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Leftist Church Union Condemns Terror...Sort Of By: Mark Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, December 29, 2005

The National Council of Churches (NCC) has been infamous in recent decades for its unwillingness to criticize the human rights abuses of any adversary of the United States, from the old Soviet Union to modern Islamic and Marxist states.

But now, the NCC is expressing concern about some Islamic “extremism,” though it declines specifically to name it as such. Thirty-five denominations with a combined population of over 40 million American church members belong to the New York-based NCC. Typically since the 1960’s, the NCC elites have been Religious Left activists rather than mainstream church members.

Criticizing Marxist regimes usually has been taboo for the NCC because of its own discomfort with capitalism. And the NCC’s obsessive commitment to multiculturalism and inter-faith “dialogue” has typically prevented any critique of nasty Islamist regimes. In contrast, the NCC is not shy about condemning “fundamentalist” Christianity and policies of the Jewish state.

The NCC took a little break from condemning America and Israel at its recent General Assembly, actually acknowledging “violence” and “attacks” against Christian targets in Egypt and Turkey. These attackers were unnamed, of course, by the NCC, which is too polite to name names except, for example, when condemning conservative Christians.  

Even more unusual was the NCC’s criticism of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust and call for Israel’s destruction. In the face of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s call for the obliteration of Israel, the National Council of Churches USA reaffirms its support for the security of the State of Israel, alongside a viable Palestinian State,” the NCC’s December 16 statement said. “We also reaffirm our respect for Judaism and our friendship with the Jewish people.

NCC concerns about Islamist violence in Egypt and Turkey were stated more vaguely but still were striking, by NCC standards. Introduced by Eastern Orthodox delegates at the NCC’s annual assembly, held in November outside Baltimore, the resolution on Egypt lamented “horrific and violent acts against the Coptic Orthodox and Protestant Christians in Alexandria” in October. It offered prayer for “Egyptian sisters and brothers in Christ” and for “equal rights” in their native land.

Similarly, but more briefly, another NCC resolution expressed “sadness and dismay” at “recent attacks and demonstrations by extremist elements” in Turkey against the Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. It commended the Istanbul police for their “timely response” to “these elements of fanaticism and extremism” and offered “solidarity” to Patriarch Bartholomew. This resolution also came from Eastern Orthodox delegates.

The Egypt resolution did not offer specifics, but it was alluding to an angry mob that surrounded Alexandria’s St. George’s Coptic Church in October, in response to newspaper reports that a church play had insulted Islam. That play portrayed the attempted forced conversion to Islam of a Coptic youth. Egyptian police restrained the mob of 5,000 to 10,000 in a melee that resulted in several deaths by police and demonstrators. 

A Coptic nun was stabbed, nearby Christian businesses were looted and several other Alexandria churches were attacked. Egyptian Copts complain that anti-Christian violence by Islamic groups is often abetted or ignored by the Egyptian government.  

The NCC resolution on Turkey, which also avoided details, was alludingto an October demonstration by Turkish nationalist “Grey Wolves,” who demanded that the Patriarch Bartholomew leave Turkey. They placed a black wreath on the Patriarch’s Istanbul compound to make their point.

In the Egypt resolution, the NCC carefully thanked President Hosni Mubarak for his “exhortation” to Muslim scholars to “teach tolerance and shun extremism.” It also thanked Sheikh Mohammed Sayed El-Tantawi, rector of Al Azhar University for his ostensible encouragement of “peaceful coexistence” between Muslims and Christians.

Not surprisingly, an NCC’s resolution attacking the U.S. Patriot Act was significantly more detailed and sweeping than the resolutions about Christians living under Islam. Among other shibboleths of the left, the NCC warned of a “creeping reliance on selective religious fundamentalism [i.e. conservative American Christianity] as the lens for shaping public policy.”

The NCC, in another resolution, also went after torture – by the U.S. It declared, “We find it particularly abhorrent that our nation’s lawmakers would fail to approve the pending legislation disavowing the use of torture by any entity on behalf of the United States government.”

A Coptic delegate to the NCC General Assembly complained that the anti-torture resolution did not condemn torture perpetrated by non-U.S. entities, such as the Iraqi insurgents. But the resolution remained U.S.-focused. Do not look for NCC resolutions to express alarm about torture practiced routinely by dozens of regimes around the world, from North Korea, to Cuba, to Saudi Arabia.

Predictably, the NCC trumpeted its statements on torture by the U.S. and opposition to the Patriot Act. But it largely ignored its own resolutions on Egypt and Turkey, which had been crafted by Eastern Orthodox delegates rather than NCC staffers.  For the curious, NCC resolutions from the November 2005 General Assembly can be found here.

Not long after the NCC General Assembly, a Thanksgiving essay from NCC Associate General Secretary for International Affairs and Peace Antonios Kireopoulos related that the “our torture of detainees, directly or through extraordinary rendition, makes us a target of contempt,” while “assaults on constitutional guarantees – attempts to dismantle due process, the prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, and basic privacy norms – call into question our commitment to justice.”   

Meanwhile, “with the policy of preemptive strike, the manipulation of intelligence to justify war, and the willingness to use white phosphorus in Iraq, our country is now seen as a major threat to security worldwide,” Kireopoulos fretted. “With a “penchant for unilateralism, blustering in the United Nations, the discarding of treaty obligations, and disregard for environmental protections, the U.S. is fast becoming the lonely bully on the block.”

So the NCC is still the NCC, with all of its usual preoccupations. But the oblique criticism of Islamic radicalism in Egypt and Turkey, and the condemnation of the Iranian president’s call for Israel’s destruction, at least show some potential capacity for non-leftist moral reflection within the church council, however rare.

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Mark Tooley is president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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