Selective Condemnation

I am still wondering about the wisdom of Pope Francis’ condemnation of Turkey for the Armenian genocide. If the pope opposes the persecution of Christians, why not also condemn the nation of France since the French persecuted Protestants in the 16th century and Roman Catholics in the 18th? Or what about condemning England for persecuting Roman Catholics? Or Spain for persecuting Calvinists? So many persecutors, so few condemnations.

But Philip Giraldi offers the best reasons against seeing the pope’s condemnation in an endearing light:

But one nevertheless has to wonder at the consequences of an ex post facto establishment of accountability for a crime that began 100 years ago in a now nonexistent political entity with victims and perpetrators who are no longer alive. When I lived in Istanbul in the 1980s I knew many Armenians well enough to be invited into their homes and attend their church services. I also knew Roman Catholics with whom I went to Mass, and had friends at the Greek Patriarchate, the Phanar. Christians were allowed to worship freely, but there was always a sense that they were being permitted to do so on sufferance and that it was a privilege rather than a right in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. I visited Istanbul again this summer, and the increase in visible Islamic religiosity was startling, so I assume that Christians are even more on edge.

Given that Christians in Turkey are still allowed to worship and associate more or less freely, Pope Francis’s declaration can only make their status somewhat more delicate, as those who see Turkey as a Muslim rather than a secular nation, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will be able to play the nationalist card to make that vision a reality. The pace of the conversion of surviving historic churches into mosques will no doubt accelerate. In short, Pope Francis makes their situation more difficult in exchange for what I believe to be no actual net gain.

And then there is the essential hypocrisy of papal pronouncements. All too often the Church fails to live up to its own values. For me that occurred in dramatic fashion when Pope John Paul II conferred the appearance of Christian legitimacy on President George W. Bush by granting him four papal audiences. To his credit, the pope raised the issue of the deteriorating status of Christians in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East and called for peace in the region, but he did not do or say anything that might have a serious impact. If Turkey must be held accountable for massacres that took place in wartime 100 years ago, one has to wonder why the man who started a war unnecessarily, which at that point had killed scores of thousands of civilians and enabled the destruction of the ancient Christian communities in the Middle East, should be rewarded with multiple papal audiences.

I for one would have liked to have seen the pope refuse to meet with Bush or at least politely but publicly confront the president during the audience over what he had unleashed. Such a gesture could have had a real impact in the United States and just might have put the lie to the claims of success of the Iraq venture, which one still tends to hear on occasion, recently from Bush himself declaring that it brought “democracy.”

I understand that the sensitivities of the U.S. Catholic Church are important to the Holy See, and no pope would want to gratuitously contradict an American president, but it seems to me that the Church has a responsibility to bear witness as an antidote to ongoing evil backed by an assertion of Christian values. A public display of disapproval delivered to 78 million American Catholics might have served to restrain Bush-Cheney. And even if it did not, it would have been the right thing to do.

Which brings us to here and now. Concerning Pope Francis and his condemnation of Armenian genocide, I have to ask, “What have you done for me today?” The reticence of Christian organizations to get behind the Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel in an attempt to help deliver self-determination and fundamental human rights to the Palestinians has mystified me. I understand that the Catholic Church does not want to make more confrontational its interaction with the often difficult Israeli overlords of ecclesiastical properties in Jerusalem, and the Church has its own priorities in support of Christian-Jewish dialogue that it would not want to damage. There is also lurking the issue of historic anti-Semitism within the Church, but BDS is a perfect vehicle for helping to redress a current wrong. It is nonviolent, nonconfrontational, and conforms with international law. Precisely what is boycotted, divested, or sanctioned can be tailored to specific issues like settlement building. BDS seeks to establish fundamental liberties for Palestinians, including the freedom to run their own affairs either as a separate state or as part of a truly democratic Israel that grants equal rights to all.

For Catholics there is also a personal stake in what goes on in Israel, namely that the Church has an ancient physical presence in Israel and Palestine that is diminishing and under siege. The abuse of Christian clergy and laity in Israel has been widely reported, and there are 50 laws that discriminate in various ways against non-Jews. The Israeli bureaucracy de facto aids the process by refusing basic services for non-Jews, appropriating or infringing on Christian and Muslim religious sites, and systematically denying things like building permits even if there is no law that is directly applicable.

Best of all, if ministers of God’s word need a “thus sayeth the Lord” before their utterances, bishops, pastors, and priests might say a lot less and shepherd the flock a lot more. Hallelujah.


