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Andrew E. Harrod November 12, 2012
Speaking on November 5, 2012, before a synod of Germany’s Lutheran Church (Evangelische Kirche Deutschlands or EKD), German chancellor Angela Merkel recently incited national controversy. Merkel’s address in Timmendorfer Strand in the German province of Schleswig-Holstein included the passing comment that “Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world.” The German federal government had thus made the protection of religious freedom, including that of Christians, into a goal of German foreign policy.
Merkel’s singling out of Christianity did not find favor with various human rights advocates, as reported by the German news agency dapd. Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Germany director, Wenzel Michalski, found Merkel’s conception “totally senseless” given that all religious persecution is equally wrong, irrespective of faith. Michalski cited Muslims in Burma, Falun Gong members in China, and Jews worldwide as non-Christian examples of persecution victims. A representative of Amnesty International also found Merkel’s reference to Christianity “not sensible.” Jerzy Montag, a German member of parliament from the Green Party (Die Grüne), likewise judged Merkel’s estimation to be “misguided”, given that any ranking of persecution among religions is “not especially helpful for combating human rights violations.”
The United Nations Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, echoed Montag in assessing Merkel’s qualification of Christianity as “not especially helpful.” Bielefeldt expressed himself as “very reserved” with respect to such quantitative analysis. “Occasionally rumored numbers” indicating a particularly strong persecution of Christians were “not accurately enough demonstrable.”
Yet the German branch of the international aid society for persecuted Christians, Open Doors, supported Merkel. A spokesman for the organization expressed its findings that 80% of all religiously persecuted individuals worldwide were Christian, some 100 million people in all. Volker Kauder, chairman of the Christian Democratic (CDU/CSU) members of the German parliament, also found “accurate” Merkel’s prioritization of Christians amidst religiously diverse victims of persecution globally. Merely listing the world’s regions in turmoil such as Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, and Syria justified Merkel’s statement for Kauder. Kauder thereby placed particular emphasis on the worsening situation in recent years in Muslim countries for Christians, whose fate would naturally draw the attention of fellow Christians in Germany.
Also supporting Merkel was Alexander Dobrindt, Kauder’s parliamentarian colleague and general secretary of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union or CSU), the regional sister party to the nationwide Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union or CDU). Dobrindt thereby singled out the Greens for criticism, declaring that Merkel’s emphasis on Christians did not accord with the “Multi-Culti-worldview of the Greens” in which all cultures share fundamentally similar norms. For Dobrindt it was tasteless that the Greens wanted to recognize Muslim holidays in Germany, yet were unwilling “to bend a finger” for protecting Christians around the world.
Analysis of religious persecution around the world indicates that Dobrindt is right to reject such cultural equivalencies. The ranking of the world’s 50 most religiously repressive regimes compiled by Open Doors’ German branch, for example, lists almost exclusively Muslim-majority nations such as Saudi Arabia and Iran or Marxist-legacy regimes such as China and North Korea. Many of these same names recur among the 17 Countries of Particular Concern cited by the United States Commission on Religious Freedom for their repression. Thus the two greatest opponents globally of religious freedom in general and Christianity in particular are various followers of Muhammad and Marx.
Practical political concerns demand that leaders always consider diplomatic sensitivities, yet Dobrindt, Kauder, and others are right to demand that such sensitivity not come at the price of the truth so necessary for proper policy formation. Such truth requires, among other things, accurate naming of victims and perpetrators. In a time of almost universal political correctness, the Lutheran pastor’s daughter Merkel deserves praise for her refreshing honesty.
Andrew E. Harrod holds Ph.D. and law degree. This guest post is also available on Juicy Ecumenism.
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