Despite ISIS, American Church Still Ignorant About Christian Persecution, Expert Says

Iraqi Christians
A woman holds a cross during a rally organized by Iraqi Christians in Germany denouncing persecution by the Islamic State terror group against Christians living in Iraq, in Berlin, Aug. 17, 2014. |
Iraqi Christians
Fayza (R), 45, a Christian Iraqi migrant is seen inside a train with her children while travelling to Austria, crossing the border from Hungary September 14, 2015. |
Iraqi Christians
Iraqi Christians displaced by the violence in their country wait in line to receive aid from a Chaldean Catholic Church truck in Beirut August 13, 2014. Well financed and armed, Islamic State insurgents have captured large swathes of territory in a summer offensive, as the Iraqi army - and now Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the self-governing north - have crumbled in the face of its onslaught, massacring Shiites and minority Christians and Yazidis as they advance. |
Iraqi Christians
Iraqi Christians volunteers, who have joined Hashid Shaabi, allied with Iraqi forces against the Islamic State, rest during training in a military camp in Baghdad, July 1, 2015. Iraqi Christians volunteers, who have joined Hashid Shaabi, allied with Iraqi forces against the Islamic State, rest during training in a military camp in Baghdad, July 1, 2015. |
Iraqi Christians
Iraqi Christians attend an Easter mass at the Virgin Mary church in Baghdad, April 5, 2015. |
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Americans remain largely ignorant and indifferent toward the plight of Christians overseas despite headlines featuring ISIS' violence, argued an expert on religious liberty.

Timothy Samuel Shah, associate director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, argued as part of a panel held Friday afternoon in Washington, D.C. that American Christians are not as involved as they should be in fighting persecution abroad.

A practicing Catholic, Shah talked about how he was "struck by widespread apathy and indifference and ignorance concerning this issue among Christians, let alone others."

"I don't hear a lot of conversation in my very vibrant parish about this issue," said Shah, who noted that aside from the Knights of Columbus chapter "the parish as a whole is pretty indifferent."

"Maybe your churches are different; my sense is that they're not. I don't hear a lot of real outrage from Christian leaders about this issue on a regular consistent basis."

Shah went on to ask critically about "where are the widespread demonstrations? Where are letters by thousands and thousands of pastors to appropriate leaders to do more about this?"

"Where are the spontaneous grassroots campaigns? I don't see them," continued Shah, "If one-tenth of 1 percent of Christians in America were really outraged and mobilized we would see political action across the board."

Shah added that his opinions echoed those of former Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia, whose legislative efforts helped create the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Shah's remarks came as part of a panel on Christian persecution abroad sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and the National Review Institute.

Titled "Christian Martyrs Today: Help for the Persecuted," the panel was held Friday afternoon at the Lehrman Auditorium and livestreamed online.

"A brutal persecution is happening, as Christians are being driven out of what was the very cradle of Christianity in Iraq and Syria," read Heritage's description of the event.

"Pope Francis has said that there are more Christian martyrs today than in the early days of Christianity. What are we doing about it? What can we do about it?"

In addition to Shah, other panelists were Patrick Kelly, executive director of St. John Paul II National Shrine of the Knights of Columbus and Nadine Maenza, chair of the religious liberty group Hardwired.

Kathryn Jean Lopez, senior fellow at the National Review Institute, served moderator for the panel which covered various topics related to religious persecution in the Middle East.

In his comments, Kelly mentioned how governments including the United States need to think about how to properly talk about religion and religious liberty.

"Generally speaking, at the U.S. State Department among the foreign service officers, there is, I would say, an illiteracy about religion and the language of religion," said Kelly, a former State Department employee.

"They think of religion as a problem. If we could just do away with it, we'll fix all these problems [but] they don't understand that the majority of the world's population is motivated by religion and these motivations are good."

The panel comes as Congress continues to mull a resolution that calls on the federal government to recognize the recent uptick in persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East as genocide.

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