in daily fear of considerably more than just a letter from a
The National Council of Churches (NCC) has been infamous in recent decades for its unwillingness to criticize the human rights abuses of any adversary of the United States, from the old
Soviet Union to modern Islamic and Marxist states. But now, the NCC is expressing concern about some Islamic “extremism,” though it declines specifically to name it as such. Thirty-five denominations with a combined population of over 40 million American church members belong to the New York-based NCC. Typically since the 1960’s, the NCC elites have been Religious Left activists rather than mainstream church members. Criticizing Marxist regimes usually has been taboo for the NCC because of its own discomfort with capitalism. And the NCC’s obsessive commitment to multiculturalism and inter-faith “dialogue” has typically prevented any critique of nasty Islamist regimes. In contrast, the NCC is not shy about condemning “fundamentalist” Christianity and policies of the Jewish state.The NCC took a little break from condemning America and Israel at its recent General Assembly, actually acknowledging “violence” and “attacks” against Christian targets in Egypt and
Turkey. These attackers were unnamed, of course, by the NCC, which is too polite to name names except, for example, when condemning conservative Christians. Even more unusual was the NCC’s criticism of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust and call for
Israel’s destruction. “In the face of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s call for the obliteration of Israel, the National Council of Churches USA reaffirms its support for the security of the State of Israel, alongside a viablePalestinian
State,” the NCC’s December 16 statement said. “We also reaffirm our respect for Judaism and our friendship with the Jewish people.”NCC concerns about Islamist violence in Egypt and
Turkey were stated more vaguely but still were striking, by NCC standards. Introduced by Eastern Orthodox delegates at the NCC’s annual assembly, held in November outside Baltimore, the resolution on Egypt lamented “horrific and violent acts against the Coptic Orthodox and Protestant Christians in
Alexandria” in October. It offered prayer for “Egyptian sisters and brothers in Christ” and for “equal rights” in their native land.
Similarly, but more briefly, another NCC resolution expressed “sadness and dismay” at “recent attacks and demonstrations by extremist elements” in
Turkey against the Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. It commended the
Istanbul police for their “timely response” to “these elements of fanaticism and extremism” and offered “solidarity” to Patriarch Bartholomew. This resolution also came from Eastern Orthodox delegates. The Egypt resolution did not offer specifics, but it was alluding to an angry mob that surrounded Alexandria’s
St. George’s Coptic Church in October, in response to newspaper reports that a church play had insulted Islam. That play portrayed the attempted forced conversion to Islam of a Coptic youth. Egyptian police restrained the mob of 5,000 to 10,000 in a melee that resulted in several deaths by police and demonstrators. A Coptic nun was stabbed, nearby Christian businesses were looted and several other
Alexandria churches were attacked. Egyptian Copts complain that anti-Christian violence by Islamic groups is often abetted or ignored by the Egyptian government. The NCC resolution on Turkey, which also avoided details, was alludingto an October demonstration by Turkish nationalist “Grey Wolves,” who demanded that the Patriarch Bartholomew leave
Turkey. They placed a black wreath on the Patriarch’s
Istanbul compound to make their point.In the
Egypt resolution, the NCC carefully thanked President Hosni Mubarak for his “exhortation” to Muslim scholars to “teach tolerance and shun extremism.” It also thanked Sheikh Mohammed Sayed El-Tantawi, rector of Al Azhar University for his ostensible encouragement of “peaceful coexistence” between Muslims and Christians.Not surprisingly, an NCC’s resolution attacking the U.S. Patriot Act was significantly more detailed and sweeping than the resolutions about Christians living under Islam. Among other shibboleths of the left, the NCC warned of a “creeping reliance on selective religious fundamentalism [i.e. conservative American Christianity] as the lens for shaping public policy.”The NCC, in another resolution, also went after torture – by the
U.S. It declared, “We find it particularly abhorrent that our nation’s lawmakers would fail to approve the pending legislation disavowing the use of torture by any entity on behalf of the
United States government.”
A Coptic delegate to the NCC General Assembly complained that the anti-torture resolution did not condemn torture perpetrated by non-U.S. entities, such as the Iraqi insurgents. But the resolution remained U.S.-focused. Do not look for NCC resolutions to express alarm about torture practiced routinely by dozens of regimes around the world, from North Korea, to Cuba, to
Saudi Arabia.Predictably, the NCC trumpeted its statements on torture by the
U.S. and opposition to the Patriot Act. But it largely ignored its own resolutions on Egypt and
Turkey, which had been crafted by Eastern Orthodox delegates rather than NCC staffers. For the curious, NCC resolutions from the November 2005 General Assembly can be found here.
