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Women and Religious Freedom
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Mustafa Akyol’s Courageous Muslim Witness for Religious Freedom
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Conciliarism and the American Founding
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Fr. Martin’s Bridge: Welcome But In Need of Repair
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The Remarkable Diplomacy of the Institute for Global Engagement
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The Dogma Lives Loudly Within You
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What Persecuted Christians Teach Us
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Female Genital Mutilation
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The Religious Problem with Religious Freedom
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Radical collaboration now can tackle climate change. We have a three year window of opportunity.

Women and Religious Freedom

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which I chair, released a report this summer called “Women and Religious Freedom: Synergies and Opportunities,” written by Oxford professor Nazila Ghanea. Although the commission focuses exclusively on religious freedom issues outside the US, the report is all too timely given the debate in the US over female genital mutilation, a deplorable practice found in many places around the world and increasingly in the West.

The new report on women and religious freedom begins with a critical problem: Religious freedom and the rights of women and girls sometimes appear to be in conflict due to the abuse of women in the name of religion in some places. The report aims to change this perception, and, in this way, implicitly carries both philosophical and political aims. On the philosophical side, the challenge is to explain how religion freedom and women’s rights do indeed complement one another despite the manifold examples of oppression in the name of religion. Politically, the report can be a catalyst for cooperation between advocates for religious freedom and advocates for women’s rights, two groups that do collaborate much nowadays. In showing significant overlap between the two families of rights, the report points to the fertile ground that exists for working together. Religious freedom and women’s rights both stand to benefit from such work.

Mustafa Akyol’s Courageous Muslim Witness for Religious Freedom

Just over a week, ago, a remarkable op-ed appeared in The New York Times written by Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish writer with a regular column in The Times. This column was different. Only a few days earlier, he describes, he was in jail in Malaysia for speaking out for religious freedom and for the rationalist tradition in Islam. In the column, he decried the government’s actions and called for religious freedom in Malaysia: there shall be no compulsion in religion, it says in the Quran.

Akyol’s courage should not be lost on any reader. He is one of Islam’s leading voices for religious freedom and freedom in general and has suffered at the hands not only of Malaysia but of several governments for his dissidence and his witness.

Conciliarism and the American Founding

My friend Michael Breidenbach, a professor of history at Ave Maria University, had a great article about a year back in the William and Mary Quarterly called “Conciliarism and the American Founding.” The very learned article covers the early, complicated reception of Catholicism in America with special focus on the Carrolls, prominent leaders of American Catholicism around the time of the Founding. Setting the stage, Breidenbach writes, “What made Catholicism so odious to early American Protestants . . . was the pope’s claim (and Catholics’ apparent acceptance of it) that he held temporal power over all civil rulers, including the right to depose a secular authority” (468). Such an idea, and related Catholic beliefs, were seen as contrary to American republicanism and therefore led some Protestants to see Catholics as unfit for full membership in a republic. The solution for American Catholicism lay in the distinction between two schools of Catholic thought on papal authority: papalism and conciliarism. According to Breidenbach, “papalists maintained that the pope’s universal declarations on faith and morals were infallible, with or without the assent of the Catholic Church’s general councils” and “that the pope held ‘indirect’ temporal power over the state’s rulers” (471). Conciliarists, by contrast, rejected these views, denying “that the pope was infallible by himself on matters of faith and morals and that he had any power in the temporal affairs of nations” (472). The problem for good republicans, therefore, would not be with Catholics in general but only with papalists in particular. Fortunately, American Catholics, including the leading Carrolls, were conciliarists. Thus, it was important for Catholics to believe that good Catholics could be conciliarists and for Protestants to believe that they were.

In this, two friendly questions present themselves: First, can good Catholics be conciliarists? Second, were American Catholics conciliarists in good faith (as it were), or did they adopt conciliarism out of convenience?

On the first question, well, someone else will have to answer that. It is interesting, though, that Breidenbach cites (among the many fascinating and varied sources that he brings) some of the more radical conciliarist writings, which do seem to stray from orthodoxy. In one case, Breidenbach informs us that the author of a claim that “all papal power—including in the spiritual realm—came from the consent of the people” himself admitted that the extreme phrasing was only for polemical purposes (485). Apparently, some conciliarism is in bounds, and some is not. Another provocative line is in Breidenbach’s statement: “By reframing Catholicism as merely religious opinion, rather than upholding its political implications, the [conciliarist] Carrolls concluded that the denial of civil and religious rights was unjust” (496). Is Catholicism merely religious opinion? Can one rightly jettison its political implications?

On the second question, Breidenbach does assert that the relevant American Catholics did not adopt conciliarism because it “proved to be an acceptable ecclesiology” and because those who held it were “more likely to be tolerated” (474, 473). Rather, they just happened to be conciliarists. To wit: “Their conciliarist and republican commitments were not the postures of mere political convenience” (476). To be fair, it is entirely reasonable that conciliarists, as opposed to papalists, would have been disproportionately attracted to the American project. But I think there is room to say more. When we hear that British Catholics had to “renounce foreign ‘interference’” by the pope in order to “gain equal rights,” we could be forgiven for wondering the pressure did not induce some to accept conciliarism who might not have otherwise (483-4). In several places in the article, Breidenbach returns to the language of utility, such as in affirming that “conciliarists ideas were especially useful for American Catholics” (471). Of course, conciliarism could be both sincerely held and useful—nothing wrong with that. But given the strong incentive to render Catholicism acceptable to the American republic, it is arguable that the pull of conciliarism also benefited from some push.

So, back to the historians to sort it out.

Fr. Martin’s Bridge: Welcome But In Need of Repair

The following piece appeared in The Irish Rover, Friday, September 22nd, and can be found here.

