Don’t look now, but it appears our leadership class is waking up to the problem of rising global religious conflict. At the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday morning, President Obama devoted a large portion of his remarks to this issue:
Yet even as our faith sustains us, it’s also clear that around the world freedom of religion is under threat. And that is what I want to reflect on this morning. We see governments engaging in discrimination and violence against the faithful. We sometimes see religion twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, or how they pray or who they love. Old tensions are stoked, fueling conflicts along religious lines, as we’ve seen in the Central African Republic recently, even though to harm anyone in the name of faith is to diminish our own relationship with God. Extremists succumb to an ignorant nihilism that shows they don’t understand the faiths they claim to profess — for the killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God’s will; in fact, it’s the ultimate betrayal of God’s will.
Read the whole speech. It’s very encouraging to see the president spotlight the God wars, especially because the media and our political class has often been far too silent about rising violence. In particular, the interplay between the CAR conflict and global religious hostilities was underreported. Whether the US government can do anything about this—and what it should do, if it can—is a key question going forward, but more politicians taking notice of the problem is a good first step.
But equally important is the realization that growing religious conflict isn’t a simple Christian persecution narrative. We need to pay much more attention to Christian persecution, and lots of the stories out of the CAR were originally about anti-Christian violence. But the the latest news is that the Muslim population is now the victim of retaliatory measures by government forces, with thousands of Muslims fleeing for their lives and barbaric killings erupting throughout the country. Across all kinds of religions hostility is growing; it’s a new era of broad, general strife with which the US will have to come to terms.