Not long after the NCC General Assembly, a Thanksgiving essay from NCC Associate General Secretary for International Affairs and Peace Antonios Kireopoulos related that the “our torture of detainees, directly or through extraordinary rendition, makes us a target of contempt,” while “assaults on constitutional guarantees – attempts to dismantle due process, the prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, and basic privacy norms – call into question our commitment to justice.” Meanwhile, “with the policy of preemptive strike, the manipulation of intelligence to justify war, and the willingness to use white phosphorus in
Iraq, our country is now seen as a major threat to security worldwide,” Kireopoulos fretted. “With a “penchant for unilateralism, blustering in the United Nations, the discarding of treaty obligations, and disregard for environmental protections, the
U.S. is fast becoming the lonely bully on the block.”
So the NCC is still the NCC, with all of its usual preoccupations. But the oblique criticism of Islamic radicalism in Egypt and Turkey, and the condemnation of the Iranian president’s call for
Israel’s destruction, at least show some potential capacity for non-leftist moral reflection within the church council, however rare.
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In keeping with the Religious Left’s sympathy for the suffering for the victims of U.S. and Israeli “aggression” — and absolutely nobody else — a group of senior religious officials recently visited Lebanon to bemoan
U.S. complicity in the Israeli strikes against Hezbollah targets. Naturally, the news release and public statements hardly mention Hezbollah, ignoring that Islamist terrorist group’s years of rocket attacks against Israeli towns, its strikes against U.S. targets, and its reliance on Iran’s radical regime.According to this delegation, a U.S.-backed Israel attacked
Lebanon, with a special focus on civilian targets, for no reason beyond simple sadism.
“They [the Lebanese whom the delegation visited] were deeply troubled that our government did nothing to influence the cessation of the relentless bombing,” discovered the Rev. Michael Livingston, who led the five-day trip through
Lebanon as president of the National Council of Churches (NCC). “They simply could not understand how we could abide saying nothing to
Israel while innocent people were killed, roads and bridges destroyed and oil storage facilities were bombed spilling oil and polluting the sea.”
According to Livingston, the nine-member delegation “wanted to express our solidarity with the Lebanese people, to listen to them, to ask them what we could do to help and what messages we could take to the members of our congregations and to our government in the
United States.” No similar Religious Left delegation ever visited
Lebanon to express “solidarity” during that nation’s nearly 30-year occupation by Syrian military and intelligence operatives. Nor has any delegation expressed alarm by the continued occupation of southern
Lebanon by Hezbollah.The other ecclesiastics who joined Livingston in his Lebanon tour were the Rev. A. Roy Medley, general secretary of the American Baptist Churches USA; Greek Orthodox Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos; Rev. Raymon Hunt of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; NCC executive Antonios Kireopoulos; and Quaker officials Thomas Swain, Martin Kromer, Edward R. Moon II, and Patricia Finley. In a surreal interview on the NCC’s website,
Livingston never actually utters the word “Hezbollah.” He does make an oblique reference to terrorism, but only to offer empathy with the motives of suicide bombers, painting them as supposedly oppressed victims acting out their understandable rage.Asked what he would tell his congregation if he were still a pastor,
Livingston responded: “I would ask them to do some homework, to try to understand, not justify, but understand, why a young man would strap explosives to his chest and walk into public place to kill and to die. And then to use that understanding to work for a more balanced approach to creating a lasting peace in the
Middle East.” That more balanced approach doubtlessly means becoming more hostile to the State of Israel.Quickly, he turned the topic back to the real ultimate oppressor: the U.S. “I would ask them to search their hearts for a good reason our government might sit on its hands while innocent people were bombed relentlessly in
Lebanon and while people on both sides were dying. I would tell them the people of
Lebanon want to live in peace, to raise their children without the dread of the next attack.”No doubt, most Lebanese do want to live without war. But most of Lebanon’s strife over the last 30 years has come from conflict between the Land of Cedars’ growing Islamic population and Lebanon’s stedily diminishing Christian community; this has been compounded by an occupation by Syria, the headquartering of the PLO in Lebanon during the 1980’s, and the more recent nesting of Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces.Most of this conflict would have occurred even if Israel did not exist, but Livingston emphasizes that the solution to Lebanon’s future depends on a resolution of the Palestinians’ fate; and this is to be orchestrated by the United States pressuring
Israel into more concessions. He urges parishioners to “agitate their representatives with calls, visits, emails, letters, until we begin to act as a responsible agent for the resolution of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict.”Livingston quotes Lebanese Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Elias Aude, with whom the
U.S. religious delegation met. The Metropolitan told of the “fear of his people at the fragility of small, beleaguered Lebanon as a whole, subject as it is to the desires of more powerful nations.”
