Like most of the religious Left, the National Council of Churches (NCC) never has much to say about religious freedom issues affecting Christians. But any implied criticism of Islam sends the NCC ladder team flying out the door in a frenzy!
The latest peril to religious liberty that the NCC confronted was the "inflammatory" remarks of Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode.
In a letter to his constituents late last year, Goode wrote: "When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Quran in any way." He was responding to the swearing in of Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison, who had used a Korean in an unofficial ceremony. Speaking on the subject of immigration, Goode added, "if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Quran."
The NCC typically does not say a word about the tribulations of persecuted Christians around the world. North Korean Christians can starve. Churches in Indonesia can burn. Clergy in Iran can be assassinated. Burmese Christians can languish. Vietnamese and Chinese priests may sit in prison for years. The Saudi religious police can round up whomever. Nary a word from the NCC's headquarters on the upper west side of Manhattan.
Even in the U.S., secularists can mock Christianity, stereotype Christians, desecrate religious symbols, silence praying school children, censor school books and remove historic plaques and statues that may inadvertently reference America's religious heritage. The NCC's silence in such situations is almost golden.
But Congressman Goode's "inflammatory" remarks, received by the Baptist and Methodist farmers and small town people who inhabit his largely rural district in Central Virginia, aroused the NCC's sensitive conscience for religious liberty. Like Patrick Henry, standing in Richmond's St. John's Church, sounding the tocsin against the depredations of King George, the NCC quick response team rushed to action.
First the NCC circulated a petition entitled an "Interfaith Call for Reconciliation in Congress," demanding Congressman Goode's apology for inflaming rural Virginians against Muslims, "who feel targeted by repression and abuse ... and a growing climate of fear." It urged Americans to stand up for religious freedom and deplore "hurtful words" by any public figure about any religion. It also invited Congressman Goode to join an interfaith delegation in a mosque visit, so the "healing" can begin.
Armed with that petition, the NCC led an interfaith delegation to visit Congressman Goode this week. The get together was seemingly affable. The congressman's office included a frame poster declaring "In God We Trust," the NCC reporter noted. Even more ominously to him, Fox News was on the television. But the NCC delegation, comprised of two NCC officials, a Baptist minister, and three Muslims, bravely moved forward into the lion's lair.
The delegation shared the feelings of pain with the congressman, the anguish no doubt enhanced by the background noise from Fox News. Congressman Goode thanked his visitors but, according to the NCC, stood by his remarks, saying, "I didn't say anything that was untrue." The NCC delegation agreed that Goode's statement was technically "factually supportable," but that its implications were distressing.
Congressman Goode expressed appreciation for America's religious freedom but warned the delegation that "if this nation had a majority of Muslims ... I'm not sure it would be the case." But Goode avuncularly pointed to Sayyid Syeed, of the Islamic Society of North America, and added, "Of course, if they were all more like you, I don't think there'd be a problem."
The lead NCC official found this remark to be condescending but acknowledged that it was intended as a "kind gesture" that even became a "holy moment" of personal connection. Congressman Goode suffers from "preconceptions, misconceptions, [and] misunderstandings," the NCC official lamented in his report, but this was one of the first times the congressman had "met a peace-loving, broad-minded Muslim who is far more like him than unlike him."
According to the NCC, Goode agreed to visit a Muslim service in his district, where he will meet "peace loving, broad-minded Muslims, like those in our little group, who love their country and wish the best for all Americans." That is, provided he actually meets such people there at the mosque.
But Sayyid Syeed's Islamic Society of North America's own attitudes towards religious freedom could bear some scrutiny. An exponent of Saudi-style Islam, the group is less than quick to denounce Islamic repression and terror. Certainly, it would never denounce its Saudi sponsors, who have outlawed all non-Islamic religion in their own land. But for that matter, the NCC would never criticize Saudi Arabia's religion repression, no matter how many Christians and "apostates" are imprisoned or murdered there.
Instead, the NCC is focusing its deep concern on the ominous threat to freedom posed by the attitudes of Congressman Goode and his rural Virginian constituents, whose letters to their Congressman over the Koran issue have largely been supportive. No doubt, the Muslims of Bedford and Danville and Appomattox, and in countless other villages throughout Virginia's 5th district, are living with great trepidation under the reign of Congressman Goode. Maybe they can now empathize with the suffering Christians of Iran and Pakistan and Syria and Indonesia and in at least a dozen other Islamic countries.
Goodness knows, the NCC's empathy will never extend to those Christians, who live in daily fear of considerably more than just a letter from a Virginia politician.
Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
Read the entire article on the Front Page Magazine website (new window will open). Reprinted with permission of Front Page Magazine.