Western churches, especially in Europe, have neglected their brethren around the world while enthusiastically signing on to political causes.
One important thing to bear in mind when considering international affairs issues is that although classical liberal principles (and, I would argue, common sense and moral decency) require us to stay out of other nations’ internal affairs, we still can, and should, speak out when wrong is done.
Any smart and reasonable nation will typically stay out of others’ fights, but by the same token, its citizens should be expected to speak out forcefully against outrages around the world. This should be especially true of churches, and all the more so when their church brethren are harmed or menaced.
Yet in the West in the past two decades the very opposite has been true. Governments have intervened, while church leaders have all too often looked away as appalling attacks on their brethren have been perpetrated.
When the West decided to defend Muslim interests in Europe (and hoped to keep oil imports flowing from Muslim-controlled countries) by attacking nominally Christian nations in the Kosovo war, the Western churches were largely silent or supportive. Similarly, when asked to support a war against a secular nation, Iraq, the churches enthusiastically joined the chorus.
On the other hand, Western Christians, including the Catholic Church, have been appallingly neglectful of the anti-Christian atrocities in India (see also here), the Middle East, and other non-Christian places.
One explanation for the unwillingness of Western Christian leaders to speak up on behalf of Christians under attack in eastern Europe and western Asia is that the latter aren’t seen as the "right kind" of Christians, and in fact frighten the largely de-Christianized European churches by their very piety, as a recent article by George Pitcher in the Times of London notes:
There is the view that a Church that may have been founded in the first century by the Apostles Simon and Andrew and which survived the oppressions of the Soviet Union has emerged with too potent a sense of nationalism, burnished by its trials.
Orthodox churches are by nature highly autonomous. The Georgian one is strong and independent. Who knows where such demonstrably durable Churches might lead Christians disillusioned by western traditions that have been weakened by far lesser foes of secularism and dissent?
Western Christians do not feel like blood brothers and sisters for Orthodox congregations, which sometimes look like the real thing.
Hence while a few Western political leaders grumble about the Russian invasion of Georgia, and some have made threatening noises based on the implications for supplies of imported oil, the church has been largely silent, to its great shame, as Pitcher notes:
The gathering annexation of Georgia by Russia has been met with a cold shoulder from sister churches, whose leaders have in the past been only too keen to condemn illegal invasions of sovereign states, such as Iraq.
This is all the more surprising given that Georgia is a predominantly Christian country, second only to Armenia as the oldest official Christian state.
Some 82 per cent of the population are members of the Georgian Orthodox Church, with the next largest tranche of faith being the 10 per cent who count themselves Muslim.
Such a devout populace might have expected a unified condemnation of an attack on such a solid and venerable household of faith.
Pope Benedict XVI managed, from his holiday in the Italian Alps, to call for an "immediate" end to hostilities in South Ossetia and urged negotiations between Russia and Georgia over the contested province.
But it sounded like a rebuke to two squabbling children, not a plea for an end to a bloodbath, and carefully made no reference to the wider incursion into Georgia.
Elsewhere, there has been a resounding chorus of silence in the cloisters. Nothing from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the latter vociferous in his condemnation of Robert Mugabe’s aggressions in Zimbabwe.
Nothing from the Anglican Communion, so keen of late to re-engage on the international stage with its march through London in solidarity with the world’s poor.
Nothing even from the British Orthodox Church, from which one might expect a response, even if its affiliations are Coptic rather than Georgia’s Eastern Orthodox tradition.
The response from churches in the United States has been similarly muted. (The Christian journal First Things did mention it once on its blog.) When oil is more important than one’s religious brethren, the churches have seriously lost their way.