Acton Institute Powerblog

Progressive Christianity’s habit of ‘Embracing the Tormentors’

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The Institute on Religion & Democracy’s Faith McDonnell:

Conducting “truth commissions” to denounce American armed forces and organizing divestment campaigns to cripple Israel are vital issues to some American church officials. Raising the banner of Intifada and expressing solidarity with Palestinians are also very important to this collection of liberal leaders. They “spiritualize” the Democratic immigration and health care reform agendas with pompous prayer, but their social justice-focused prophetic vision has strange blind spots. Leftist church leaders hardly ever see, let alone condemn, the imprisonment, enslavement, torture, and murder of Christians in the Islamic world, North Korea, and China.

Church officials and partner organizations such as the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) issue strident policy statements on such topics as “eco-justice,” broadband access for “economically depressed rural areas,” the Israeli “occupation,” and “unnecessary Department of Defense spending.” But one is hard-pressed to find these church leaders denouncing the recent appointment of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. One searches in vain for an expression of solidarity with the Christian community in Jos, Plateau State, in central Nigeria, where hundreds of Christians were slaughtered by Fulani jihadists during March and April of 2010. If there are any such statements, they address vaguely “ethnic conflict” and are masterpieces of moral equivalency.

Such reticence to speak about persecution is not new for liberal church leaders. Downplaying or denying the egregious human rights violations of the Soviet system was symptomatic of Leftist hatred of America and Western values. It was also considered essential to the type of appeasement of tyrants necessary to achieve the liberal Utopian dream of a peaceful, nuclear weapon-free world.

Read “Embracing the Tormentors” on IRD’s Web site.

John Couretas John Couretas is Director of Communications, responsible for print and online communications at the Acton Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience in news and publishing fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.


  • Adam

    The examples of things the churches do speak out about are all things the United States is actively engaged in. The examples of things the churches do not speak out about are all things the United States is not actively engaged in.

    I’m pretty sure the liberal churches have been ragging on communist China for its religious oppression for decades.

    This is some really blatant cherry-picking. There’s an intelligent, fair point to be made here, but the article just does a hatchet job. Accusing them of “hatred of America” is just being silly.

  • The implication of this article is what? Is it that Christians should weld shut their mouths when they know of injustice involving the United States and its allies? Or is it that the United States and the West in general are incapable of injustice? I had always thought it was a duty of Christians to speak the truth, no matter how inconvenient – tough luck if it happens to offend people’s prejudices. You can choose to look the other way at something you know to be wrong, but don’t pretend it will get you very far before the Mercy Seat.

    Is there double standards on the Left? Of course there is. The same goes for the Right as well. Jesse Helms was quite happy to laud Roberto d’Aubuisson as a “deeply religious man” – the same man who stood behind the death squads in El Salvador and who almost certainly ordered the murder of Oscar Romero – as he was saying the mass.

  • Neal Lang

    “I’m pretty sure the liberal churches have been ragging on communist China for its religious oppression for decades.”

    How many “liberal churches” are “ragging on communist China” for its forced abortions?

  • Neal Lang

    “This is some really blatant cherry-picking.”

    I believe the “cherry picking” is all on the part of the leftist churches. The US and the American people are the most charitible and forgiving in the World. Yet, these leftist churches ALWAYS blame the US first. Tell me, which Muslim country awards a medal to it military for showing restraint.

  • Cherry picking indeed. Like other conservatives this writer chooses to overlook the wide ranging nature of statements made by the NCC and WCC about human rights violations in all cultures. A similar accusation was made about the WCC when they came out against apartheid at a time when conservatives like him were supporting the apartheid regime over against “communists” who were trying to overthrow it.

    This is where the stance over against the Israeli occupation comes in. It is, in fact, a brutal occupation, dehumanizing in its apparatus. To not speak out against this abuse of human rights would be to acquiesce in the criminal nature of this activity.

  • Neal Lang

    “Is there double standards on the Left? Of course there is. The same goes for the Right as well. Jesse Helms was quite happy to laud Roberto d’Aubuisson as a ‘deeply religious man’ – the same man who stood behind the death squads in El Salvador and who almost certainly ordered the murder of Oscar Romero – as he was saying the mass.”


    Have you ever heard of the Red Terror? Isn’t it interesting how the left, including churches supporting the “social gospel” support the myth that Spanish Loyalist Communists were the “saints” while the Nationalists are ALWAYS portrayed as the devil! When it come martyred cleargy, the Socialist Communists will to take a back set to no one.

