A new word is making the rounds in the cautious world of human rights diplomacy--Christianophobia. The United Nations has denounced it as an issue of worldwide concern along with anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. TheVienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has just named an expert on racism to monitor discrimination against Christians there. But most Christians have never heard this term describingpersecution of their faith.In many developing countries, only the persecutors themselves deny that that they are persecuting Christian minorities. In Pakistan or Sudan, for example, Christians have been physically attacked by the Muslim majorityand have little or no legal protection. Hindu nationalists in India have passed laws barring conversion to Christianity in some states and pressured Christians to "reconvert" to Hinduism. Saudi Arabia bans churchesand public Christian worship. In Iraq, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world is rapidly disappearing as many frightened members emigrate to escape church bombings, kidnappings, and attacks byIslamist militants. These and more cases are amply documented in UN human rights reports.But should the world's largest faith present itself as a victim that needs special help? Christian groups have been pleading the cause of religious freedom for years. Apart from lobbying governments and internationalorganizations, evangelicals run several websites such as Voice of the Martyrs and
persecutedchurch.org/" target="_new">Persecuted Church to spread the news about repression against Christians around the world. The Roman Catholic Church has also championed believers' rights as a guidinglight of its diplomacy. But these campaigns usually focused on separate cases of persecution. With tension between faiths rising around the globe, international human rights organizations have singled out anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as broad problems of special concern. It gradually became difficult for theworld's largest church not to speak up for Christians as a group. So over the past year, the Holy See has quietly lobbied the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva and the Organization forSecurity and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to recognize Christianophobia as a new social evil and issue regularreports on it.Last month, the UN took up the cause; its General Assembly endorsed it in a resolution on December 20. The OSCE stopped a step short of approving the new term. But in early December, in addition to naming monitors totrack anti-Semitism and bias against Muslims, it appointed a third expert to survey all forms of discrimination, including against Christians and other believers.The Vatican's foreign minister only mentioned the issue publicly early in December when he told a conference on religious freedom that the Church had insisted that it be mentioned in Human Rights Commission documents.
"It should be recognized that the war against terrorism, even though necessary, had as one of its side-effects the spread of Christianophobia in vast areas of the globe," Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo added. He diplomatically avoided mentioningcountries, but recommended a recent report by the Catholic charity "Aid to the Church in Need" which singled out Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea and Iraq as some of theworst offenders.The Holy See is pressing this point despite several setbacks. In June, the European Union refused to refer to the continent's Christian heritage in its new constitution despite repeated appeals from Pope John Paul II andtraditionally Catholic countries such as Ireland, Italy, Spain and his native Poland. Last month the European Parliament urged the EU in vain to require Turkey to enforce full religious freedom there before it could opennegotiations to become a member. These setbacks so frustrated the Vatican that a senior official there, Cardinal Renato Martino, grumbled about a secularist "Inquisition" against the Church.Doudou Diène, the UN special rapporteur on racism and xenophobia, said his research led him to think the UNcould not ignore Christianity while investigating bias against Jews and Muslims. "This discrimination deservesthe same treatment as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia," he said. "The other major religions, such as Buddhism,may be subject to the same discrimination in other parts of the world.
The challenge here is to treat both thespecifics of each case and the universal issues involved."The Rev. Drew Christiansen, international affairs counselor for the United States Conference of CatholicBishops, said awareness of the persecution of Christians was low. "I think there is Christianophobia out thereand it's not recognized," he explained. Some participants at a recent UN conference on religious intoleranceseemed to think Christians have been so powerful in history that they can't now count as victims, he said.Even Christians had trouble with the idea. "Christians have a sense of being a privileged majority, so wedon't easily see ourselves as victims," he said.