Did acknowledging threats to religious liberty across the globe help the bishops’ cause?

Much of the focus of last week’s annual bishops’ conference held in Atlanta was religious freedom. In the context of the church in the U.S. today, religious freedom is associated with the bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign, which kicks off on Thursday and mainly revolves around the Affordable Care Act’s provision that employers pay for contraceptive services. However, the bishops made sure to discuss the realities of religious persecution across the globe at their conference. One voice was from Iraqi bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad, who spoke on life for Christians in Iraq.

Warduni’s talk described the reality of Christians being kidnapped, tortured, and killed in Iraq; he acknowledged that more than 20 Christian churches that had been attacked, including once instance that killed at least 45 people, including two priests. Half of the Christians in Iraq have fled the country, which Warduni rightly noted as catastrophic for his country’s church. In a Christian section of Baghdad, fines exist that non-Muslims must pay for “living in a Muslim city.” Christians were told to become Muslims or be killed.

The lesson to take away here is not that Muslims are evil and oppressive; rather, Warduni cited the U.S.’s complicity in creating these conditions in Iraq after its 2003 invasion and the resulting 9 years of occupation and war. "As leaders of the church in the United States, you bear a special responsibility toward the people and Christians of Iraq," he said. "In 2003, your government led the war that brought some terrible consequences.”

At least Cardinal Dolan noted that the bishops’ credibility in talking about religious freedom demanded that they recognize how their "plight" here pales in comparison to what occurs across the globe, but did this really help their case? To me, it’s more embarrassing to admit that things are worse across the world but to still carry on with the same zeal for this cause of religious freedom. It's even worse when someone calls attention to the fact that your country is one of the main reasons why people are suffering elsewhere.

It’s still hard for me, no matter how many times we point it out, to understand how the bishops can continue to carry on so loudly and proudly with their message about religious freedom in light of what this means for many people around the globe. No one is saying to the Catholic Church in the U.S., "Give up your faith, or we will kill you." The fact that we can even hold (and widely publicize) an event such as the Fortnight for Freedom shows that our religious liberty probably isn't in a lot of real danger. When the pope gives an address to U.S. bishops saying that our society’s current moral consensus is hostile to Christianity, it really doesn’t resonate the way it would if there weren’t so many examples like those Warduni cited of actual open hostility to Christians around the world. (These real hostilities are placing people in danger of losing their lives–and isn't life what we Catholics value most of all?)

Warduni said in his talk, “The peace of Jesus is love. This love guides us to unity, because love works miracles, and builds justice and peace. This can be realized when all the church works together in one heart and one thought.”

For some reason, I doubt that he’s talking about uniting in opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

Related: A few brave men: Answering God's call in Iraq

About the author

Elizabeth Lefebvre

Elizabeth Lefebvre is a writer living in Chicago.