By Tom Strode
WASHINGTON (BP) — The U.S. State Department should not exclude Christians as victims if it declares the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria guilty of genocide, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore has told Secretary of State John Kerry.
In a letter Monday (Nov. 16), Moore responded to a report the State Department is preparing to categorize the terrorist organization’s campaign against Iraq’s Yazidi sect as genocide but not to include Christians as targets of genocidal acts. The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission urged Kerry not to distinguish between different groups suffering at the hands of the Islamic State (ISIS).
Moore said in his letter he supports a U.S. declaration that ISIS has committed, and continues to commit, genocide, but he called for Kerry “to recognize every victim of every community standing in the path of ISIS. Let us not be distracted by a quibbling over terminology that falsely distinguishes between victims of equally horrific atrocities.”
Iraqi and Syrian Christians “have faced mass beheadings, crucifixion, and other atrocities for the crime of following Jesus Christ,” Moore wrote. “This is genocide and civilization must declare it so.”
A leading human rights advocate in the U.S. House of Representative and a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) also spoke against the expected exclusion of Christians.
Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., said he is “shocked and dismayed” the Obama administration “would even think to exclude the present day genocide of Christians.”
“Ignoring Christians, and the full range of religious and ethnic groups who have been victims of the ISIS genocide, would continue President Obama’s policy of silence and weak response,” Smith said in a Nov. 13 written statement.
Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and a USCIRF commissioner from 1999 to 2012, described Christians’ fate at the hands of ISIS forces in a Nov. 13 piece for National Review.
“Christians have been executed by the thousands,” Shea wrote. “Christian women and girls are vulnerable to sexual enslavement. Many of their clergy have been assassinated and their churches and ancient monasteries demolished or desecrated. They have been systematically stripped of all their wealth, and those too elderly or sick to flee ISIS-controlled territory” have been forced to convert to Islam or been killed.
Moore, Smith and Shea responded to a Nov. 12 article by investigative reporter Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News. Isikoff reported the State Department is preparing to label ISIS’ onslaught against the Yazidis in Iraq as genocide. A 1948 United Nations treaty says genocide includes the commission of such acts as murder with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
State Department officials contend attacks on Christians and minorities other than the Yazidis appear to fall short of the standard established in the genocide treaty, Isikoff reported.
The naming of victims of genocide “is not an academic matter,” Shea said. “A genocide designation would have significant policy implications for American efforts to restore property and lands taken from the minority groups and for offers of aid, asylum, and other protections to such victims.”
In addition, she wrote, it would mean the United States and other countries, under the genocide treaty, “would not be bound to act to suppress or even prevent the genocide of these Christians.”
Moore has joined others in urging Obama and Congress to designate ISIS in violation of the genocide treaty.
A bipartisan House contingent is backing a measure, Concurrent Resolution 75, that expresses the view the “atrocities committed against Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities targeted specifically for religious reasons are crimes against humanity and genocide.” The list of cosponsors of the resolution consists of 94 Republicans and 52 Democrats.
A new report from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum helped motivate the State Department to move toward a designation of genocide for ISIS’ actions against the Yazidis, according to Isikoff’s report. That Nov. 12 report found ISIS “perpetrated crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes” in the cases of Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen, Sabean-Mandeans and others but concluded genocide has been committed only against the Yazidis, a sect with a patchwork of religious beliefs and practices.
Crimes against Yazidis have included the execution of men and the enslavement of women and girls, according to the report.
ISIS’ campaign against the Yazidis definitely should be considered genocide, Shea said.
However, she wrote, “To propose that Christians have been simply driven off their land but not suffered similar fates is deeply misinformed…. Christians are also being deliberately targeted for extinction through equally brutal measures.”
Reprinted from Baptist Press (www.baptistpress.com), news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.