Beliefs Politics

Activists demand Obama appoint envoy for persecuted Middle Eastern Christians

Men in orange jumpsuits purported to be Egyptian Christians held captive by the Islamic State (IS) kneel in front of armed men along a beach said to be near Tripoli, in this still image from an undated video made available on social media on February 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Social media via Reuters TV *Editors: This photo is not available for republication.
Men in orange jumpsuits purported to be Egyptian Christians held captive by the Islamic State (IS) kneel in front of armed men along a beach said to be near Tripoli, in this still image from an undated video made available on social media on February 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Social media via Reuters TV *Editors: This photo is not available for republication.

Men in orange jumpsuits purported to be Egyptian Christians held captive by the Islamic State kneel in front of armed men along a beach said to be near Tripoli, Libya, in this still image from an undated video made available on social media on Feb. 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Social media via Reuters TV
*Editors: This photo is not available for republication.

WASHINGTON (RNS) Beheadings, enslavement, kidnappings and rape plague minority religious communities across the Middle East, and it’s time for President Obama to fill a job created to address their plight, a group of prominent evangelicals, scholars and other religious leaders told the White House.

In the seven months since Congress created a “special envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia,” the extreme violence against these groups has only escalated, the religious leaders wrote to Obama on Monday (April 20). Nominate someone, they implored.

“The persecution and even eradication of religious minorities in the Middle East right now is the biggest humanitarian and national security crisis that we face,” said Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, who serves as president of the denomination’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “There is a moral imperative to do everything we can to advocate for imperiled religious minorities.”

Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, right, leads a June 9, 2014, panel discussion as David Platt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board, listens. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, right, leads a June 9, 2014, panel discussion as David Platt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, listens. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

The letter, sent under the auspices of the Washington-based International Religious Freedom Roundtable, was signed by Moore and 22 other religious freedom activists, including National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson and the Rev. Joel Hunter of Northland Church in Central Florida. More than 30 groups also signed, including Coptic Solidarity, the Chaldean Community Foundation, International Christian Concern and the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society.

“The Islamic State’s murderous reach has extended beyond Iraq and Syria,” the letter reads, asking Obama to “swiftly” find a candidate for the envoy job. “Doing so would signal to beleaguered communities in the Middle East, and beyond, that America stands with them.”

Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, said violent rampages by the Islamic State, Boko Haram, al-Qaida, al-Shabab and other Muslim extremist groups amount to the ethnic cleansing of Christians. Other religious minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, including the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Pakistan, Baha’is in Iran and Yazidis in Iraq, are also suffering grievously.

The new push echoes earlier calls for Obama to fill the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom position, which had sat vacant for months. Rabbi David Saperstein was confirmed for that post in December.

Even with Saperstein in place, the U.S. also needs a special envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia, Shea said, noting the extreme and widespread violence these groups face.

Shea blamed U.S. political and religious leaders for failing to publicly recognize that victims of this violence are targeted because of their religion. Gunmen from al-Shabab hunted down Christian students when they killed 148 people at a Kenyan university on April 2, for example.

A Red Cross worker comforts a mourner as bodies of the students killed in a Thursday (April 2) attack, arrive at the Chiromo Mortuary in Nairobi. At least 147 people died in an assault by Somali militants on a Kenyan university, as anger grew among local residents over what they say was a government failure to prevent bloodshed.   REUTERS/Herman Kariuki *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-PERSECUTION-ENVOY, originally transmitted on April 23, 2015.

courtesy Reuters

A Red Cross worker comforts a mourner as bodies of the students killed in an April 2, 2015, attack on a Kenyan university arrive at the Chiromo Mortuary in Nairobi. The assault by Somali militants killed 148 people.
REUTERS/Herman Kariuki
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-PERSECUTION-ENVOY, originally transmitted on April 23, 2015.

Obama and other leaders shy away from relevant religious labels, Shea continued, as if “Christians are the oppressors and they can’t be victims.”

Moore said American Christians are trying to do something about violence against Christians and other minorities in the Mideast. “I see Christians praying for the persecuted church more than they ever have. I see Christians contacting their members of Congress and asking for actions on these issues more than I ever have before.”

But “Americans across the board aren’t as alarmed as they should be because I think they’ve grown callous to violence in the Middle East, and some Americans wrongly assume that violence in the Middle East is something we should just expect,” Moore added.

The White House did not have an immediate response to the letter.

