In all of the back-and-forth since the recent beheadings of Coptic Christians by ISIS, one reaction is startling — that of Coptic Bishop Angaelos, who extended forgiveness. See here. Forgiveness is hardly an obvious or natural response and is certainly not an easy one. It is not something to which anyone has a right and it does not preclude condemning or fighting ISIS. Why did Bishop Angaelos forgive? He explains:
It may seem unbelievable to some of your readers, but as a Christian and a Christian minister I have a responsibility to myself and to others to guide them down this path of forgiveness. We don’t forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.
Bishop Angaelos was able to see a purpose in these horrific deaths:
I learned a long time ago that when one prays, one prays for the best outcome, not knowing what that outcome would be. Of course, I prayed that they would be safe. But I also prayed that, when the moment came, they would have the peace and strength to be able to get through it. It doesn’t change my view of God that these 21 men died in this way. They were sacrificed, but so much has come out of it. They brought the imminent dangers to marginalized peoples, not just Christians, but Yazidis and others in the Middle East, to the attention of the whole world.
He calls for united efforts on behalf of persecuted Christians — and all those who are denied their religious freedom.
I would like to see us all start to work towards human rights generally, because when we’re divided into different departments or organizations any change will be fragmented. If you look at the rights of every individual, God-given rights, we can all start to work together and safeguard any people who are persecuted anywhere. Of course, the vast majority of persecution falls squarely right now on Christians in the Middle East and that needs to be addressed. But, as a Christian, I will never be comfortable just safeguarding the rights of Christians. We need to help everyone.
His and other reactions to persecution on the part of Christians, ranging from non-violent protest to behind-the-scenes diplomacy to taking up arms, will be the subject of a major conference that the Center for Civil and Human Rights is holding in Rome on December 10-12, 2015. Entitled “Under Caesar’s Sword: An International Conference on Christian Response to Persecution,” the conference commemorates the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Liberty.
All are invited!