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January 22, 2010

A Small Sign of Hope

"Violence in God's name is not only an obvious corruption of Scripture, it demonstrates an appalling disregard for the loving and just God who commands us to live together in peace. What is especially painful is that this recent violence took place during a celebration of the birth of the one who Christians call the Prince of Peace and who Muslims call a holy prophet."

These sentences, included in a Jan. 15 letter sent by Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches to officials of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United States, can be easily dismissed as a naïve response to the recent murder of several Christians in Egypt.

The statement’s gloss that “violence in God’s name is … an obvious corruption of Scripture? seems, in light of what we have learned about jihadism in the past few years, like a bit of wishful thinking.

As Richard Rubenstein has argued in his most recent book Jihad and Genocide (2010, Rowman and Littlefield), moderate Muslim scholars who seek to relate to non-Muslims on the basis of equality “are at an enormous disadvantage? because “the behavior of contemporary Islamists resembles that of Muhammad and his conquering successors farm more than do the behavior of values advocated by … more moderate Saudi scholars.?

Rubenstein continues: “The Islamists have fewer problems of literal interpretation of those verses in the Qur’an that refer to jihad and the global ambitions of Islam than do the [moderate] Saudi Scholars.? (Page 41) In other words, for the people responsible for anti-Christian and anti-Jewish violence in the Middle East, attacks like this are not a corruption of Scripture, but its fulfillment. And a plain-text reading of Scripture seems to support their case.

Until organizations such as the NCC and the World Council of Churches come to grips with this reality, they will be unable to provide the intellectual and leadership necessary to confront the problem of jihadism in the Middle East and the rest of the world. (In sum, these institutions cannot help moderate or formulate a response to a problem they will not bring themselves to acknowledge.)

This is why the NCC's statement cannot be dismissed out of hand. The fact that the NCC has even acknowledged that the violence perpetrated against the Coptic Christians (and a Muslim security guard) was perpetrated in God’s name is cause for hope. Given the NCC’s historical silence about the mistreatment of Coptic Christians in the Middle East, the fact that NCC issued such a statement at all is simply put, just short of a miracle.

The NCC’s prophetic voice has, like a lot of other church related organizations supported by mainline churches in the U.S., have had a frog stuck in its throat when confronted in Muslim and Arab misdeeds that call for admonition and correction. As reported previously, when Coptic Christians approached the National Council of Churches in 1977 in an effort to elicit a churchly word on their behalf, they were stymided by politics, according to Isaac Rottenberg, a former staffer at the organization.

Now the organization has at least taken a step in the right direction, just as it did when it condemned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hostile rhetoric in 2008.

Posted by dvz at January 22, 2010 05:40 PM


It is a powerful quote, regardless of what one thinks about Islam.

For example, if you think Islam condones violence, it is a corruption. If you think it is peaceful, no problem.

Posted by: Steven at January 22, 2010 07:14 PM

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