Political Correctness Obscures Growing Religious Persecution
Q&A with Attorney Nina Shea
For nearly 30 years, Nina Shea has been one of America’s most respected authorities on religious freedom, and the threats posed to it at home and around the world. For 13 years, she served on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and has represented both Republican and Democrat administrations as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations’ main human rights body. The coauthor of Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide, and of Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, she is currently director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.
Why do governments target religious freedom?
Often, governments want to shore up their own legitimacy with the majority of their people—or with their ideology. They see cultural pluralism and diversity as a threat, because they want to impose orthodoxy—their orthodoxy—on their nation, and they want complete conformity of thought. In the Muslim world, in particular, you see governments trying to scapegoat Christians, and strengthen their own religious credentials in the process.
Political Islam has been a catastrophe for religious freedom. It has legs: it’s on the move, on the rise, and incredibly repressive and violent. That’s our biggest challenge.
Is there a growing awareness of the problem?
There’s more information available—the State Department, the Internet, other nongovernmental groups have increased the reporting on religious persecution, although there are still huge gaps we don’t know about. The main problem now is the lack of political leadership on this issue. If our president or secretary of state started talking about the perils faced by Christians today … in places like Syria—for example, where they have the second largest group of Christians in the Middle East—and when the dust settles, they probably won’t be able to live there anymore. Or in Iraq, where two-thirds of the Christians have been forced out or killed in the last 10 years. If there was political leadership that pointed this out and talked about this, everybody would know. And there would be some policies put in place to give [victims of persecution] a safe haven, or to somehow protect them.
Why do you think U.S. officials aren’t speaking out more about these religious persecutions?
There’s an indifference—even a hostility, I would say. It’s extreme political correctness. Christians are a disfavored minority; it’s somehow "imperialism" that they’re even there, even though—in places like Iraq—Christians have been there since the beginning of Christianity. They speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus … they pray in that language. They were there before Islam, and they were certainly there before [there were] Americans.
Are government officials the only ones showing indifference?
There is a failure in church leadership … a real vacuum in churches of all denominations. This persecution affects Christians of all denominations—it’s not just Catholics or Evangelicals, it’s Orthodox … it’s everyone. I just see a real reluctance to pray about publicly, or speak about, what is happening to Christians in these countries. It’s political correctness. It’s misguided multiculturalism. Pastors don’t want to be seen as criticizing the persecutors, and they’re reluctant to raise the issue for that reason.
It’s wrong for these people to be suffering and dying for their faith while Christians in the West, living in freedom, aren’t even aware this is happening … and happening on the scale that it is.
Why is it important for Americans to understand international threats to religious freedom?
I think that if Americans did know, one, spiritually, it would challenge them, maybe strengthen their faith, or help them start to understand what their faith means to them. And then, it would also deepen Americans’ understanding of the importance of religious freedom, because this is what happens in societies today—in Saudi Arabia, or Iran, or Pakistan, or Nigeria, or Egypt, or China, or North Korea—countries where there is no religious freedom. People are thrown in prison, or put to death, for blasphemy … for apostasy. They’re not free in the most fundamental way a human being can be free—to believe their ideas.
What can Christians do?
First, learn about the situation. Second, pray. Third, it’s really important for Christians to write to their congressional representatives, either focusing on particular situations, or else just saying "speak up" about the persecution of Christians around the world—or in this country. This [needs to] stay on our political leaders’ radar screens, and they only listen to their constituents. So it’s important that people really use their rights of citizenship—like the apostle Paul did.
Paul, when imprisoned, invoked his citizenship. We should be invoking our rights of citizenship—not just voting every four years, but writing, sending e-mails, talking to our members of Congress, asking them to raise this issue. The Constitution is not self-enforcing. It needs to be enforced by our officials, but also by our citizens. Often this is extremely expensive and time-consuming. Individuals can’t do it themselves. We need a strong organization of dedicated people taking on this work. And that’s why we need Alliance Defending Freedom … a very serious group of people who are taking on the tough issues, defending our freedoms.