Note: The essay below originally appeared at Patheos.com.
The dust has yet to settle from the Ted Cruz debacle at the “summit” of the nascent political action group, In Defense of Christians (IDC). Stones have been hurled from all sides — often with no clear target other than self-defense. “Lord have mercy,” said one clergyman who attended the summit, “everyone seems to use [this] sad event to support their own preconceived conclusions.”
In Sunday’s The New York Times, it was columnist Ross Douthat’s turn. He claims the senator’s performance demonstrates that the “American right no less than the left and center will deserve a share in the fate” of the Middle East’s “increasingly beleaguered Christian communities” that “have suffered from a fatal invisibility in the Western world.” Their plight, “has been particularly invisible in the United States, which as a majority-Christian superpower might have been expected to provide particular support.”
The columnist considers three reasons for this supposed invisibility: the political left; the strategic class; and the right, especially its conservative Christians, whom he identifies as American Catholics and evangelicals.
Long before political strategists forged an alliance among so-called Christian “value voters” — when Catholics were just Catholics, not pawns divided by political lobbyists and strategists to engage in the culture wars — American Catholics provided significant support to their Christian sisters and brothers in the Middle East. Whether as donors to Catholic charities such as the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, founded in 1926, or as members of chivalric orders such as the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem or the Order of Malta, American Catholics helped to build and sustain the many social service institutions of the churches in the Middle East. These church-run colleges and clinics, schools and child care programs, nursing homes and special needs facilities, halfway houses and substance abuse programs have served not just Christians, but generations of Alawis, Druze, Jews and Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
“Not only have American Catholics helped to build these social service institutions,” said CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, “they have helped sustain the infrastructures of the churches that remain beacons of peace and stability in the Middle East.”
American Catholic generosity and concern for the other is not rooted in or sustained by a political cause or political ideology. Rather, it has been their Christian faith, which compels them to love their neighbor as themselves. And while that American Catholic generosity is exceptional, it is not isolated. Organizations in Europe and Canada have, since the middle of the 19th century, provided financial resources as well as priests, sisters and brothers at the service of all people in the Middle East.
Despite the enormous challenges affecting the churches of the West — many self-imposed — Catholics of the West have not lost sight of their sisters and brothers in the Middle East, nor have they abandoned the needs of the region’s non-Christians. They have rushed emergency aid to displaced families fleeing the civil war in Syria, the violent implosion of Iraq and the violence in Gaza even as they continue to support the formation of priests and religious sisters and brothers in Egypt, Iraqi Kurdistan and Lebanon.
Now, however, fresh from the political and legal battles waged over issues of religious liberty in the United States, the American “strategic class” has stepped in with its clients — elected politicians. Suddenly, claiming indifference on the part of the West, these Beltway policy wonks, lobbyists and talking heads have rushed to save the Middle East’s Christians from genocidal persecution at the hands of suicidal Muslim extremists. Employing the language framing U.S.-style religious liberty battles to describe the plight of Middle East Christians, they risk politicizing an issue that concerns all people of good will, thus excluding the vast majority of Americans weary of the divisive and bitter partisan battles marking American culture today.
There’s much more. Read the complete essay at Patheos.com.