Livingston recounted, “He spoke also of the precarious existence of Christians in
Lebanon and his sorrow at their dwindling numbers. He knew that we had little power to do anything, none of us really, and he affirmed the sovereignty of God and his trust in God’s providence.”Why is the Christian population so “precarious?” Why is it “dwindling?”
Livingston does not explain. That would require some reference to the demands and pressures of radical Islam, whose war against Lebanon’s Christians, compounded by the Christians’ own low birthrate, have made Christians a shrinking minority in a nation where they were once the majority. Naturally,
Livingston shifts to what he believes really distressed the Metropolitan. “Even as he said this, I got the sense that he did indeed desire that we go back to the United States and challenge our government to act with justice toward the whole region, to balance its unqualified support of Israel with a more profound concern for the things that make for peace in a land that has long been home to Christian, Moslem, and Jew.” Thank you, Dr. Livingston, for your interpretation of what the Metropolitan actually meant to say. Did all the Christians you met only complain of the U.S. and
Israel? Do they not have some other concerns as well? If so,
Livingston does not share. For good measure,
Livingston mentions that his delegation visited the site of the 1996 “massacre” in Qana, where Lebanese civilians were killed when Israeli artillery returned fire against Hezbollah militia. (Coincidentally, Hezbollah exploited the locals as human shields.) “We found the older graves and headstones of victims of what they call the 1996 massacre, and we found the fresh graves of several families including children, who were killed in the last days of the bombing when the home in which they were all huddled was destroyed,” Livingston remembered.At least
Livingston qualified his mention of the “massacre” by saying “they call” it a massacre. He did not explain the circumstances behind this tragedy. Once again, we can only assume that U.S.-backed
Israel was simply sadistic.
If Israel did not exist, and the U.S. withdrew from Iraq, would Religious Left delegations ever again visit the
Middle East? That region’s various unsavory and corrupt regimes would go on oppressing, censoring, jailing, torturing, and murdering their opponents and favored victims — especially ever-dwindling Christian minorities. But there would be no consequent interest, much less protests, from any major left-leaning church group like the NCC.
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Reacting to North Korea’s claims of a nuclear weapons test must have been difficult for the Religious Left. They do not like nuclear weapons, but they also do not relish criticizing communist governments. So some church officials have emphasized that North Korean nukes will threaten the environment. They also have denounced nuclear weapons by all governments as equally threatening, as though the nuclear arsenal of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s government were as disturbing as nukes in the grasping little paws of maniacal dictator Kim Jong Il.
“Nuclear proliferation can not be good news for the planet,” lamented National Council of Churches chief Bob Edgar, who is also a United Methodist minister. “I have seen firsthand the effects of nuclear testing on human beings and God’s planet when I visited the Marshall Islands where the U.S. government tested nuclear weapons after World War II.”
The chief of the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Ministries is also worried about “the planet.” According to the Rev. Randy Day, “Nuclear weapons are menaces to all forms of life on the planet and to the Earth itself. This is true of the arsenals of the several nuclear nations. Such weapons must be controlled and rapidly eliminated by international covenant.”
Some church prelates are concerned about demonizing the North Korean communist dictatorship, which has infamously impoverished, starved, imprisoned and tortured its people while lavishing funds on its oversized military.
“We can’t build a peaceful relationship when we label the other as evil,” warned Chicago United Methodist Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, who is himself Korean. He said his denomination opposes any country testing or developing nuclear weapons “which can be misused and destroy all of God’s creation.”
The head of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Samuel Kobia, a Methodist pastor from Kenya, addressed his letter about North Korea’s nukes to the UN ambassadors of Russia, the U.S., China, France, Great Britain, North Korea, South Korea, and Japan, while helpfully copying the ambassadors of Israel, Pakistan and India. Presumably Rev. Kobia wanted to communicate with the representatives of all nuclear powers.
