EDITORIAL: Obama’s Christian problem

Washington DC, USA - The Obama administration has been obsessed with Muslim outreach and recently tried to mend fences with the Jewish community. Given the state of the world, however, the White House ought to be focused on helping the world’s oppressed Christians.

The United States has been wary to intervene in matters affecting Christians in the Middle East for fear of validating terrorist narratives that the West is engaged in a new crusade against Islam. The result of this passive policy has been to allow Islamic extremists increasingly to dominate the debate, often with tragic consequences.

On Sunday in Egypt, a clash between Coptic Christians and the military left at least 25 dead. Copts are the largest religious minority in Egypt, representing about 10 percent of the population. Attacks on the Copts have increased since former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. That the military was involved in this incident was a signal that matters are taking a turn for the worse. The White House issued a lukewarm condemnation noting that President Obama is “deeply concerned about the violence in Egypt” and that “as the Egyptian people shape their future, the United States continues to believe that the rights of minorities - including Copts - must be respected.” In other words, the U.S. government will do nothing about the massacre of Christians.

Smaller Christian communities face even greater challenges. The world awaits definitive news about Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who faced execution for apostasy after converting to Christianity from Islam. Sayed Mussa, an Afghan Red Cross worker who converted to Christianity, faced the death penalty. He was freed earlier this year after his case gained international attention but went immediately into hiding due to the public climate of hostility.

According to the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report, the last Christian church in Afghanistan has been destroyed. The 500 to 8,000 Afghan Christians who wish to worship publicly can attend services at military bases, Provincial Reconstruction Team facilities and the Italian embassy, but there are obvious risks involved. State’s report says, “the U.S. government regularly discusses religious freedom with [Afghan] government officials as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.” Considering all the aid America has given Afghanistan over the last decade, the State Department should do more than just talk.

Domestically, Mr. Obama faces a skeptical Christian majority going into the 2012 election. According to Gallup, the president is lauded by the Islamic-American community, with 80 percent approval, but Muslims are a fraction of a percent of the population and an insignificant electoral base. Among major Christian groups, Catholics gave 50 percent approval, Protestants (representing over half the U.S. population) 37 percent, and Mormons 25 percent.

Those who are more devout give Mr. Obama lower marks than those for whom religion is unimportant. According to the most recent Gallup data, Mr. Obama has 43 percent approval of those who attend church “seldom or never,” which is 2 points above that survey’s national average. Among those who attend church weekly, his approval rate is 34 percent, seven points below average. It’s no mystery why America’s Christian faithful have little faith in Mr. Obama.