Over the years, a pattern has emerged that can no longer be ignored: The rhetoric of many American bishops is consistently at odds with the pleas of Christian leaders in the Middle East.
It is a scandal for American bishops to disagree with the persecuted Church during the course of a years-long, genocidal attack. Respectfully, I call on the United States Council of Catholic Bishops to address it formally, publicly, and immediately.
To aid in the effort, I have compiled a simple study in contrasts below.
American Clerics on the Radical Islamic Threat and Refugee Resettlement
Before the rise of ISIS, American bishops consistently favored the Obama Administration’s many efforts against border enforcement and the prevention of illegal immigration. In 2010, for instance, the USCCB added its own amicus brief to those of the Obama Department of Justice and the National Council of La Raza in opposition to Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” (SB 1070).
Just after ISIS’s first brutal conquests in 2014, Bishop Denis Madden, then Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, warned that recent atrocities “intensify our duty to speak out…” He warned not about radical Islamism, but about the “Islamophobia” that was “on the rise” among Christians, whom he censured for “using our religion as an excuse for slander, bigotry or other inhospitable acts.”
Bishop Madden’s message was in keeping with an earlier joint declaration by the Islamic Society of North America and the USCCB, which concluded that much good could come of working “in the spirit of the teachings of the Gospel and the Qur’an:”
Both Jesus and Muhammad loved and cared for all whom they met, especially the poor and oppressed; their teachings and example call for solidarity with the poor, oppressed, homeless, hungry, and needy in today’s world.
More recently, American bishops have combined their enthusiasm for lenient border policies and their concerns about Islamophobia into a single emphatic stance: Advocacy for mass migration from the Middle East. Many bishops protested and condemned President Trump’s executive orders on migration and refugee resettlement. A common theme was that the orders constituted a “Muslim ban,” and that it was irrational and xenophobic to pause and reassess the mass migration of mostly Muslim refugees from Jihad-afflicted countries.
In any case, the resettlement programs that these bishops supported (and now vociferously defend) have been extremely neglectful of the most vulnerable minorities targeted by ISIS. A shocking figure that was widely reported last year: fewer than one half of one percent of Middle Eastern migrants settled in the U.S. were Christian. The numbers of other targeted minorities such as Yezidis have been comparably miniscule.
The USCCB boasts “the largest refugee resettlement agency in the world” and has received fully $91 million per year to operate as a federal contractor maintaining the status-quo refugee resettlement systems of the Obama administration.
Middle Eastern Clerics
Within months of the rise of ISIS, Christian leaders in the Middle East issued a formal statement calling on international powers to take military action against the terrorist threat, and to provide humanitarian aid to refugees displaced by it.
They emphatically condemned the “ideology” of ISIS, and warned that if the international community failed to “destroy” it, a dangerous precedent would be set to the detriment of vulnerable minorities in the future.
The statement made no mention of refugee resettlement in Western countries.
The views of Middle Eastern Christian leaders on mass migration and refugee resettlement are influenced by three factors.
Just after fleeing his diocese with those of his flock who were lucky enough to survive ISIS’s conquest, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Amel Shimoun Nona of Mosul warned the West, “Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future.”
Western Christians were “welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims,” but “Islam does not say that all men are equal,” he said. “Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.”
In an interview at Crux last year, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan addressed the recent martyrdom of Fr. Jacques Hamel in France. Younan asked, “Who taught these two young men who slaughtered the priest? Their Imam alienated them as children and as youth, and told them to memorize all the verses of the Qur’an.”
The “literal” reading of the Quran is “the root of the problem,” he said elsewhere, and Westerners should “tell the imams, the teachers of Islam, those directors of Islamic schools – the madrassas – that you can’t teach the children this way, to memorize those verses that call for violence against others.”
Clearly, this politically incorrect wariness of Muslim scripture tends to inform Middle Eastern Christians’ views on the border debate. In the U.S. specifically, Bishop Bawai Soro of the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle in San Diego, himself a one-time refugee from Iraq, recently wrote a column at The San Diego Union Tribune in which he commended President Trump’s efforts to increase border security.
