SBC leaders appeal to Kerry on genocide

"Acknowledging the targeting and slaughtering of Christians in this region is a first step toward achieving peace and justice there." -- Russell Moore
WASHINGTON (BP) -- Southern Baptist leaders Russell Moore and R. Albert Mohler Jr. have joined a coalition calling on the U.S. State Department to heed evidence Christians are targets of genocide in the Middle East.

Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, signed onto a Dec. 4 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting a meeting before the department issues a ruling on genocide by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They have learned an imminent State Department finding is to categorize the terrorist organization's campaign against the Yazidi sect as genocide but "will either omit or reserve judgment on whether ISIS is committing genocide against Christians," the 30 letter signers say.

The signatories -- made up of religious, human rights and academic leaders -- say they fully agree with a genocide finding regarding the Yazidis, but they are "deeply troubled" by the notion Christians are not victims of genocide at the hands of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

In a statement today (Dec. 7), the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called for the State Department to designate not only the Yazidis but the Christian, Shi'a, Turkmen and Shabak communities in Iraq and Syria as ISIS genocide victims.

Moore told Baptist Press, "What we are seeing from ISIS is a targeted persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, including Christians. Acknowledging the targeting and slaughtering of Christians in this region is a first step toward achieving peace and justice there."

Moore said in written comments he hopes and prays the Obama administration "will acknowledge the death sentence that ISIS has placed on thousands of Christian families, and will respond accordingly." 

Mohler said the U.S. government, particularly the State Department, "has every responsibility to speak on behalf of those who are endangered by Islamic terrorism and especially those who must be recognized as the victims of genocide at the hands of ISIS."

"There is no question that Christians are dying alongside Yazidis and that Christians are dying specifically because they are targeted as Christians," Mohler said in comments for BP. "It is vital that Secretary Kerry understand the issues at stake and that the United States government take moral responsibility for this matter of grave consequence."

Genocide -- according to a 1948 United Nations treaty -- 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."

The letter signers say they have "extensive files" that support a ruling that ISIS' treatment of Christians, as well as Yazidis and other minorities, qualifies as genocide under the U.N. definition. Their evidence of ISIS genocide against Christians, they say, includes:

-- Assassinations of Christian leaders;

-- Mass murders of Christians;

-- Sexual slavery and methodical rape of Christian girls and women;

-- Forceful conversions to Islam;

-- Demolition of church buildings, monasteries and cemeteries.

In their letter, the signers urgently request a small delegation be able to brief the State Department to demonstrate ISIS does not give Christians the choice to pay a tax for protection. The State Department reportedly is prepared to decline the genocide designation for Christians in part because ISIS gives them a choice, something the terrorist group does not provide Yazidis. Moore, Mohler and the others also ask for the opportunity to explain why the department's "geographic and temporal focus is too narrow" regarding genocide against Christians.

"We will also present ISIS' own, public statements taking 'credit' for mass murder of Christians, and expressing its intent to eliminate Christian communities from its 'Islamic State,'" their letter says.

ISIS' "genocidal campaign against Christians continues today, with hundreds of Christians remaining in ISIS captivity, and with summary executions, including by beheadings and crucifixions, occurring as recently as only a few months ago," according to the letter.

In addition to Moore and Mohler, the signers include: Frank Wolf, former congressman and longtime human rights and religious freedom advocate; Nina Shea, director of Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom and former USCIF commissioner; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Philip Jenkins, history professor at Baylor University; Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus; and three current USCIRF commissioners: Katrina Lantos Swett; Harvard University law professor Mary Ann Glendon; and Princeton University jurisprudence professor Robert George.

In its Dec. 7 statement, USCIRF not only urged the U.S. government to designate Iraqi and Syrian religious minorities as victims of genocide but called on American and international leaders "to condemn the genocidal actions and crimes against humanity of [ISIS] that have been directed at these groups and other ethnic and religious groups." It also encouraged condemnation of the persecution of Sunni Muslims by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and ISIS.

Moore wrote Kerry Nov. 16 to urge the State Department not to exclude Christians as genocide victims in Iraq and Syria. His letter came in response to an article by investigative reporter Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News that reported the State Department is preparing to label Yazidis, but not Christians, as genocide victims.

The naming of victims of genocide "is not an academic matter," Shea said in a column for National Review Online after the report. "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."

A bipartisan contingent in the U.S. House of Representatives 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 100 Republicans and 54 Democrats.

USCIRF, a bipartisan panel of nine members selected by the president and congressional leaders, tracks the status of religious liberty worldwide and issues reports to Congress, the president and the State Department.

Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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