Fr. James Martin, S.J., a winsome and widely read writer about all things Catholic and Jesuit, proposes to build a bridge between LGBT Catholics and the leadership of the Church. He published a book this past summer, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into A Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity, which received much attention in the Catholic press. Critics, including a reviewer in the left-leaning Commonweal, question why Fr. Martin scarcely incorporated the Church’s teachings about sexuality and marriage into his proposal. I will also raise this question. But not just yet. Building a bridge is a very Christian thing to do.

The Christian life assuredly involves obedience to the moral law but also much more: laboring to repair what is broken. Bringing together people and groups who are at odds, healing wounds, repentance, and forgiveness are all, in the theology of the Church, the work of reconciliation, of which the Apostle Paul exhorts the Church in Corinth – and us – to be ambassadors. The Letter to the Ephesians describes Christ as the one who preached peace by “destroying the dividing wall of hostility” and reconciling estranged communities through His death on the cross. To work for repair is to live out the Eucharist, as Pope Benedict XVI explained in his apostolic exhortation of 2007, Sacramentum Caritatis. It is to heed the Beatitude, blessed are the peacemakers. And it is to practice mercy, the virtue that Pope St. John Paul made the theme of his pontificate and that Pope Francis has placed at the center of his own.

Fr. Martin opens his book with the shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016 and thus draws our attention to violence against gays and, by extension, to mockery, marginalization, and other forms of mistreatment over many centuries. Not long after the shootings, Pope Francis called on Catholics and other Christian communities to apologize to gays whom “[the Christian community] has offended.” He thus extended a practice of mea culpa that Pope St. John Paul II performed with respect to over 21 people groups and historical episodes. This is authentic Catholic repair work.

Fr. Martin also rightly reminds us that reconciliation begins with the initiative of God, who “demonstrated his own love for us . . . while we were still sinners,” as Paul wrote to the Church in Rome. Calling upon the Church to imitate this initiative, Fr. Martin draws our attention to the story of Zacchaeus in the Gospel of Luke, in which this corrupt tax collector climbs a fig tree to see Jesus above the crowd. Jesus gazes upon Zacchaeus and says, “I must stay at your home today,” leading Zacchaeus to turn his life to justice. In like manner, Pope Francis has extended his hand to people estranged from the Church through dramatic gestures like telephoning them. This, too, is the work of repair.

Fr. Martin has built numerous friendships with LGBT Catholics (to use his term), describing how, over three decades, he has “listened to their joys and hopes, their griefs and anxieties, sometimes accompanied by tears, sometimes by laughter.” His commitment to repair is personal and pastoral. He is not only the designer of a bridge but also a construction worker, offering his own loving labor to span a chasm that troubles him.

It is out of sympathy for Fr. Martin’s bridge that I see in it the need for some critical repairs. Reconciliation means the restoration of right relationship – people overcoming obstacles to right relationship with one another and to God. Healing the wounds of the past is essential. So are the Church’s moral teachings, through, which define the content and contours of right relationship. In a YouTube video that Fr. Martin taped in response to his critics, he defends his scant reference to the Church’s teachings by explaining that everyone already knows them and that the depth of disagreement over them inhibits his construction project. Better to begin with what we agree upon, he says.

But can such a bridge succeed in spanning this chasm? The inhabitant of one side of the chasm, which Fr. Martin calls the “institutional church,” meaning “the Vatican, the hierarchy, church leaders, the clergy, and all who work in an official capacity in the church,” does not propose these teachings as arbitrary rules or atavistic obstacles to harmony but rather as the very pathway to happiness, flourishing, and salvation that Jesus Christ sets forth. The Second Vatican Council both emphasized this connection between moral norms and intrinsic human fulfillment and called upon moral theologians to reflect upon it further. Essential, not incidental, to this fulfillment is the complementarity of male and female in marriage and the generative character of sexuality. Through this complementary and generativity, the Bible depicts God’s very creation and redemption of the world, as when Hosea describes God’s espousing Israel to Himself or when Ephesians analogizes the relationship between husband and wife with Christ’s love for His bride, the Church. Reason may discern the truth of the norms as well, the Church teaches. The church, then, cannot omit chastity – for gays, for lesbians, for all of us, each in our own condition – even silently or tacitly from the work of repair.

Omitting the truth of the Church’s teachings about mercy and sexuality places strain on one of the pivotal selling points that Fr. Martin’s offers for his bridge: mercy. Mercy is compassion for the suffering of others that is realized through restorative acts. Unstructured by clear moral norms, however, restoration will lack meaning: What requires restoration? Restoration to what? Were past wrongs and unjust exclusions the results of the Church’s norms themselves? Or of a failure to accompany their truth with compassion and outreach? Lacking an end or standard, mercy will suffer confusion and even a deepening of wounds when bridge crossers discover that inhabitants of the other side did not mean what they had thought or hoped.

Fr. Martin’s silence about norms also confuses another point upon which he insists, that the Church call the LGBT community by its chosen name (or by a variant like LGBTQ, etc.). To omit this name, he says, is to disrespect the people who claim it. Has Fr. Martin considered the Church’s reasons for reluctance, however, or has he dismissed them out of hand? Over the past half-century, LGBT activists have campaigned not simply for compassion and respect, which they rightly deserve, but also for a wholesale revision in norms of sexuality and marriage that the Church has taught over the entire course of its history and that virtually every known civilization has upheld. They have striven to reinvent homosexuality as not just an inclination but also an identity, one whose expression in sexual acts then would be cruel to deny. Hence, they are LGBT (or a variant) and members of the LGBT community. And they have won no less than a Supreme Court decision in favor of the right to marry persons of the same sex.

This claim to identity, though, does not square easily with the Church’s firm and constant teachings. The Catechism speaks respectfully of homosexuals, and Pope Francis of gays, which can be understood to mean persons of deep seated and enduring inclinations. Some Christians have argued that these inclinations can be expressed as gifts that can be channeled towards affectionate yet chaste friendship between members of the same sex. Understandably, some may want to take another step and render the inclination itself as an identity, perhaps expressing the giftedness of the whole person. Yet many in the Church worry that to make this move is to accept the wholesale reinvention of human sexuality and marriage and to negate the Church’s teaching. Pope Francis, with whom Fr. Martin is keen to align himself, has spoken often and directly against “gender ideology,” which holds that the complementarity between male and female has no basis in nature and is entirely culturally constructed. Francis has also spoken against definitions of marriage as other than between man and woman. The nomenclature that respect requires, then, is not as clear as Fr. Martin makes it out to be.

Though Fr. Martin wisely installs two lanes on his bridge, calling LGBT Catholics to respect the hierarchy of the church and not merely the reverse, his lane running to the Church omits consideration of another issue that greatly worries the Church: religious liberty. Over the past decade, merchants, employees, colleges and universities, and religious institutions have been threatened with the loss of jobs and livelihoods for refusing to accept a wholesale reinvention of human sexuality and adhering to traditional norms of marriage and sexuality. Differences over religious liberty widen the chasm that Fr. Martin wishes to ford and cannot be ignored if his bridge is to have two credible lanes.

Let us fix, not nix, Fr. Martin’s bridge. It is worth saving because overcoming enmity, building trust, and exercising mercy are the stuff of the Church’s ministry of reconciliation. Unless the bridge is fastened and girded by the truth of marriage and sexuality, though, it will not stand. A restructured bridge would reflect the holistic, both/and character of Catholic teachings, involving repentance, inclusion, forgiveness, and the rejection of all unjust discrimination, structured by the church’s firm and constant teachings, and cemented together by religious freedom.

Fr. Martin might reply that such a bridge would see little traffic. As I think he would agree, though, reconciliation occurs step by step. It may have to begin with partial crossings and meetings in the middle. This, too, though, counts as traffic.

Professor Philpott is a professor of political science and serves as a faculty advisor to the Irish Rover.

The Remarkable Diplomacy of the Institute for Global Engagement

In 2004, nearly thirty years after the last U.S. helicopters flew out of Saigon, Vietnam was one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. Although the government had left behind Marxist economics, it followed the logic of communism in regarding religion in general, and Christianity in particular, as a danger to society. Since taking power at the end of the Vietnam War, it had sought to eradicate Christianity, practiced among 10% of its population of 93 million, through a combination of forced recantations, imprisonment, torture, church burnings, and labor camps. In the Northwest and Central Highlands regions, religious persecution was a regular event and there were no registered churches. In that year, the U.S. government designated Vietnam a Country of Particular Concern according to provisions of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

Today, the situation has markedly improved. Vietnam is the only country in Southeast Asia where religious discrimination against minorities has decreased from 1990 to 2014, as political scientist Jonathan Fox has documented. By 2016, more than 2800 churches were registered in the Northwest and Central Highlands. In November 2016, the Vietnamese National Assembly passed the country’s first law on religion and belief, whose aim is to protect religious freedom. While the law is flawed in some places and the situation in Vietnam still has much room for improvement, the government has gone from being overtly hostile to religion to viewing the protection of religious freedom as a matter of self-interest. Religious believers enjoy more security in the practice of their faith and safety to participate in public life.

What brought about the change? A large role was played by the Institute for Global Engagement, a Washington-D.C. based NGO whose Board of Directors I joined this past April. Through the careful building of relationships among government officials, church leaders, NGO officials, and scholars, IGE built a network of reformers who advocated for religious freedom in Vietnam. Through training programs and conferences, IGE educated some 4000 socially influential agents of change who went on to influence legislation and administrative policy. IGE advised the government on, and helped to shape tangibly, its religion law of 2016.

“Relational diplomacy” is the way that IGE describes its approach, which it has been developing since its founding in 2000. The concept reflects the Biblical notion of justice as righteousness, a holistic condition of right relationship among the members of a community and God. As it has developed into modern times, this justice includes widely held principles like human rights but embeds them in a wider set of relationships. Eschewing public confrontation and pressure, IGE’s relational diplomacy emphasizes friendship, the building of networks, dialogue and education. It also involves the restoration of relationships in the wake of injustices, or reconciliation. The pursuit of religious freedom, a central goal of IGE, is often combined with humanitarian aid, conflict resolution, and practices like forgiveness that promote healing.

With this approach, IGE has pursued religious freedom and reconciliation in numerous venues and contexts during a period of history in which religion has resurged in its political influence all across the globe. It has sought to assist victims of religious violence in the Middle East, particularly at the hands of ISIS, by providing humanitarian aid to over 125,000 people, enabling refugees of the violence of ISIS to return to their homes, and providing trauma counseling to more than 300 female survivors of the same violence. It has engaged the Chinese government on issues related to Tibetans, Muslims, and rule of law. In light of this government’s crackdown on religion over the past three years, IGE’s work may not seem like great progress, but the foundation it has laid likely will have long-term fruits, especially as Christianity continues to grow like wildfire even in the face of repression. A leadership training program for women of faith around the world; a widely respected journal of faith and international affairs; and initiatives in Laos and Myanmar are among IGE’s manifold initiatives as well.