36 thoughts on “Selective Condemnation

  1. One needn’t mention the Hugenots or the Inquisition to see Francis’ Turkish Condemnation as the act of political posturing it truly is…

    Where’s the condemnation of Franco and his brutal reign in Spain? Hell, where is Francis’ condemnation of Argentina for it’s Dirty War? He was even witness to it (though he remained conspicuously silent). Perhaps it’s easier for a Pope to condemn a Communist regime, or a majority-Muslim or Orthodox country, than it is to decry the atrocities committed by a conservative Roman Catholic country or regime.

    Unfair, D. Hart?


  2. “Given that Christians in Turkey are still allowed to worship and associate more or less freely, Pope Francis’s declaration can only **make their status somewhat more delicate**, as those who see Turkey as a Muslim rather than a secular nation, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will be able to play the nationalist card to make that vision a reality.”

    Do you think that will be the most likely result? One theory to the contrary would be that it might somewhat undermine Erdogan’s nationalist movement that hearkens back to the glory days of Turkey. IDK, just wondering.


  3. I am still wondering about the wisdom of Pope Francis’ condemnation of Turkey for the Armenian genocide. If the pope opposes the persecution of Christians, why not also condemn the nation of France since the French persecuted Protestants in the 16th century and Roman Catholics in the 18th?

    Because it’s the 100th anniversary and unlike the Catholic Church and the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, Turkey continues to deny the Armenian genocide.

    Always happy to help you with areas outside your expertise, Dr. Calvinist: A History.


  4. Curt, I’ve alluded before to the theological problems with trying to work out collective sin in the absence of federal headship.

    Here’s the political problem of that approach: If sin is collective, then individuals begin to blame their own sin on the system.

    Here’s a recent interchange I observed between two acquaintances concerning the Baltimore riots. One is, apparently, Hispanic. Let’s call him Joe. The other is, apparently, white. Let’s call him Will. His reasoning is very similar to yours.

    Will: Compared to college campuses after championship losses, this is not terrible. And it’s over a man who was brutally beaten. So. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

    Bystander: Evil X is not as bad as Evil Y, so therefore it is OK. I always love that logic. Either you believe violence is wrong or you don’t.

    Will: I don’t think it’s ever that simple, because we as a society condone violence in many different contexts. It comes down to who is using the violence, why they are using it, and how it’s being perpetrated…I highly doubt the Orioles fans were innocent bystanders… Knowing how drunk sports fans are. I don’t think I’m advocating a pass/fail system but instead understanding where the violence stems from and not condemning it just because it is violence.

    Joe: I’m sorry if I’m being rude, but I am so frustrated with how callous you are! Yes, a man died. Justified casualty or murder, it doesnt justify the crimes committed in Baltimore or Ferguson. We are not at war. Well forgive me and others for being offended by it. Considering people have died for our flag and the right for you to consider disrespecting my country’s flag a form of protest.

    Will: I don’t know about callous, but I see the riots as symptoms of an underlying disease. Without addressing the disease, it is hard for me to condemn the resulting fever. Is rioting and looting bad? I would say so. Is unfair policing, segregation, failing school systems, etc. bad? Definitely. The problem is that at times like this we look to these rioters and say, “Oh look at all these bad folks” when we are all complicit with the underlying system creating an environment where rioting is a natural urge (notice I said natural, which does not imply goodness).

    Joe: The real disease this country is dealing from is the lack of respect and accountability.
    You claim the actions of those people are caused by something greater. How about we all take responsibility for what we do and stop pleading innocent? I promise if you teach your child to respect an officer, love everyone regardless of belief, and discipline them, they will be free from this “fever.”

    Will: Respect and accountability goes both ways and starts at the top. Why do black communities have to be more moral than the folks oppressing them? I mean, I guess if you don’t believe there is any oppression than you can make this respect and accountability argument, but then I really have nothing more to say.

    Joe: That’s so childish. What you’re saying is because someone did something bad to me, I have every right to do bad to others. I am no stranger to racial hate. But I don’t hate or commit crimes because of other peoples ignorance. I would be in no way justified. I know I couldve thrown a fit for all the racist things people have told me, but I choose to mirror a greater love that would benefit our society more then hurting others. Instead of resorting to the ways of an undisciplined child. That goes for my family too. I’m not trying to say I’m amazing or anything close. I was just taught by a very smart and God fearing father. Im also not implying that my experiences match up to others dealing with segregation. I’m sure mine are nothing compared to others.

    Will: I think you are confusing what I am saying as an endorsement. The ability to understand rage does not necessarily justify it.

    But what should we be addressing? The riots which are a symptom of undisciplined rage or the systems and environments which generate the rage? People act shocked and dismayed about riots and looting but completely ignore what causes these actions. Sure, you could say lack of discipline and lack of respect, but that would be a shallow understanding.

    You took the higher road. That is admirable. But many have not been empowered by a strong family or a supportive community to have the moral fortitude to withstand abuse and oppression without expressing rage.

    Joe: You seem to not understand that by accepting these actions, you are indeed endorsing it. You are accepting this behavior. I too can understand why they act the way they do, but I do not accept it. The mentality you speak of is what is making our country weak. That’s my point. Until we put value in respecting authority and taking responsibility for our own actions, this won’t ever change. So stop excusing the behavior.

    Now, the two sides make a lot of different points (and fairly well, given the medium). I don’t fully endorse either side here. But I do want to focus on is one single point:

    Blaming the system doesn’t get a result

    Blaming the system is a recipe for paralysis and dysfunction, politically speaking, because it removes cause-and-effect from the understanding. Why? Because it is actually very hard to prove that “the system did it”, statistically speaking. Unless there is a specific policy that has a direct and provable effect, the claim that “the system did it” is scarcely more meaningful than “the Tooth Fairy did it.”

    What that claim does do is to provide a self-justification for teenagers who show up at Mondawmin Mall to start fires, steal stuff, and attack people.

    The protesters don’t want that. The police don’t want that. But hey — “The System!”

    That claim is a massive cop-out, and it actually gets in the way of justice being done. And by justice, I do mean holding the police accountable for corruption in their ranks.


  5. D. G. Hart
    Posted April 27, 2015 at 9:37 pm | Permalink
    vd, t, Turkey didn’t exist in 1915.

    Then what’s the problem in acknowledging the genocide, O Sophistic One?

    You serve ’em up like Ray Washburn, we hit ’em out like Dick Allen.


  6. @Jeff
    You raise a lot of good points here. I don’t think “societal sin” makes much sense theologically outside of a theocracy. But in the context of what is happening in Baltimore, it seems to me that social structures are at least as important as individual choices and perhaps more so. I’m not an economic determinist, but I think we underestimate the importance of such structures at our peril.

    Maybe looking at how this applies in a less controversial arena is helpful… Obesity in the west has skyrocketed and the negative health consequences (e.g., rising rates of diabetes among kids) are clear. Some would say that we are just more gluttonous today than we were 50 years ago. If we as individuals would just eat less and exercise more, our collective BMIs would drop. This is certainly true to an extent, but it doesn’t have much explanatory power – do we really have less will power today than we did 50 years ago?

    If we look at the price of food, we see that in the 1940s we spent about a quarter of income on food, in the 1970’s it was under 20%, and now it is less than 10% (have of that is eating out – if you only ate in, that number would be more like 5%). The relative cost of food is negligible today. If the cost of food doubled so that it cost about as much to eat today as it did in the 1970’s, we would see our collective BMI plummet (a happy meal would cost about $8, a “value meal” would be about $12, hamburger would be almost $10/lb, a bag of Doritos would be $8, etc…). So while it is possible to have essentially unlimited calories available and not get fat, the reality is that most of us lack the will power to just say no. Telling people that our social policies (e.g., food subsidies and ag tech) are making them fat, may not help an individual lose weight and in fact may be counterproductive. But it has the virtue of being true. Recognizing the role social policy plays can be important for informing policy that would be more effective at slimming waistlines over the longterm (assuming this is something we should care to do… but that’s not the point).

    Turning back to the riots. Pointing out that the system creates an environment where riots such as what we see in Baltimore are inevitable may be a recipe for fatalism for some. It may also be true and necessary to recognize if we want to reform the system in a way that makes such riots less likely. One need not assert that society is sinning to recognize that the incarceration of 1/3 of black men, that only 5% of people in prison had a jury trial, or that prosecutors being unaccountable for anything other than convictions is not good (I find Stuntz particularly convincing on these points). This isn’t to say that recognizing structural problems points to obvious solutions with no tradeoffs, but I’m not sure insisting that fallen people just be better people is so productive either.


  7. Jeff,
    Perhaps you’re relying too much on your model and that the model is too faulty to handle the obvious. And this is a problem many of us have, we speak as if our models of thought are unassailable. And that is hard for us to recognize when we have learned important lessons from our models of thought.


  8. Meanwhile on Twitter a prof from The King’s College chimes in
    Anthony Bradley (@drantbradley)
    4/28/15, 6:17 AM
    Calling people to wisdom isn’t “respectability.” Don’t ever be surprised when the systemically marginalized reach boiling points. #Baltimore


  9. Jeff, ding. As opposed to its members, holding The System accountable is as impossible as The System repenting and being made a baptized and communicant member of the church. But that never seems to faze the resident social justice-gospeler, neither that the silly doctrine gets in the way of actual and serious repairs.


  10. Muddy,

    I wonder if Anthony has spent as much time in the ‘hood as David Simon:

    Yes, there is a lot to be argued, debated, addressed. And this moment, as inevitable as it has sometimes seemed, can still, in the end, prove transformational, if not redemptive for our city. Changes are necessary and voices need to be heard. All of that is true and all of that is still possible, despite what is now loose in the streets.

    But now — in this moment — the anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease. There was real power and potential in the peaceful protests that spoke in Mr. Gray’s name initially, and there was real unity at his homegoing today. But this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory and a dimunition of the absolute moral lesson that underlies his unnecessary death.

    If you can’t seek redress and demand reform without a brick in your hand, you risk losing this moment for all of us in Baltimore. Turn around. Go home. Please.


  11. I’m a man with a simple mind, DGH. Did I just hear someone say “amen?” But to anyone who imputes high motives to the thugs and looters, “what the hell is wrong with you?” What’s justice got to do got to do with it? But the idea that actions inevitably proceed from the realm of systematic ideas is widely held in Reformed circles as well so maybe this is a big kumbaya opportunity.


  12. D. G. Hart
    Posted April 28, 2015 at 6:11 am | Permalink
    vd, t, but Giraldi is Roman Catholic. Francis is Roman Catholic. You’re Roman Catholic.

    Dick Allen isn’t.

    This doesn’t even make any sense, Butch.


  13. Curt glibly quotes Chomsky like scripture when he should be loading his hand-scrawled ‘Flaming Fundamentalist’ sign in the Prius and heading for Baltimore to get that mess sorted out. Don’t worry, Curt — they’ll love you. And your car will be fine.


  14. @ sdb: But in the context of what is happening in Baltimore, it seems to me that social structures are at least as important as individual choices and perhaps more so.

    Right, I actually am a fan of trying to understand how structure and social forces shape outcomes.

    The problem I have is when Curt speaks as if from on high. Analysis of social forces is extremely inexact — so much so that some historians reject it entirely in favor of Black Swan or Great Man kinds of analysis. Structural analysis is not nearly exact enough to start tagging things with “sin.”


  15. Comrade Weakly & Jeff,
    Actually, I didn’t quote Chomsky, I just said something that people could easily attribute to him. But have you noticed some of the responses. They are personal comments, negative ones at that, rather than a discussion of the issues.

    BTW, if you want to know what is happening in Baltimore, then read a variety of sources. Here, the perspective of the Police must be listened to as much as the perspective of the Black community. One such example of the latter can be found in the link below:


  16. Curt, Coates’ logic is hardly logical:

    Now tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switch-blade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. Within a week, he was dead. What specifically was the crime, here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead?

    So violence and rioting are answers to the question of police brutality? Does Coates wonder why police carry guns as part of their official duties but citizens don’t need to?

    Maybe Coates needs to come up with different answers.


  17. D.G.,
    Should I list the articles mentioning where police have planted stuff on the people they arrest? Or the fact that he was not placed in a seat belt after being placed in the van? Or were you so focused on Gray that you missed the consistency of Coates’ logic. For when Coates states that those calling for an end to protester violence must also call for an end to police abuse, he cites over 100 cases where victims of police abuse have been awarded settlements by juries. Other documentation shows that those awards total almost $6 million dollars since 2011. In addition, there were other individuals Coates mentioned and yet you only mention Gray and highlight the possession of a switchblade.

    Coates is citing and calling for an end to a general practice of police abuse. And to not call for that while asking protesters not to engage in violence is his complaint. The Freddy Gray incident was merely a tipping point for frustrations about police violence and other problems.

    So how is it that Coates’ logic fails here?


