Jesus consistently taught his followers to expand their circle of empathy.
Central to the ethic of Jesus is expanding the center. Any teacher who talks in terms of “hating your mother” and “loving your enemy” is attempting to radicalize our notions of who matters.
It doesn’t come naturally to care about those of another religion, another race, on another continent in another country. And yet people of good faith attempt to do so.
This is part of the reason that this good news I’m writing about is so good. On two fronts, progress has been made that could have lasting impact on vulnerable people outside of an American’s typical concern.
First, on Aug. 2, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom recognized the seventh anniversary of the Yazidi Genocide.
USCIRF commemorated the many Yazidis who lost their lives to atrocities committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) since 2014; and in a hearing on genocide presented evidence of the progress made holding the perpetrators accountable.
Second, in mid-July, the United States Senate passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.
The legislation, if passed in the House, creates a “rebuttable presumption” assuming goods manufactured in Xinjiang are made with forced labor. Passed by unanimous consent, the bipartisan measure shifts the burden of proof to importers.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about my trip to Tbilisi and the tragic effort of those in the Islamic State to wipe out an entire population.
I’m still crestfallen when I recall a meeting with Yazidi leadership who were seeking help putting their lives back together after a genocide of thousands, and the ongoing capture of up to 3,000 women and girls.
In March, I wrote about the summer decades ago where I first met the Uyghur people when traveling with a group of university students to Xinjiang, China.
In the late 80s, there was much talk about two cultures living in harmony with one government. It appears now that the Chinese government has decided the only way to live in harmony is to lock up one million of its citizens for “re-education” in concentration camps.
This has rightly been declared a genocide – in that an entire population is at risk because of their ethnicity.
In the midst of the darkness of both of these recent large-scale atrocities, it is heartening to see some streams of light.
My objective here is to share some of that light, and to encourage you both to celebrate it and then reflect that light as you call on Congress to do its work.
Jonathan Agar, in a July 28 USCIRF hearing on the prevention of genocide, made this hopeful statement: “The challenges in successfully prosecuting ISIL crimes as international crimes are numerous and significant but the tools, both in terms of legal frameworks and technological capacity, are now in place for us to address them effectively.”
Agar is the legal officer of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by ISIL (the Islamic State). He helps lead a team of some 200 partners who are gathering evidence for the prosecution and imprisonment of those who committed genocide or crimes against humanity.
No sane human being believes that the crimes committed by the Islamic State should go unpunished.
The good news is that through the multilateral efforts of U.N.-led investigations, there is real momentum in capturing those guilty and ensuring some measure of justice.
Per genocide, this is about as good a news as you can come by. We may never get a Nuremberg, but we might get a bunch of wannabe-Hitlers spending their days in prison.
I recognize that there is an orchestrated effort in the U.S. to undermine the credibility of the U.N. That’s not always a difficult effort, for the U.N. is a very human, messy and political (in the bad sense of that word) organization.
But there is no way we will reach a more just, equitable world without engagement in, and the work of the U.N. and its many agencies.
Yet, it’s also true that we can’t solely depend on the multilateral process of the U.N. to deal with the world’s atrocities. We will never get the appropriate condemnation of China’s crimes out of the Security Council where China has a veto.
This fact makes the Senate’s recent act all the more important. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, if taken up by the House, will be a real blow to both the forced labor happening in Xinjiang and to the efforts of China to sweep this under the rug.
And it seems the international momentum is growing.
France has just opened up an investigation of four fashion retailers for concealing crimes against humanity in China. The companies deny this, of course and as I have mentioned before, seemingly “good actor” companies like Apple are fighting these efforts to hold corporations accountable.
The violence done to this Muslim group Uyghurs is hard to fathom. This is why it’s essential that we all ensure our representatives hear from us.
If you’ve gotten this far into this article, then clearly you are concerned about the essential need of all human beings to be free from violence, but especially that provoked in the name of, or against the practice of, religion.
Let’s follow in the footsteps of Jesus by caring about those outside our inner circle and then let’s ensure our elected officials know they must act for the good of our common humanity.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. Each article expresses only the opinion and perspective of the author and not any other columnist in the series. The other articles are:
Religious Minorities’ Plight Too Often Overlooked | Shane McNary
Remembering the Realities of Faith Freedom for All | Jaziah Masters
To Be Anti-Zionist Is Not to Be Anti-Jewish | Vinoth Ramachandra
More than Words, Observances Must Accompany Declarations | Imad Enchassi
For three decades, Stearman has served as a pastor in the Christian (Baptist) tradition. His experience includes congregations in Athens, Greece and Paris, France. Most recently, he has been a pastor in New York City where he represents the Baptist global body at the United Nations (supported by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance). He is active in helping to lead NGO committees related to human rights and the freedom of religion and belief, has been active in civil societies advocacy at the High Level Political Forum around the UN’s Agenda 2030 (SDGs), and is a trustee on the board of the Parliament of World Religions.