Amazingly, the recent Islamist atrocities in Pakistan have compelled some left-leaning church groups in the West to admit problems with radical Islam, a difficult admission for many. The current visit to the U.S. by a Pakistani Protestant bishop on behalf of besieged Pakistani Christians is helping to fuel the catharsis.
"Unfortunately, the (anti-Christian) mindset is not restricted to Pakistan but to the whole Arab-Muslim world," Bishop Alexander John Malik told the National Council of Churches (NCC) during a recent visit with them in New York. "It's the same from the Sudan to Somalia, from Iraq to Indonesia. This is the mindset of Muslims who consider their religion to be of the utmost importance." Malik represents the united Church of Pakistan, which is a merger of Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Lutherans.
Naturally, liberal Protestant groups in the U.S. are accustomed to thinking of Christians as victimizers, not as victims. The typical response of Western church groups towards Islam is to apologize for the Crusades of 1,000 years ago. So having to consider that Christians and other religious minorities in Islamic governed lands must routinely endure discrimination, threats, legal restrictions on worship, arrest, and death is eye-opening. The August attacks on two Christian villages in Pakistan by Islamist mobs motivated by an alleged “desecration” of a Koran resulted in dozens of homes, shops and churches burned, and 7 Christians, including 2 children, killed.
U.S. NCC chief Michael Kinnamon, hosting bishop Malik, insisted that NCC member denominations are “acutely aware of the pressure Christian minorities are under around the world and we stand in solidarity with all our sisters and brothers,” according to an NCC news release. Many members of NCC churches might be surprised to learn of Islamist violence against Christians, since the NCC and most of its member communions have hardly ever discussed it before. But it’s a constructive start.
About 3-4 million Pakistanis are Christian, about evenly divided between Catholics and Protestants. About 800,000 belong to the Church of Pakistan. After the Islamist attacks last month, Catholic and Church of Pakistan schools in Karachi and Balochistan were closed for 3 days "in condolence" for the Christian victims of mob violence. Bishop Malik wants a special judge appointed to investigate the mob attacks. He also is asking the Pakistani government to amend or revoke its Blasphemy Law, which radical Islamists exploit to justify violence against religious minorities, and which of course can justify government prosecution of perceived critics of Islam. In Pakistan, death is the official penalty for defaming Islam’s founder or scripture. Additionally, the bishop is suggesting the Pakistani government create a new police force of Christians to guard Christian property and churches. Obviously, this last recommendation strongly implies a lack of confidence that Pakistani police will act assertively against Islamist violence when Christians are the victims.
"If someone in Denmark publishes a cartoon under freedom of speech … it is blasphemy and they attack us and target us," Bishop Malik told an audience at the Episcopal Church headquarters in New York, according to Episcopal Life. "The fanatics are attacking minorities, which is a deplorable act. [The] government should take serious action against these extremists who are targeting Christians and burning their houses," Malik has said. "It is the duty of the state to ensure that life and properties of minorities should remain safe from such fanatics." But in many Islamic dominated countries, such as Pakistan, especially where Islam is codified into civil law, suppressing Islamist violence against religious minorities can be politically difficult.
Bishop Malik reported that international events since 9-11 have left Pakistan’s Christians even more vulnerable. "In this whole war on terror, Pakistan is a frontline partner with the United States," he told the NCC. “But this has led to difficulties generated mostly by religious fanatics who have a mindset that all Westerners are Christian and all Christians are Westerners,” and putting “the church under pressure.”
When President Obama insisted that the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are not a “war on Islam” in his June speech in Cairo, most Muslims do not believe him, Malik told his Episcopalian hosts. "The 'war on terror' needs to be reviewed and revisited," he said, according to Episcopal Life. "To capture Osama [bin Laden] alive or dead will not benefit [anyone]. Osama is an institution, an ideology of violence, terror and extremism. That ideology has to be replaced with another ideology."
The bishop, on behalf of vulnerable Christians in Pakistan, is understandably squeamish about the war on terror. Christian minorities in Islamic controlled countries must often accommodate their rulers, and even Islamist groups, to survive. Unfortunately, the bishop’s Western church hosts likely will be tempted to latch onto his comments to justify their own pseudo-pacifist response to 9-11. But for now, at least by their standards, Malik’s interlocutors are sounding more bold than ever before on Islamist violence and persecution of Christians.
Malik also visited the United Methodist mission agency headquarters while in New York. As a result the President of the Board of Global Ministries, Bishop Bruce Ough of Western Ohio deplored the “growing pattern of violence over the past few years against religious minorities in Pakistan,” the “climate of fear” generated by the Blasphemy Law, and “legal pressure” against Pakistani church leaders who dare to complain publicly. He urged pressure against Pakistan to ensure “protection to all religious minorities.”
Will left-leaning U.S. church groups continue their new found concern about Christians and other religious minorities suffering under theocratic Islam in Pakistan and elsewhere? And will such attention lead to wider understanding of the threats posed by radical Islam globally? The recent history is not promising, but Christianity always promises the opportunity for a fresh start.