Though dust jacket quotes are often tempting to discount, this praise from former Congressman Geoff Davis (KY) describes IGE with striking genuineness:

IGE is one of the most effective organizations in the world for opening and maintaining a critical dialogue on some of the most sensitive political and human rights issues in potentially volatile regions . . .. IGE is the one organization I know that is an ambassador of reconciliation, and is often more effective than almost all the government and diplomatic efforts I have seen in my 40 years of military, government, and community service.

IGE is an outfit whose work, we may pray, will prosper well into the future.

A generous body of supporters has pledged to match any gifts given to IGE up until September 15th. If the work of IGE resonates and encourages you, I encourage you to stay involved with the critical work IGE is doing across the globe.

For a monthly e-blast, go here.

For monthly prayer points, go here.

The Dogma Lives Loudly Within You

“The dogma lives loudly within you.” These were the words with which California Senator Dianne Feinstein addressed my colleague at the University of Notre Dame, Amy Coney Barrett, in a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider her nomination by President Trump for the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois approached Barrett in the same manner, inquiring, “are you an orthodox Catholic?”

Much has now been written to explain why these inquiries were outrageous and I won’t reargue the matter here. See this piece by John Garvey, President of Catholic University of America, or this excellent reflection by Matthew Bunson. In brief, the questions carry the spirit of religious tests for office which the U.S. Constitution prohibits (historically, a great innovation). Their imputation that Barrett would impose her religion on the law is directly refuted by her record of careful arguments to the contrary. These senators have disrespected Barrett’s religious freedom by implying that her very faith disqualified her. And, it is reasonable to think that Durbin’s and Feinstein’s worry that abortion rights are endangered lies behind their unusually vitriolic attacks.

Among the protests of the Senator’s behavior, I am proud of the eloquent and uncompromising statement of Notre Dame President John I. Jenkins. A strong statement came, too, from Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber. Interestingly, Eisgruber has written on religion in constitutional law, including a book with Professor Lawrence Sager, in which he takes an approach to religious freedom that I regard as too secular and insufficiently protective of religious freedom. So, to me, it was all the more significant to read his incisive protest of the Senator’s treatment of Barrett. (Princeton also has issued a model statement on academic freedom.) Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty also weighed in insightfully and unsparingly.

One final thought: Even in the likely event of Barrett’s confirmation, the enduring impact of Senator Feinstein’s and Senator Durbin’s statements is to remind us how heavy the hostility is to religion’s rightful public life among wide swaths of our political and cultural leaders.

What Persecuted Christians Teach Us

The following is an address that I delivered at the opening convocation of Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida on September 1, 2017.

President Towey, Chairman Timmis, faculty, and students, it is a great honor to speak at your opening convocation and to help you launch your academic year.

Travel with me to Rome, through which runs the Tiber River. On what is known as the Tiber Island there sits a 10th century church which is full of interesting relics. In Rome, old churches and relics are not unusual. But look closer. These relics are not of Christians beheaded or thrown to lions in the first centuries. Rather, they are the Bible of Pakistan’s Shabhaz Bhatti, whom terrorists shot dead only in 2011. And of the missal of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed while celebrating Mass in San Salvador in March 1980. And a letter by Christian de Cherge, a Trappist monk in Algeria, whom Islamist terrorists killed in 1996.

The Church was commissioned by Pope St. John Paul II to remember the stories of martyrs of our time in preparation for the Jubilee Year, 2000. In front of the altar stands an icon some 8 ft. tall whose manifold scenes depict martyrs of the past century: Mexico’s Miguel Pro, Poland’s Maxmilian Kolbe, Janani Luwum of Uganda, killed under Idi Amin in the 1970s. Behind the altar stands the stark reality that more Christians have been martyred in the past century than in all previous centuries combined, as reported to us by Todd Johnson and the late David Barrett, two demographers.

Religious persecution continues around the world today. The Pew Forum estimates that some 75% of the world’s population lives in a country where there are high restrictions on religious freedom. Of this number, Christians make up a high proportion. Credible sources claim that some 80% of all acts of religious discrimination and denials of religious freedom are directed at Christians.

To see where most of these denials take place, exercise your geographical imagination once again. Begin on the coast of North Africa, say, in Libya, then move southeast to Nigeria, back up to Kenya and up through the Gaza Strip, Syria, and Iraq, up to Central Asia, down to Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka and then east to Indonesia, Vietnam, and China. North Korea is worst of all. It is on this latitudinal bandwidth that the vast majority of persecution takes place.

The types of regimes that do the persecuting are strikingly diverse. Much of the headlines these days go to Islam, and Islamist regimes are one type of persecutor. But there are others, including regnant Communist regimes like China, Vietnam, and North Korea, religious nationalist regimes like India and Sri Lanka, and secularist regimes like the “stans” of Central Asia. Then, too, there are persecutors who are not states at all, but renegade armies such as the Islamic State, or ISIS.

To speak of the persecution of Christians is not to forget that Christians have been on the other side of persecution, as they were in many episodes from the 4th through roughly the 17th centuries, or that Christians have denied the freedom of other Christians, as they did in the religious wars of early modern Europe and as they do even today in countries like Mexico and Russia, or that members of other religions also suffer persecution on  large scale. Today, though, as the Church of San Bartolomeo attests, Christians are by and large persecuted and not persecuting and are the bulk of the persecuted – the lion’s share of the lion’s den.

By now, numerous analysts have documented and described the persecution of Christians. I especially commend to you the writings of the journalist, John Allen, whose articles regularly appear in Crux. This persecution still does not receive disproportionate attention among human rights organizations, the mainstream media, and western governments, including our own, though there have been signs of progress. Nor does the persecution, in my view, even receive adequate attention among Catholics and other Christians, who are still largely unaware of what our brothers and sisters suffer. But the knowledge of the persecution of Christians is available.

What is important to me, though, is not just becoming aware that Christians are being persecuted but also learning how they respond to persecution. What do they do when their religious freedom is egregiously denied? This is important to know if we are to be in solidarity with members of the “household of faith,” to use the Apostle Paul’s phrase. As I shall argue today, it can also teach us important truths for our situation here in the West, which Pope Francis has described as “polite persecution.” And it can teach us important truths for our lives more generally.

My interest in how Christians respond to persecution has led me to undertake the project, Under Caesar’s Sword, which began in 2014 on a generous grant from the Templeton Religion Trust. Conducted as a full partnership between Notre Dame, with the sponsorship of the Center for Ethics and Culture, and the Religious Freedom Institute, a Washington, D.C. based organization, Under Caesar’s Sword aims to investigate and communicate how Christians around the world respond to persecution so that the relatively religiously free world may be in solidarity with them and so that they would be strengthened in their responses. We commissioned a team of 17 world class scholars of global Christianity to go to countries where Christians are most persecuted in order to learn how Christians respond. We have then sought to disseminate the results through a major international conference in Rome in December 2015, a documentary, a report that was launched in Washington, D.C. this past April, a volume of essays forthcoming from Cambridge University Press, and curricula for schools and parishes. All of this can be found at our project’s website, ucs.nd.edu. These investigations, I am convinced, have much to teach us and I will focus on one insight in particular, as I shall explain.

I want to begin, though, by focusing for a moment not on the persecuted but on the persecutors. Straightforwardly, persecution is the egregious denial of the human right of religious freedom, the right to express and practice one’s faith without coercion. Today’s Caesars practice arbitrary detention, unjust forms of interrogation, imprisonment, forced labor, torture, murder, the seizure and destruction of church properties, and related acts, as well as severe forms of discrimination.

Persecution also has a more theological dimension. Here I rely on the insights of one of the co-leaders of Under Caesar’s Sword, Dr. Timothy Samuel Shah of the Religious Freedom Institute, who spoke about the theological character of persecution in his lecture for our learning materials. Persecuting Caesars defy God’s justice and love in how they treat the persecuted and do so in the name of their ruling ideology – Islamism, Communism, secularism, religious nationalism. In exercising their authority in this way, these Caesars engage in a project of social and political construction, constructing a city that rivals the City of God. In defying God, they have made themselves into a little God themselves. If their project is to succeed, they must coerce into conformity the conscience of anyone who would swear loyalty to a rival God.

We can thus see why Christians were threatened by a literal Caesar, that of the early Roman Empire, which found these Christians to be threatening in a way that it did not find followers of pagan gods to be threatening. Christians worshipped a God over and above Caesar, to whom they regarded Caesar as accountable. The pagan gods, by contrast, were serviceable to Caesar, for they helped tame disorder while posing no challenge to the god-like status that Caesar claimed. Frequently, it was Christians’ refusal to swear an oath to the emperor that led to their persecution.

Rome’s Caesars would not be the last temporal rulers who would demand oaths from Christians on behalf of authority in defiance of God. King Henry VIII demanded assent to an oath of supremacy over the church that arose from his desire to enter a marriage declared illicit by the pope. Thomas More was the only high government official and John Fisher the only English bishop to refuse to sign. Thomas Hobbes theorized Henry’s authority by arguing for the supreme authority of the temporal ruler, the Leviathan, over the church. Rousseau called for a civil religion that would recognize the state’s sovereignty and would be enforceable by the death penalty, presaging the oaths demanded by the French revolutionaries only a few decades later. So, too, today’s Caesars demand that Christian subjects forswear the exercise of any portion of their faith that stands in the way of their idolatrous construction project.

It is in the shadow of these construction projects that I wish to call attention to one of the most important findings of the Under Caesar’s Sword Project, an insight that also emerges from Christian martyrs down through the ages – namely the sense in which persecuted Christians also engage in acts of construction. The “central feature” of such a Christian, argues Shah, is that “he or she possesses and embodies an active faith in God – a vibrant, abundant faith that God the Great Lover exists, that He is there for us, and that He mercifully and generously receives our adoration, our sacrifices, and our good deeds.” Out of this faith, by grace, this Christian constructs goods for the Kingdom of God – an alternative realm of rule — even as he or she is undergoing great duress.

Please understand that I do not mean to romanticize or idealize persecuted Christians or martyrs. One of the findings of the Under Caesar’s Sword project is that Christians respond to persecution in a great variety of ways, including fleeing from danger in great numbers, as they have in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, and elsewhere. We must not judge hastily what Christians do when they and their families are in danger of imminent death. We must acknowledge also those cases where they respond by more or less joining the persecuting regime. The project’s China scholar, Fenggang Yang of Purdue, noted cases of Christians who enthusiastically joined themselves to the Communist project of the 1950s, seeing it as realization of the Social Gospel.

Still, I want to focus on those responses to persecution that manifest an authentic Christian faith through their construction of good – not because of how numerous they are but because they have much to teach us. These responses manifest the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, a sacrifice that he underwent in response to persecution. It is a sacrifice, though, that is not merely a death at the hands of political authorities. It also achieves a victory over sin, evil and death. It does so because it ends in the victory of the resurrection. The resurrection, in turn inaugurates a transforming renewal of the world, one that will be achieved finally at the end of time.

This victory and transformation are the constructive dimensions of the Eucharist.

In Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis, he employs a remarkable metaphor to describe the Eucharist – nuclear fission. He writes: “The substantial conversion of bread and wine into his body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of “nuclear fission,” to use an image familiar to us today, which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all.” Pope Benedict goes on the declare that Eucharistic transfiguration even involves the world’s social and political structures. Through God’s vertical salvation of the world through incarnation, cross, and resurrection, the horizontal transformation of the world, including social, political, economic, and cultural reality, is inaugurated and can be furthered. Think of Pope Benedict’s metaphor when you next behold the blood and wine being consecrated at mass – an unleashing of transfiguring power.

When Christians act to construct justice, whose meaning in the biblical sense is right relationship, in the face of persecution, they act eucharistically. We could even say that they participate in the Eucharist. Through grace, they are drawn into the work of construction in sacrifice. In some cases this is true for martyrs. But it can also be true for Christians who live under persecution and experience hardship short of death. Interestingly, our research for Under Caesar’s Sword turned up fewer martyrs than we thought it would, at least the sort of dramatic martyrs whose death attracts international attention. But we found many Christians who, experiencing the suffering of the denial of their freedom, engaged in construction.

We found that responses to persecution could be placed into three categories.

First, there were strategies of survival, where Christians and their communities sought mainly to preserve their worship and their most basic characteristic activities. Second, there were strategies of association, where they sought to build ties, either with other Christians, other religions, or secular actors in order to counter the power of the persecuting state or militia. Third, there were strategies of confrontation, where they openly took on the persecuting authority, through protest, through legal strategies, and sometimes through armed resistance.

What surprised us were the prevalence of strategies of association, the creative and courageous ways that Christians both strengthened their hand and increased the sphere of friendship and right relationship. Catholic and Protestant Christian communities in northern Nigeria, for instance, formed ecumenical partnerships as well as close ties with mainstream Muslim leaders in the face of the rampant violence carried out by the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram.

Another constructive response is simply working for and witnessing to the religious freedom that is being denied. Pakistan’s Shabaz Bhatti, a Catholic in a country in which Christians make up 2 percent of the population, dedicated his life to the cause of religious minorities and became Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, a cabinet post that he accepted for the sake of “the oppressed, downtrodden, and marginalized” of Pakistan, as he explained.

Lobbying against Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy law, promoting interfaith cooperation, and advocating for minorities of all faiths, including the browbeaten Ahmadiyya movement of Islam, Bhatti knew that his life was in danger. He had renounced marriage because he did not want to leave a family fatherless. In a video that he made to be released in the event of his death, he stated, “I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us, and I am ready to die for a cause. I’m living for my community . . . and will dies to defend their rights.” He was speaking eucharistically.

On March 2, 2011, he was assassinated right near his home in Islamabad, Pakistan, in a shooting for which Tehrik-i-Taliban, a militant Islamist group, claimed responsibility. The constructive witness of Bhatti’s life continued after his death. Thousands of Muslims attended his funeral, paying tribute to him and demonstrating their support for religious freedom.

Another Christian response to persecution is the building of ties between churches, increasing Christian unity. Pope Francis said in 2016, “when terrorists or world powers persecute Christian minorities or Christians, they don’t ask, But are you Lutheran Are you Orthodox? Are you Catholic? Are you a Reformed Christian? Are you a Pentecostal? No! You are a Christian! They only recognize one of them: the Christian. The enemy never makes a mistake and knows very well how to recognize where Jesus is. This is the ecumenism of blood.” Our research showed that in Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, and elsewhere, persecution has brought Christian churches into closer cooperation. The icon of the new martyrs in the Church of San Bartolomeo includes Christians of many churches and places. At its center appears the verse from the Gospel of John, Chapter 17: “That they may be one.”

Sometimes persecuted Christians construct closer ties between religions separated by enmity. Christian de Chergé, abbot of the Trappist monastery in Atlas, Algeria, had lived with his fellow monks among Muslims for two decades, befriending them and providing them with medical care. When civil war broke out in the 1990s between Algeria’s repressive secular government and Muslim opposition forces, the monks were in danger of being murdered by Muslim terrorists. As portrayed by the recent film, Of Gods and Men, the monks decided to stay and remain true to their mission. Abbot de Chergé then penned a note to his future killers. He did not desire martyrdom, he made clear, lest it reinforce caricatures of Muslims as fanatics. But should he be killed, he desired to “immerse my gaze in that of the Father, to contemplate with him his children of Islam just as he sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ.” Here is neither syncretism nor triumphalism but rather Christ-like love for Muslims. Then, “to the friend of my final moment,” he writes “that we may find each other, happy `good thieves,’ in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both.” As with Shabhaz Bhatti, the funeral for de Chergé and his fellow monks, held in June 1996 in Algiers, drew a crowd of 100,000, displaying Algerian Muslims’ love for the monks.

In his last testament, Abbot de Chergé willed to “forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.” Forgiveness is another way that Christians can respond to persecution through construction. In the Christian tradition, forgiveness is a gift that one who has been offended or wounded gives to the offender. It is not only a waiving of charges or a cancellation of debt but also an invitation to conversion and reconciliation. The Eucharist is an act of forgiveness because it performs the sacrifice by which God died for humanity “while we were still sinners” and in doing so lifts up humanity. Paul Bhatti, Shahbaz Bhatti’s brother, forgave his brother’s killers in April 5, 2011, when he traveled to Rome for a conference in his brother’s memory. When Shabhaz was killed, Paul was living in Italy and was filled with rage and shunned appeals to move back to Pakistan and carry on his brother’s fight for minorities. When he traveled back to Pakistan to attend his brother’s funeral, though, his heart was moved by the love for his brother that he saw among the people, including Muslims. He said at a conference in Rome in 2011 that his family had forgiven the assassins “because . . . our brother Shahbaz was a Christian and the Christian faith tells us to forgive.” He even took on his late brother’s cabinet position in order to fight for minorities.

