It’s easy to get weary looking at the international headlines.
Authoritarianism is on the rise in Russia and China. The former seems ready to invade Ukraine, and the latter has roughly one million of its citizens in concentration camps.
Myanmar (Burma) is in the midst of a post-junta civil war, with clear genocidal implications.
Tonga is facing a water crisis following a devastating volcanic eruption and resulting tsunami.
And, of course, there is the ongoing global pandemic and the virulent Omicron variant further straining global health systems.
However, under all these headlines there are little sprouts of green – indications that there will be something to reap if we faint not.
If you are one of those seeking to do well in this season (and thank God there are many of you), I urge you to remember the Apostle Paul’s exhortation: “Let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9).
Here are five under-reported things that are the result of the hard work of good faith people. Let us take heart, and again put our hand to the plow.
First is the successful signing into law of the “Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act” by President Biden.
This law, basically ensuring that we don’t buy things made by slave labor, had bipartisan support despite some very large corporations lobbying against it.
I wrote an article 13 months ago about the attempt to undermine this effort by corporations that we tend to think of as benign.
The fact that very monied opposition was overcome is testimony to both the dogged determination of human rights activists and to the egregious nature of what is happening in Xinjiang, China.
Second, last year a large group of international citizens formed a people’s court called the Uyghur Tribunal, based in the UK.
On Dec. 9, 2021, Sir Geoffrey Nice, a prominent British barrister (lawyer) who chaired the tribunal hearings, announced its verdict. In summary, it determined that China had carried out “a deliberate, systematic and concerted policy” to bring about “long-term reduction of Uyghur and other ethnic minority populations.”
The tribunal’s panel was made up of lawyers and academics, and its findings have no legal force on governments. But the body of evidence collected must push those with power to act.
As the abolitionist William Wilberforce said: “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”
Third, on Jan. 8, 2022, Egyptian State Security released activist Ramy Kamel.
A notable advocate for Egypt’s indigenous Coptic Christian minority, he had endured more than two years of pre-trial detention since his arrest.
Kamel was arrested on Nov. 23, 2019, one day before he planned to travel to Geneva to testify at the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues. He was accused by Egypt of collaborating with terrorists and spreading false news.
All accusations were deemed spurious by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and other human rights organizations. His release is a victory for human rights defenders in Egypt and another small sign of hope.
Fourth, in a rare show of bipartisanship, the U.S. Senate amended the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to ensure that the U.S. government ramps up its response to the tragic situation in Burma.
I wrote about this in November, and there is still hope for the passage of a more robust Burma Act.
However, the NDAA amendment demands a detailed response on several fronts. It will require senior officials from the State Department, USAID, Treasury Department and Defense Department to brief Congress on specific U.S. policy and security objectives.
It will require a study of current sanctions with the objective of determining where others are warranted. It demands a review of China and Russia’s interests in the country as well as seeking accountability for human rights violations.
Fifth, in a specific instance of what I deeply and passionately believe is a general rule, the crossing of religious, ethnic and social boundaries was vitally important in the recent hostage standoff in Texas.
When a crazed man entered the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, and took hostages, he did not know that his actions would, inadvertently, demonstrate that love, not hate, wins the day.
As Michelle Boorstein entitled her piece on the situation in The Washington Post: “Synagogue hostage standoff reveals interfaith progress – as well as entrenched hate.”
Pastors, priests, imams and rabbis helped to demonstrate a compassion that overcomes the divisions and misunderstandings of our religious silos.
Of course, the “be not weary in well-doing” part here is that we must do a better job of interfaith education because, for the last 20 years, religion has been an elemental part of all major international conflicts.
The work of local interfaith groups (as in Colleyville, Texas) and efforts of the global interfaith movement (as represented by the Parliament of the World’s Religions) provide sight to those blinded by hate.
This hate is fueled by misunderstanding. Extremism is rare in every faith tradition. Peace and compassion are taught by all religions.
If the world will be saved from hate, division and greed, then it will be saved by knowing that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was correct: the line separating good and evil passes right through every human heart.
With the proliferation of nuclear weapons and inexorable climate change, there are reasons to think it won’t be saved at all.
But I’m holding on to the hope of the Apostle: by working together and fainting not, we will sow seeds of compassion that ultimately will result in peace and prosperity for all.
Stearman directs the International Advocacy Baptist Collaborative that seeks to amplify and coordinate the advocacy work of the global Baptist family at the United Nations and in WDC. He is vice chair of the board of trustees for the Parliament of World Religions and writes regularly on the intersection of religion and international/cultural affairs. For over three decades, he served as a pastor in the Christian (Baptist) tradition. His educational background includes theological degrees from Southwestern and Princeton Seminaries and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma.