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January 07, 2010

Coptic Christians Murdered in Egypt, Peacemakers Silent (So Far)

Several Coptic Christians were murdered in Egypt today (Jan. 7, 2010) after attending a midnight mass for Christmas.

The Middle East Council of Churches, which allegedly represents and looks out for the interests of Christians in the region has, as of this writing, not posted anything in English about this attack on its website.

The news service of the National Council of Churches has also, as of this writing, provided no information about these attacks.

People hoping for an outcry from mainline Christian peacemakers in the U.S. about this killing shouldn't hold their breaths.

Readers of this blog already know that when it comes to pointing out the alleged sins of the Jewish state, the prophetic voice of progressive Christian peacemakers in the U.S. has a hair-trigger. But when it comes time to talk about the suffering in Middle East that cannot be blamed on Israel, these very same institutions seem to have a frog stuck in their throat.

It has been like this for a looong time.

Isaac Rottenberg, who served as the first chairman of the Office on Christian-Jewish Relations at the National Council of Churches in the 1970s, describes an encounter with Coptic Christians in his book, The Turbulent Triangle: Christians Jews and Israel published in 1989.

Here is what he wrote:

My first contact with Coptic Christians occurred in October of 1977 when a delegation came to visit me in my office at the Interchurch Center. For years they had sought to plead the cause of their brothers and sisters in Egypt who were constantly subjected to harsh and discriminatory measures. But they never succeeded in getting past the middle-level church executives who occupy the various denominational Middle East offices. Their repeated efforts always had met with the same result: they were sent on their way with a sympathetic headshake plus handshake, but never had the issues been dealt with by the National Council of Churches leadership. Not once did the National Council of Churches speak a churchly world on their behalf, not to speak of a “prophetic” pronouncement on the issue.

Why, they wanted to know, was the cause of the Palestinians such a central concern to the National Council of Churches and why was their voice not being heard? I had to explain to them that there were various reasons for their plight. First of all, they had never found out how the system works and how to find out when and where the meetings were being held. But more important than that, in the political scheme of things, to allow them to voice their grievances publicly would pose an embarrassment to the church establishment. Oppression of the Coptic Christians simply did not fit into the priorities of the Council’s social agenda.

Gabriel Habib, General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches, said as much in a speech he delivered in the Interchurch Center of August 15, 1977. In that talk, which was later distributed among an inner circle in printed form, he gave the following advice: “When dealing with those other areas of tension [i.e. other than the Palestinian-Israel issue], one should carefully take into account the effects of Christian communities in the Middle East. For example, we have to be extremely careful in dealing with, or mentioning the right of Copts in Egypt, because of the negative effects this might have on the life of the Christian community in that country. Emphasizing the problems of religious minorities in the Middle East is a double-edged sword.” In sum, it is safe to attack Israel, but risky to even mention oppression of fellow Christians in Arab countries. Therefore, silence becomes the better part of political-ecclesiastical wisdom.

At any rate, a few weeks later […] in the ballroom of the Roosevelt Hotel [the scene of NCC meetings], Coptic Christians staged one of the quietest and most polite interventions that an National Council of Churches Governing Board had experienced for some years. At the end of a plenary session they approached a somewhat astonished National Council of Churches president to present their concerns and distributed some literature as the delegates were leaving the hall. Denominational staff members with Middle East Portfolios hastened to assure the powers that be that they had not provided those people with information about the place and schedule of the meeting. (The Turbulent Triangle, pages 61-62)

Like we said, it has been like this for a looong time.

Posted by dvz at January 7, 2010 03:53 PM

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