Kobia reminded the respective ambassadors, who were no doubt anxious to hear from him, that the WCC wants “talks to lead to a formal peace treaty in the Korean Peninsula, [has] urged the [North Korean] government to abandon its nuclear weapons program and make a verified return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapons state, and [has] urged…due consideration to [North Korea’s] concern for its security in order to resolve the crisis.”
It was thoughtful of the WCC’s Kobia to emphasize North Korea’s “security” concerns. But nowhere in his letter did Kobia mention the plight of the North Korean people, who have miserably suffered under their current slave masters for over 60 years.
Likewise, the NCC’s Bob Edgar never mentioned the oppression that North Koreans endure or the sadistic nature of their communist overseers. But like Kobia, Edgar was concerned about offering security guarantees to the North Korean tyranny.
“We urgently reaffirm our 2003 call for the prompt reconvening of talks with North Korea leading to a non-aggression pact between North Korea and the United States, renouncement of pre-emptive attack and negotiation of a peace treaty replacing the present Armistice Treaty of 1953 and the establishment and exchange of liaison offices between the United States and North Korea as a sign of good faith,” Edgar declared.
None of the leftist church prelates were quite able to identify the North Korean regime as singularly threatening because of its innately despotic and quixotic nature. Instead, nuclear weapons themselves are identified as an abstract, impersonal threat, irrespective of the character of their owners.
United Methodist missions official Randy Day explained this by quoting the official stance from his denomination: “We reaffirm the finding that nuclear weapons, whether used or threatened, are grossly evil and morally wrong. As an instrument of mass destruction, nuclear weapons slaughter the innocent and ravage the environment. When used as instruments of deterrence, nuclear weapons hold innocent people hostage for political and military purposes. Therefore, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence is morally corrupt and spiritually bankrupt.”
Day also expressed hope for a “unified” Korea, a hope that Kim Jong Il no doubt also shares. The question is, what kind of “unified” Korea? Day mentioned nothing about human rights or democracy, but it is the complete absence of both in North Korea that has kept Korea divided. None of the leftist church prelates ever mention this. Obliquely, Rev. Day is “concerned that North Korea, one of the world’s poorest nations, has used limited resources for nuclear military purposes.”
Why is North Korea so poor? And how were its meager resources diverted into nuclear weapons, while millions have starved? Rev. Day does not explain. He also throws in how much “we value our links with the Christian Federation in North Korea,” which is the puppet church organization that the North Korean government exploits for its propaganda relations with international religious groups.
In perhaps the most bizarre church response to the North Korea nuclear test was a liturgy of prayer offered by the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, to be read in worship services on Sunday. Again, there is special concern in the prayer not just for people but also the potentially affected environment, specifically “trees, plants, animals, earth, water, and air,” each of which evidently merits special prayer.
Rather unexpectedly, the liturgy uncritically incorporates the words of President Bush’s response to the North Korean test. “Once again North Korea has defied the will of the international community, and the international community will respond,” Bush is quoted as saying. Bush is himself a United Methodist, but he likely never imagined his words would be turned into a worship liturgy.
Admirably, the liturgy stands out from the other church statements, because it actually seems to presume that North Korea’s tyrannical regime is uniquely dangerous. “We pray especially for the leaders of China, South Korea, Russia, and Japan, with all who may be most immediately in harm’s way,” the liturgy intones.
“We pray for terrorists and all who wish us harm,” the liturgy continues. “Protect us and all people.” Again, the acknowledgement of terrorism, its potential connection to North Korean nuclear proliferation, and the threat that link poses to countless innocents is unique among the church statements.
Even more remarkably, the liturgy actually admits to the sad plight of North Korea’s population: “Open our eyes to the oppression and poverty of the North Korean people, and show us ways to declare and embody the liberation and wholeness of life you desire for them and all peoples.”
The liturgy, though odd, at least makes some thoughtful points not typically found from left-leaning mainline church bureaucracies. It also concludes with the Lord’s Prayer, which is a refreshing spiritual alternative to more routine verbiage about “the planet.” But a more robust ecclesiastical response to the North Korean nuclear development might quotes from the Psalms, specifically 46:9: “He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.”
Church leaders might receive more attention and respect if they confidently reminded their parishioners of the ancient and transcendent promise of their faith: that tyrants and their evil designs, even if backed by nuclear weapons, are in the end always defeated by a kind and omnipotent Providence.