  18. A different kind of selectivity:

    Let us pray and fast for this pope, that he may one day be moved to put half as much energy into exhorting the peoples of the world to live a life of due reverence for He who redeemed and now rules the world, Christ the King.


  19. Why bishops need historians:

    Pope Francis angered the Turkish government earlier this month when he described massacres of Armenians during World War I as the “first genocide of the twentieth century.” Although there is strong consensus among historians that the word appropriately describes the destruction of Ottoman Armenians during those years, Turkey still refuses to acknowledge the genocide as such. President Barack Obama, despite his 2008 campaign promise to call the genocide by its name, is once again avoiding the word in his statement marking the event’s centennial. A century on, the term “genocide” remains remarkably politicized for both Turkey and Armenia, distracting from what is arguably one of the most important and tragic human stories of the last century.

    The anniversary of the genocide is an occasion to recognize what it was, and what it was not. Though Francis meant well with his comments, placing them—as he did—in the context of ISIS’s persecution of Christians in the Middle East was misleading. Worse was a Boston Globe columnist recently characterizing the perpetrators as “jihadists.” This misunderstands the events of that period and risks perpetuating a simplistic clash-of-civilizations worldview that casts diverse groups of people into monolithic blocs and frames conflicts as fundamentally based on identity. The Young Turks’ attempt to annihilate the Christian Armenians of Anatolia was not a faith-driven genocide by radical Islamists. Nor, as many still view it, was it purely an outburst of ethnic hatred by Ottoman Turks against the Armenian minority. Though it involved these inter-communal tensions, the genocide was a process closely tied to the creation of modern nation-states.


  20. Genocide can even help you not to notice Kim’s large backside:

    ON April 9, Armenia’s prime minister, Hovik Abrahamyan, welcomed an unusual visitor to his office. His guest might have blended in with the locals were it not for the film crew and bodyguards around her. But she was not just any Armenian, she was the world’s most famous person of Armenian origin: Kim Kardashian.

    Ms. Kardashian, the reality-television star, flanked by her sister Khloé and two cousins, managed to look demure and even deferential, peering up at the prime minister and his colleagues across a conference table. Afterward, Mr. Abrahamyan hailed the Kardashian family’s contribution to international recognition of the Armenian genocide of 1915, a tragedy in which two-thirds of the Armenian population of Ottoman Turkey was deported or massacred by the Ottoman government.

    The head of the Armenian lobby in Washington, Aram Hamparian, approvingly told Yahoo that the Kardashians “were welcomed home as heroes.” The head of Armenia’s Parliament, Galust Sahakyan, told reporters, “We should be proud.”

    The Kardashian grand tour, which will be featured in a coming episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” came just two weeks before with the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, which is commemorated on April 24, the date in 1915 when the ethnic cleansing began.

    The visit has already gotten Armenia more attention in the international press than it has had in many years. But the Kardashians were not always so beloved by their compatriots; when they first entered the public eye, Armenians around the world expressed feelings ranging from shame to horror. Armenian culture is deeply conservative, even prudish, so there could be no less likely hero for this tiny nation and its diaspora than a woman who is perhaps best known for her outlandish personal life and erotically charged public image. But now, with the genocide centennial approaching, as an Armenian friend of mine succinctly explained it on Facebook this week, “Nothing else matters.”


  21. It seems unfair that majority Muslim countries cannot make “honest,” “civilized” war like us Westerners. Muslim nations, when they make war, are always on jihad – see “conservative” commentary on Saladin, the Barbary Pirates, and, it seems, the Armenian genocide.

    The Crusades I, II, III +, however, were politically, economically, and culturally motivated. The use of crosses, crucifixes, and Deus Volt! was simply incidental. We’ll take the high road in our wars, thankyouverymuch.

    I call shenanigans.


  22. Muddy, shazamater! I didn’t see Erdogan coming out of that. I thought for sure it was about the threat of Islam to the secular republic. If the Mass is a mystery, Turkey is close.


  23. GoofyBubba,

    I’ve watched some of this Wire that our most gracious and merciful host, as well as Mr. President (H/T: Todd) are fond of.

    It’s got redeeming quality, granted, but it ain’t no star trek (don’t tell Darryl I said that).

    They, are, after all, just TV shows. I wonder what Mark Jones likes, other than re-watching all the taylor swift music videos, every night before he goes to sleep, of course (wink). But I digress..

    Who’s the next commenter at this blog, yo? Does he/she golf?


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