Human rights and the mainline Protestant churches.
Interestingly enough, I was talking about how I felt about my childhood church with last night. OK, not so much talking as La learning that sometimes innocently asking “What's that?” can open the floodgates of my Inner Pedant. Last night, it was about the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and the bunch of SDS retreads that work in the General Assembly and about their latest nitwit scheme to disinvest in Israel. I was heartened by the news that the disinvestment may not happen for legal reasons.
We analyzed human rights criticisms made by four mainline Protestant denominations (the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) and two ecumenical bodies (the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches) over a period of four years (2000-2003) to determine which nations were criticized for human rights violations and why. We used the 2004 human rights assessments published by Freedom House as a benchmark for human rights in nations analyzed. A given church statement or document was considered to have criticized human rights in country X when, in the context of a discussion of human rights in country X, it passed negative judgment on specific current policies or actions of the government of X.
Overall, criticisms of Israel amounted to 37 percent of the 197 human rights criticisms offered by the churches during those years, only slightly higher than the 32 percent of criticisms leveled at the United States. The remaining 31 percent of criticisms were shared by twenty other nations. For every one criticism of any other foreign nation, one criticism was made of the United States and one of Israel. Nearly all churches demonstrated this focus on the United States and Israel in their legislative actions, their statements, their news sources, or all three.
As a result, nearly three out of four human rights criticisms were made of nations designated as free (mostly the United States and Israel) by the Freedom House assessments. Those rated not free totaled 19 percent of criticisms, while partly free nations totalled only 8 percent of criticisms. Of the fifteen worst human rights offenders in the world, only five were criticized by the churches during the four year period studied.
Regions like the Middle East (apart from Israel) and Central Asia (former Soviet republics) were the most notable areas ignored by the churches in their human rights advocacy. Partly free nations, where church influence might be most effective in widening the limited civic space already open to indigenous Christians and other citizens, received the least attention.
The mainline churches are not adequately addressing the wide range of human rights abuses taking place in the world. Denominations are focusing on the United States and Israel as the primary perpetrators of human rights violations. Great attention to the United States may be expected from churches that find their homes there. But the dramatic focus on Israel as opposed to many more repressive regimes, including other U.S. allies known for human rights abuses (such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt), must be challenged.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the churches made the mistake of supporting oppressive Soviet-sponsored liberation movements around the world. They largely ignored human rights abuses in the Soviet Union and its satellite states, instead focusing on U.S. policy as the primary source of abuse. It appears that mainline denominations may be making the same mistake today with the Arab and Muslim worlds, ignoring many of the most serious abuses while apparently laying heavy blame upon the United States and Israel not only for their own lesser abuses, but also for the abuses of others. . .
Read the report, if you're interested.