    In the course of the Red Terror, 6,832 members of the Catholic clergy, 20% percent of the nation’s clergy, were killed. The figures break down the as follows: Some 283 women religious were killed. Some of them were badly tortured. 13 bishops were killed from the dioceses of Siguenza Lleida, Cuenca, Barbastro, Segorbe, Jaén, Ciudad Real, Almeria, Guadix, Barcelona, Teruel and the auxiliary of Tarragona. Aware of the dangers, they all decided to remain in their cities. I cannot go, only here is my responsibility, whatever may happen, so said the Bishop of Cuenca. In addition 4,172 diocesan priests, 2,364 monks and friars, among them 259 Claretians, 226 Franciscans, 204 Piarists, 176 Brothers of Mary, 165 Christian Brothers, 155 Augustinians, 132 Dominicans, and 114 Jesuits were killed. In some dioceses, the number of secular priests killed are overwhelming:

    In Barbastro 123 of 140 priests were killed, about 88 percent of the secular clergy were murdered, 66 percent

    In Lleida, 270 of 410 priests were killed, about 62 percent

    In Tortosa, 44 percent of the secular priests were killed.

    In Toledo 286 of 600 priests were killed.

    In the dioceses of Málaga, Menorca and Segorbe, about half of the priests were killed”

    In 2001 the Catholic Church beatified hundreds of Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War and beatified 498 more on October 28, 2007.

    In October 2008, the Spanish newspaper La Razon published an article on the number of people murdered for practicing Catholicism.”

    May 1931: 100 church buildings are burned while firefighters refuse to extinguish the flames.

    1932: 3000 Jesuits expelled. Church buildings burned with impunity in 7 cities.

    1934: 33 priests murdered in the Asturias Revolution.

    1936: just a day before July 18, the day the war started, there already have been 17 clergymen murdered.

    From July 18 to August 1: 861 clergymen murdered in 2 weeks.

    August 1936: 2077 clergymen murdered, more than 70 a day. 10 of them bishops.

    Septiembre 14: 3400 clergymen murdered during the first stages of the war.

    1939: end of the war; a total of 7000 clergymen and 3000 religious people murdered for practicing Catholicism.

    The parish priest of Navalmoral was put through a parody of Christ’s Crucifixion. At the end of his suffering the militiamen debated whether actually to crucify him or just shoot him. They finished with a shooting.

    The Bishop of Jaén and his sister were murdered in front of two thousand celebrating spectators by a special executioner, a woman nick-named La Pecosa, the freckled one.

    Although rare, it was reported that some nuns were raped by militiamen before they were shot. However, according to Antony Beevor, the 1946 nationalist indictment of Republican atrocities contained no evidence for any such incident.

    The priest of Cienpozuelos was thrown into a corral with fighting bulls where he was gored into unconsciousness. Afterwards one of his ears was cut off to imitate the feat of a matador after a successful bullfight.

    In Ciudad Real, the priest was castrated and his sexual organs stuffed in his mouth.

    There are accounts of the people connected to the Catholic Church being forced to swallow rosary beads, being thrown down mine shafts and of priests being forced to dig their own graves before being buried alive.

    The Spanish Inquisition, that lasted over 3 centuries pales by comparison!

    Other leftist initiated and inspired “Clergical Martyrs” took place in the 20th Century in:
    Persecutions and Church policies
    Soviet Union
    Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia
    Jozsef Mindszenty
    Romania, Bulgaria and Albania

  • Hello Neal: much obliged for the information, but do you imagine I have not heard of Communism or its works? However, you have not answered my points.

    I never denied that the extreme left has persecuted Christians on a colossal scale. My pretty simple point is just this – it is not only the extreme left that is capable of inflicting mass death on its fellow man. Right and Left – whatever categories one chooses to use – are not forces of nature. They are human beings, with all the potential for evil that human nature brings with it. Christians can’t possibly be selective in condemning inhumanity – Jesus wasn’t. Critics of the left are on shaky ground when they insinuate it has a monopoly on murder and on ideological double standards. I note that you have not denied that d’Aubuisson did what he was accused of, and he is only one instance.

    Does the revolutionary Left have more blood on its hands? Probably, especially if one remembers that Nazi is short for National Socialism.

    However, that is not my point. My question to you is how should Christians react to injustice committed by Western states? From the Christian point of view, which I believe is where you are arguing from, murder is murder. God can not overlook one murder, any more than he can 100 million. The question confronts us again. If there is injustice, what do you intend to do about it? Just because the people on the receiving end are further to the Left than you, do you honestly think that makes it any less of a crime?

  • Well said, Luke. More to the point is the illegitimate linking of the WCC and NCC to the “liberal left” as though they are responsible for everything that happens or doesn’t happen as a result of leftist political positions.

    One thing people don’t realize is that the WCC has actually become much more conservative and critical of the left through the growing prominence of Orthodox voices, both Oriental and Greek and Russian who are both more conservative theologically and politically as many represent churches that have been on the receiving end of leftist inspired violence. This does not translate, however, to the mindless support of the Israeli occupation. In fact, just the opposite, as the Oriental Orthodox are strongly opposed to the occupation as people in their churches are suffering much because of it.

    What the American right, as represented in this editorial, is often blind about is this very issue – the Israeli occupation – as they assume that “good Christians” will give knee jerk support to whatever Israel does in the name of either democracy (which Israel is not) or biblical prophesy.