Advocates who work to protect persecuted groups say there is a “blind spot” in the West concerning the plight faced by Christians around the world — a shortsightedness evident in the overwhelmingly negative reaction to President Trump’s executive order granting preferred refugee status to persecuted religious minorities.
From the Coptics in Egypt and the “house churches” in China to the “subversives” in North Korea and the “apostates” in Pakistan, Christians are under fire on the international stage.
Paul Coleman, deputy director of the Alliance Defending Freedom International, said the international persecution of Christians is unrivaled.
“No person or group should live in fear of being killed, tortured or oppressed because of their religious beliefs,” Mr. Coleman said in a statement. “By all accounts Christians are the most persecuted group on the planet.”
Each month, about 322 Christians are killed, 214 churches or Christian properties are destroyed, and 772 acts of violence are carried out on Christians because of their faith, according to Open Doors, a nonprofit group that helps persecuted Christians.
Andrew Doran, vice president of In Defense of Christians, said their cries for help often fall on deaf ears in Europe and the United States because Christianity is the dominant faith in an increasingly secular culture.
Mr. Doran pointed to the Obama administration’s lethargic response to the Islamic State’s Christian genocide, saying people who see Christians as domestic enemies have trouble shifting gears when atrocities are committed against the faith group on the global stage.
“Christians in the West have been somehow identified as the oppressor class, and that view seems to be extended to Christians in the Middle East,” he said. “But the fact is that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Mr. Doran said that “blind spot” was evident in the reaction to Mr. Trump’s executive order, which temporarily suspended refugee flows until proper security measures could be implemented, but made exceptions for religious minorities who are persecuted.
“Whether someone is Muslim, Yazidi, Jewish, Christian or atheist, they should be given priority if they’re facing persecution, and certainly that would be so where there’s a finding of genocide,” Mr. Doran said.
But Larry T. Decker, executive director of the Secular Coalition, said the policy is tantamount to a “religious test” for entry to the country.
“President Trump’s executive order must be recognized as the establishment of a religious test that is incompatible with our Constitution and our values as Americans,” Mr. Decker said in a statement. “The Trump campaign repeatedly denigrated Muslims and pledged to enact policies that discriminated against them. Now, at the expense of our First Amendment and our nation’s credibility, the Trump administration is attempting to make good on this campaign promise.”
Polls support the notion that some segments of the West are ignorant of the persecution faced by Christians around the world.
A Rasmussen survey published Tuesday showed that the majority of Democrats believe Muslims in the United States are mistreated because of their faith, but fewer were willing to say the same for Christians in the Islamic world.
While 56 percent of Democrats said Muslims in America are mistreated because of their faith, that number fell to 47 percent for Christians living in Islamic nations. Sixty-two percent of Americans overall, and 76 percent of Republicans, said Christians are persecuted in countries where Islam is the dominant religion.
Last year, former Secretary of State John F. Kerry declared that Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East are victims of genocide carried out by the Islamic State.
But advocates had been calling for that recognition for years, Mr. Doran said, and the Obama administration failed to take any additional steps to alleviate the plight of Christians.
More than 19,000 refugees from Syria were admitted to the United States during Mr. Obama’s tenure, but less than one-half of 1 percent of them were Christians.
Mr. Trump has said the United States will do more to alleviate the suffering of Christians in the Middle East.
“They’ve been horribly treated,” Mr. Trump said last month in an interview. “Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria, it was impossible, at least very tough, to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim, you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible, and the reason that was so unfair, everybody was persecuted in all fairness, but they were chopping off the heads of everybody, but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair. So we are going to help them.”
Mr. Doran said the president’s call for the establishment of safe zones in Syria and Yemen is an “excellent idea” and that they also should be considered in Iraq.
“If he succeeds in creating safe zones, that will have be a substantial step toward bringing the Syrian conflict to a conclusion, putting pressure on the Assad regime to cease hostilities and come to the negotiating table,” Mr. Doran said. “I think these are actually very positive steps.”
He said Mr. Trump’s early actions to protect the victims of persecution and bring the Syrian refugee crisis to an end represent a seismic shift from his predecessor’s policy.
“I think the case could be made that Donald Trump did more in one afternoon than President Obama did over the last six years.”
• Bradford Richardson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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