There are other ways, too, in which Christians respond to persecution faithfully.

Jesus is clear: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Great is your reward in heaven. This, too, is a constructive response, one that asks for God’s help for the one who is doing the persecuting. There is a sense, after all, in which the persecutor is the one who is diminished the most. The persecuted may have suffered death, injury, or loss of property; the persecutor is in danger of losing his soul.

Today, in America, to speak of persecution might seem a great exaggeration. No American has suffered the fate of Helen Berhane, the Eritrean gospel singer whose evangelizing earned her two years in a shipping container in the middle of a hot desert.

You might insist on the complexity of persecution, but you would be accused of having a persecution complex. Still, in the last decades American Christians, like Christians across the West, have faced a rising trend of what Pope Francis has termed “polite persecution.” As the pope explains, “if you don’t like this, you will be punished: you’ll lose your job and many things or you’ll be set aside.” At the hands of bureaucrats, bosses, judges, and deans, Christian merchants, universities, schools, hospitals, charities, campus fellowships, students, public officials, employees, and citizens have been fired, fined, shut down, threatened with a loss of accreditation, and evicted for living out traditional convictions, primarily regarding marriage and sexuality.

In the face of polite persecution, witness is unlikely to merit martyrdom but it may well incur costs. In these situations, American Christians, too, must decide how to respond faithfully. Here, I want to thank and salute Ave Maria University for its decision to sue the Obama administration over the HHS mandate in 2012. Part of the calculus will be avoiding formal cooperation and illicit material cooperation with regulations and decisions that ask us to be involved in wrongdoing. But as Christians around the world has shown us, there is also the call to respond constructively, thus participating in the Eucharist and its embodiment of cross and resurrection.

Showing us how is Baronelle Stutzman, the florist at Arlene’s Flowers in the state of Washington who, like other Christian merchants, was sued for not being willing to supply a gay wedding. The would-be purchaser was a man named Rob who had been her customer for nine years and whom she counted as a friend. But while Stutzman, a devout Southern Baptist, could sell him flowers in general, she could not decorate his ceremony, for the purpose of flowers is to magnify, memorialize, and celebrate the union being established. As she put it, “Rob was asking me to choose between my affection for him and my commitment to Christ. As deeply fond as I am of Rob, my relationship with Jesus is everything to me.”

At the urging of the state attorney general of Washington and with the help of the ACLU, Robert then filed a discrimination suit while the attorney general filed, too, in the most aggressive fashion he could, confronting Stutzman with the prospect of financial ruin. In part, Stutzman’s witness was to hold firm in her insistence on her religious freedom. She refused an offer to pay a fine of $2000 with an agreement to provide services for same-sex couples in the future. In addition to justice, though, mercy was also a theme of Stutzman’s witness. She commented to the Christian Science Monitor that her telling Rob that she could not support his wedding was “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.” She added, “I would love to see Rob again. I would love to just hug him and say I’m sorry if there is anything he’s going through that is hurting him.”

We may learn from Stutzman’s model of constructive witness in the face of polite persecution. Polite persecution is a prospect that many of us my well face in coming years. In some ways, the Trump administration has provided a temporary reprieve. But as a recent article in The Hill argued, the administration has not ended decisively or firmly the regulations that compromise religious freedom. A future president could easily decide to enforce them again. Polite persecution also comes from many sources other than the executive branch, including the courts and manifold employers.

Stutzman’s case is still in the courts; this past February the Supreme Court of Washington ruled 9-0 against her. She may well lose her case and face financial ruin. In the same way, many persecuted Christians around the world will not live to see the vindication of their cause. Here, the Christian may take comfort and courage from what the great Second Vatican Council Document, Gaudium et Spes, teaches, that the goods that we construct in this life are burnished, transformed, and placed on eternal display in the next.

 

This talk drew from the following publications;

Daniel Philpott, “Polite Persecution,” First Things, No. 272, April 2017, 17-19.

Daniel Philpott, “Modern Martyrs,” America, Vol. 207, No. 14, November 12, 2012, pp. 13-18.

In Response to Persecution: Findings of the Under Caesar’s Sword Project on Global Christian Communities report published April 20, 2017

 

Female Genital Mutilation

My colleague at the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Kristina Arriaga, had an important piece recently in the Wall Street Journal about female genital mutilation in the US. (Please note that neither this blog post nor the WSJ article necessarily reflects the views of the commission, which I chair.) FGM made the news earlier this year when doctors in Minnesota were charged for their roles in performing or facilitating this barbaric act. There is so much that is troubling in this story–and the article makes for tough reading–but Ms. Arriaga calls our attention in particular to the “religious freedom” defense being crafted by the doctors’ lawyers. The main point, to be sure, is that religious freedom most certainly does not include the right to inflict this serious harm upon women and most often young girls. But a critical secondary point is that the coopting of religious freedom for these nefarious purposes endangers the right writ large. Religious freedom is already in peril in so many places, and in the West it is increasingly slandered as a cover for bigotry and discrimination. Arguing that religious freedom includes awful practices like FGM gives credence to the detractors who say that religious freedom does more harm than good. It is simply wrong in principle to contend that religious freedom includes the right to practice FGM. But it is also dangerous in practice to defend FGM under the banner of religious freedom because doing so compromises all religious freedom claims by associating them with something that truly is harmful and, indeed, unjustifiable.