KRE/MG END MARKOE

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

15 Comments

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  • Do we really need a special envoy for this, another bureaucracy that does nothing? These are innocent people being murdered…..who cares why? Shouldn’t this be a grave concern to the UN? Aren’t these issues protected by the UNITED NATIONS?
    Do we save religious minorities while ignoring the murder of warring tribes in Africa…….what is the difference? Don’t spend years forming a new committee, use resources we have today and do something for God’s sake !

  • Religious persecution must end. (period). This is the 21st century and we have no place for complacency when it comes to dealing with the lack freedom to practice of ones religion.

  • The situation requires a changing of minds and hearts on the part of those who commit these acts as a matter of policy. Unfortunately, that tends to happen to one heart and mind at a time while new recruits to the legions of homicidal maniacs outstrip the repentant by a factor of ten, or a 100, or a 1,000. Appointing an envoy will accomplish precisely nothing. Skeptics and naysayers will scoff and sneer, but I suggest concerted prayer on the part of people of faith to whom this matters more than their next latte’, twitter message…or indeed, internet post. May God have mercy both on the slayers and the slain. That the slayers might repent and perform mercy…that they may receive mercy in Y’shua’s Name.

  • It’s hard to believe Obama actually won two presidential elections. A first grader could have done a better job. His place in history will be a statue of BO wringing his hands.

  • He is the worst on all counts. Everything he has tried to achieve either fell flat immediately or is now being recognized as a failure. Yet, he still manages to be a guest on the Tonight Show. Pick the 1st Grader, Greg, he has my vote.

  • The Obama administration has also faltered on speaking up for tortured, killed, and imprisoned atheists. We should be threatening to revoke our ally status if a country imprisons and whips a blogger for criticizing Islam. It’s almost as if a large percentage of Muslims are so insecure in their faith that they demand and must be protected from any and all critiques about Islam. Apostasy and blasphemy aren’t real crimes. Are they trying to protect an all powerful deity or someone’s feelings? Neither need or should be protected. When someone is offended, it’s due to their own need and willingness to react. Religionists that are strong in their faith easily brush off criticisms. I thought the freedom of expression and freedom of speech were considered human rights by the United States and the UN. If so, Saudi Arabia must be held accountable for imprisioning and torturing Raif. #freeRaif

  • Islam has a written precept that infidels should be killed. No other religion has any such commandment. Why this is honored as their relgious right is insane, because every non-Muslim is a target theoretically.

  • The Koran has around 100 verses calling for violence against non-Muslims. There might be peaceful, accepting, and moderate Muslims, but there is no such thing as a peaceful, accepting, and moderate Koran. Of course, this criticism also holds true for Bible too, even if it is too a lesser extent.

  • Not true of the New Testament…any violence done to humanity via the Gospel is required in the hereafter, not this present world.

  • The problem isn’t religious persecution. It’s the “my religion is the right one and yours is wrong” mentality. These people don’t just kill Christians, they kill anyone not in lock-step with their ideology. Everyone in America has a right to practice their religion. It’s when one religion believes it has the right to set itself above the others and then get legislators to make laws in an attempt to institutionalize theirs over others or no religion at all. That’s where the problems start,

  • RELIGIOUS DEFINITIONS…………………ON PATH TO PEACE OR WAR ?

    This is one of the biggest questions of this current period that would provide a great opportunity to the world community to explore beyond their faith and belief following both scientific and theological insight to secure the morality and safety of future generation. But we have already separated the existence of God in mazes of religious definitions, and ignored the true facts of the religions that navigating our life towards heaven or hell.

    Faith of an individual person evolves on basis of their inherited system of thoughts and genetic nature, within a tendency to fulfill the terrestrial desires. It is the genetic nature of mankind that forces them to utilize whatever they have innovated to secure their own physical world, eliminating the real potential of spiritual graces. At this rising period of science (mind), the sacred potential of theology (spirit) has fallen down bellow to its dangerous point.

  • Ajay, there can only be One God, or else God wouldn’t be God. True, people are born into traditions, and cultures, but there should nevertheless be a quest for Truth, or a quest for Who it is that created all this inanimate matter, as well as Who gave certain matter animation. Think about the eyes, and how the light is magnified through a lens to rods and cones that absorb light in the back of the eye, and then how it is transmitted to the brain by nerves, to be processed from upside down imagery, to right side images in a way that we can actually see what’s in front of us. That is only the eyes; the rest of the human body is unbelievably complex, with centers that interact, and depend upon one another in a delicate balance. The blood system which has to maintain pH, but is also a buffer system. The list goes on. No, the human person is a dynamic creation, the design of God, and all humans naturally sense it, and have always pursued increased knowledge of that perfect One.

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