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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Both sides of the "culture war" need to broaden their human rights agenda

Last week, radical Muslims in Pakistan began terrorizing the Christian minority in the town of Gojra. At least 9 people were killed, over a hundred homes were burned to the ground, and several church buildings were destroyed. The reign of terror has lasted several days and has spread to neighboring areas. I get daily reports from my Christian friends in Pakistan and, as far as I can tell, what’s happening is eerily similar to the anti-Christian violence that took place in India last year where, according to Asia News, around 500 people were killed.

Unless human rights advocates worldwide and the U.S. government in particular puts pressure on the Pakistani government to clamp down on attacks against Christians—and to repeal the blasphemy law that allows Muslims to trump up charges against anyone who supposedly “insults Islam”—more Christians will likely be killed. Pakistan’s Christians have been complaining for years that the Western media has largely overlooked their plight. They also say that their government fails to protect them from Islamic extremism, discriminates heavily against them when it comes to jobs, civil services, and even aid relief when natural disasters strike. Think Earthquake 2006.

To be sure, Christians in the global south aren’t the only group suffering under the weight of religious oppression. Even in Pakistan, some say that the Shiite minority has it harder than the Christians. In Sri Lanka, people in the Tamil minority (comprised mostly of Hindus) feel that the Buddhist majority oppresses them. There’s also India’s caste system and its treatment of the Dalits (the untouchables in Hinduism); arguably history’s longest standing system of religiously motivated apartheid. Still, when it comes to oppression against religious minorities, the ones doing the oppressing seem to get a free pass—especially when it comes to persecution against Christians. Over the years, I’ve heard a lot in the media about the persecution of gays and women in Iran, hardly a peep about Iran’s brutal crackdown on Muslim converts to Christianity.

That’s my beef with the so-called “secular” media and, to a lesser extent; secular human rights advocates. Now for the bombshell directed at my own side. If you haven’t guessed already, I’m an evangelical Christian. I despise the label because it conjures up a lot of negative stereotypes, but for lack of a better term, that’s what I am. I think that many, if not most, Americans see evangelical Christians as either indifferent to or ignorant of human rights issues. I got a sense of this when I attended a local Amnesty International meeting a few months back. It was my first time there and the leader made a snide remark against “Jesus people” because she assumed that there couldn’t be anyone like me at the meeting.

I left the meeting feeling sad. I realized that somewhere, somehow, a lot of people got the impression that the more a person loves Jesus, the less that person’s going to care about human rights. I decided to test this impression by sending out an e-mail to hundreds of my evangelical friends asking them to sign a petition for the release of Aung Sun Suu Kyi, Burma’s leader of the democracy movement that has been unjustly imprisoned for the last 19 years for the “crime” of winning a democratic election. I received very few responses, but one response stood out. “I want to make sure this is actually from you and not some left-wing propaganda.” I don’t fault the person for doing his due diligence. I’m just saddened that such a clear-cut unambiguous issue had to be cast into terms of left verses right, liberal verses conservative. A genuine human rights issue was slain at the altar of the “culture war.”

So here’s my proposal. Many evangelical Christians like me would like to see secular media and human rights advocates put a greater emphasis on the vastly under-reported persecution of Christians worldwide. On the other hand, I sense that secular media and human rights advocates would like to see evangelical Christians like myself take a larger role on issues like nuclear disarmament, torture, women’s rights, racial discrimination, and the freeing of people that have been unjustly imprisoned because of their religion, political persuasion, and—yes—sexual orientation.

Frankly, I agree. I’d like to see my evangelical brothers and sisters play a larger role in human rights issues. Abortion and gay marriage will likely always be a stale mate, but that doesn’t mean that evangelicals and non-evangelicals can’t work together on a vast array of other human rights issues. Thankfully, there are organizations like Jim Wallis’s “Sojourners” and Ron Sider’s “Evangelicals for Social Action” that are ahead of the curve on this one. Unfortunately, the numbers aren’t large enough to change the current stereotype of evangelicals as that of depraved indifference to human rights issues. If both sides would broaden their agendas, remove the planks from their own eyes, and reach out to the other side, perhaps we could work together to make a better world.

Aaron D. Taylor is the author of “Alone with a Jihadist: A Biblical Response to Holy War.” Aaron can be contacted at Follow Aaron on Twitter at

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