The Religious Problem with Religious Freedom

The Religious Problem with Religious Freedom: Why Foreign Policy Needs Political Theology (Hardback) book coverWhat began as a series of personal curiosities about why public debate in Canada polarized so dramatically around not only about how but why and whether to promote freedom of religion or belief in its foreign policy, eventually took the form of a longer comparative study. The fruit of that has just been released by Routledge as The Religious Problem with Religious Freedom: Why Foreign Policy Needs Political Theology, an argument that underlying rival and incompatible meanings of religious freedom are often rival and incompatible definitions of the the religious and the secular. The argument is empirical on the front end (surveying the public debate in the United States and Canada around their Offices of Religious Freedom), theoretical in the middle (explaining the larger concepts and problems at work in these obvious disagreements), and political and prescriptive on the back end (given this, how and why to make freedom of religion or belief a priority in post-secular foreign policy).

I am grateful especially to my friend Dr. Andrew Bennett, Canada’s first Ambassador for international religious freedom. He wrote a very generous Foreword to the book, some of which I excerpt here as not only a great summary but also far sighted extension of the book’s arguments. The book itself is available for purchase for libraries (or independently wealthy individuals). Review copies can also be requested.

In his historical surveys and his judicious encounters with both the New Critics of the Immanent Frame and the Toft-Shah-Philpott school, Dr. Joustra charts his own path in offering us a guide towards navigating the contested waters of religious freedom. In acknowledging that the rival versions of religious freedom exist due to the rival and increasingly conflict-ridden meanings and practices of the secular and religious, he provides clearer language for us as practitioners to engage religious freedom. Additionally, Dr. Joustra prompts us to consider new approaches to communicate with secular elites who are often unable to converse about the core elements that undergird the freedom to privately and practice one’s religious beliefs: human dignity, theology, metaphysical encounter, contemplation, and the praxis of faith. Finally, Dr. Joustra’s understanding of political theology as “the understandings and practices that political actors have about the meaning of and relationship between the religious and the secular, and what constitutes legitimate political authority” provides a framework for championing principled pluralism, which is perhaps the most honest and truly diverse approach to dialogue between conflicting secular and religious viewpoints.

As ambassador, this conflict between the religious and secular, the privatisation of the religious in liberal democracies, and the corresponding exalting of a secular public reason that had little or no encounter with the religious was the single greatest challenge in articulating the rationale and imperative for our defence of religious freedom. As Dr. Joustra states, “political theology cannot be done by ambassadors and prime ministers. They may facilitate, but they cannot do the work of political theology itself.” Never was a truer statement made in the field of religious freedom advocacy! If we acknowledge that human rights are inviolable. If we acknowledge that religious freedom is universal as is evinced in the UDHR and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); if we affirm that at the core of religious freedom is the freedom to meet, what Rabbi David Novak, has referred to as humanity’s metaphysical need, the need to contemplate “Who am I?”, “Who am I in relationship to you?”, “Who am I in relationship to the world in which I exist?”, and “Who am I in relationship to God, or a philosophy to which I choose to adhere?”, then we must be able address head-on the contested notions of religious and secular. A political community, which cannot recognize that “the line demarcating the secular and the religious, the public and the private, will continue to be a site of considerable disagreement in the twenty-first century” cannot move forward with any genuine dialogue on the importance of religious freedom.

Too often I was met by foreign government officials who took issue with the fact that I expressed deep concern over the serious violations of religious freedom in their countries. In response to my advocacy as ambassador the pointed rejoinder often came that we in Canada regularly seek to restrict or limit public manifestations of religious faith, the implication being: “Who are you to criticize us?” – a comment that, granted, does not take into account the dissimilarities between restrictions on religious freedom in Canada and certain countries and the degree and form in which they impact people. While their criticism failed to hit its mark when one considers that Canada’s democratic institutions and the rule of law enables citizens who feel their religious freedom is being violated to seek redress in any number of ways, their critique was fair comment on our relatively poor effort in understanding political theology and our limited success in embracing a principled pluralism. As one who embraces the principles and worldview of Judeo-Christian secularism, I am well aware of the work that is required and so I am deeply grateful for Robert Joustra’s scholarly efforts in articulating the imperative of principled pluralism and of the deep need within western liberal democracies to recognize the contested nature of the religious and the secular. If we are to build a truly common life with our fellow citizens, we must recognize and embrace difference, in particular different approaches to the secular and the religious. Without such efforts we cannot begin to understand religious freedom, its relationship to other fundamental freedoms, and the human dignity it affirms.

Sustaining a stable climate by reducing greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere- the thin envelope that surrounds our home planet and makes it habitable for human civilization- represents perhaps the greatest collective action problem of our time.  Carbon dioxide emissions must be put on a permanent downward path by 2020 so that the thresholds  to runaway irreversible climate change are not breached, warn expert authorities in this article from Nature. How do we prevent a tragedy of the climate commons?

Beyond mere pragmatics, this concerns our souls. Powerful and authoritative religious voices are urging climate action: Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Sii, the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change, and statements from many other world religions. And there is a straightforward ethical question: will we be bystanders when business as usual threatens not only the poor and vulnerable, but the foundations of society and the conditions for life for many species? This is a preventable tragedy; are we participating in or preventing what our children may regard as the greatest crime against humanity and nature?

As emphasized by Mission2020 , radical collaboration now, with all hands on deck, can produce the needed downward shift in carbon emissions by 2020. We cannot rely solely on high-level leaders, although we must hold those who govern in our names to account. A polycentric approach with many connections- informal, formal, at different levels, and at different scales, has advantages. Its success depends in large part on people’s creativity and civic entrepreneurship. Now is the time to draw on our areas of expertise, and to communicate, interact, and devise changes in our carbon footprints where we can- in our investments, our consumption, our civic associations, our workplaces, our diets, our vehicles, our homes, and our houses of worship.

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.