“Open borders and easygoing immigration policies are what could inflict the U.S. with the fire that has been burning in the Middle East for centuries,” he wrote. “Today’s Europe is a good lesson to America.”
Soro is not alone. Many Middle Eastern immigrants in the U.S. have expressed this sentiment, including Syrian Christians in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Iraq-born commentator Luma Simms, and, as she reports, many of her fellow immigrants from the Middle East. “[As] Middle Eastern Christians know well, there are Muslim immigrants who would use Da’wah to slowly but surely Islamize America,” Simms wrote in a recent column.
Given the amount of rhetoric about refugee resettlement from clerics in the U.S., it’s easy to slip into the habit of automatically associating care for refugees with migration. But when Middle Eastern clerics speak of intervening on behalf of refugees, they are much more often advocating for a) decisive military action against ISIS, and b) funding and supplies to aid the Middle Eastern churches that care for refugees who wish to return to their homes after the destruction of ISIS.
In fact, judging from the consistent pleas of Syrian and Iraqi clergy, American clerics’ emphasis on mass immigration may even be in direct competition with the dire financial needs of the Middle Eastern Church. (Imagine if U.S. bishops asked the Trump administration to allocate some portion of their $91 million in refugee resettlement contracts to meet the needs of the Middle Eastern Church!)
Last year Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart, Melkite Catholic archbishop of Aleppo, Syria, went so far as to say to a Canadian audience, “We’re not happy when we see the Canadian government moving refugees and facilitating their integration. It hurts us. A lot.” Instead, he called for aid to the Churches caring for the displaced.
In a recent interview at Crux, Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq dismissed protesters against Trump’s refugee pause, and instead called attention to what the Church in the Middle East has been pleading for since 2014: funding to care for refugees there, in the region, rather than resettlements in the U.S. Critics of Trump’s order “were not protesting when the tens of thousands of displaced Christians my archdiocese has cared for since 2014 received no financial assistance from the U.S. government or the U.N.,” he sarcastically remarked.
“My archdiocese hosts the largest community of displaced Christians in my country, and since 2014, we have received no money from the United States government and no money from the UN.”
Archbishop Warda approved of President Trump’s plans to prioritize religious minorities who are at the greatest risk, and was offended by protests against what many American bishops called a “Muslim ban.” Detractors should not even use that term, Warda said, “especially now that it has been clarified that it is not [a Muslim ban.]” Those who call it a “Muslim ban” are “hurting we Christians specifically and putting us at greater risk. The executive order has clearly affected Christians and Yazidis and others as well as Muslims.”
“Obviously in the long run, [Trump’s executive order] will make it easier for those from our community who wish to move to the West. And while I hope most of our people will stay, I must respect the decision they make for themselves, especially after what they have endured,” he said.
Again, Warda really seemed quite hurt by the idea of Americans condemning Trump’s prioritization of Christian and other minority refugees. “There were no protests when Syrian Christians were only let in at a rate that was 20 times less than the percentage of their population in Syria,” he said:
…[It] is very hard for me to understand why comfortable people in the West think those who are struggling to survive against genocide, and whose communities are at extreme risk of disappearing completely, should not get some special consideration. We are an ancient people on the verge of extinction because of our commitment to our faith. Will anybody protest for us?
A Final Puzzle
Perhaps the most baffling factor in all this is that the USCCB is extraordinarily well-informed about the needs and complexities facing the persecuted Church in the Middle East—likely much better informed than the both Trump administration and the American public. Briefings written at the behest of the USCCB by envoys sent to the Middle East are quite sound, and even contain vital information not widely known—nor prominently discussed by many bishops—such as:
The USCCB has even publicly brought such information to the attention of U.S. Government officials. And yet the overall public witness of American bishops bears absolutely no resemblance to the priorities clearly articulated by the bishops and patriarchs targeted by ISIS.
Respectfully, I challenge the leadership of the USCCB to compare and contrast the priorities of the Church in the Middle East with the priorities of American bishops with regard to Islamic terrorism and refugee aid. If it appears some American bishops are failing to wholly represent and advocate for the interests of the persecuted Church as communicated by Middle Eastern Church leaders, I would ask that the USCCB address their failure as a scandal of the first order.