Andrew Doran is executive director of In Defense of Christians (IDC), an organization that made news headlines last week when Texas senator Ted Cruz’s keynote speech at a conference held by the group took some unexpected turns. Doran, a former State Department official, talks with National Review Online about the Cruz incident but more so about the meeting of Arab Christians last week in Washington, D.C., why it was important, what came of it, and what might be to come.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: We have to start with the elephant in the room: What happened with Ted Cruz the other night?
Andrew Doran: It’s unfortunate that Senator Cruz was booed. But what’s more unfortunate is that he chose to make a summit of and for Middle Eastern Christians about something other than a summit about Middle Eastern Christians. The summit to that point, from the National Press Club to Capitol Hill, had been replete with positive references to “our Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters.” When Mr. Cruz mentioned solidarity with Jews at the beginning of the speech, he was applauded. (This was omitted from the video footage circulating but may be found here.) But what is more unfortunate is that he chose to politicize a highly complicated and volatile subject while Christians are being systematically eradicated. The sense of nearly every person in the room, no matter what their background or affiliation, was that it was designed to bait the audience; sadly, some attendees took the bait. Many of those present had come out of the Middle East at great personal risk to their flocks and families. Any statesman (or decent human being) would’ve appreciated this. A true statesman would meet with religious leaders and hear what they had to say. As Bishop Angaelos said on Fox News after the summit, Cruz seemed to lack empathy for those in the room whose loved ones suffer persecution.
Over the last several years, I’ve had many conversations with Christians from the Middle East about Israel and their views land anywhere on a broad spectrum of opinion. Some are sympathetic but can’t say so because to do so would put their lives at risk; it should be sufficient to say that minorities tend to be sympathetic to other minorities. Others remember being forced to leave their villages in Palestine never to return. And still others are proud citizens of Israel. So there must be more options for Middle Eastern Christians than outspoken support for Israel and anti-Semitism. The Middle East is complicated and nuanced, whether politicians want it that way or not. That’s why serious statesmen are measured in their remarks: When they’re not, it puts lives at risk.
Lopez: What had been your goal for the night?
Doran: Cruz’s talk was supposed to have been, “Religious Freedom and Human Dignity: Religious Persecution of Christians, Unity with the Persecuted Church.” Obviously, he went off script. Our goal for the summit was to achieve a sense of unity among the many hundreds of Middle Eastern Christians who attended. In an unexpected way, Cruz helped the summit to achieve this, but it would’ve been better had he not spoken — especially for those who had to return to the Middle East. Still, the outpouring from our Middle Eastern Christian brothers and sisters has been overwhelmingly positive. The summit was historic and a huge success from start to finish.
Lopez: How were you hoping Cruz would factor into that?
Doran: We were hoping that he would discuss the plight of Christians and how America ought to stand with them. Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church had, I think, the best response:
Having spoken at this IDC Summit on the plight of Christians in the Middle East, and particularly in Iraq and Syria, I take personal exception to sweeping statements made about those in attendance as exercising “bigotry and hatred…against Jews and Israel”. In light of the current very real challenges, this is not a time for such divisive and inflammatory language that demonizes communities and causes rifts between them when their collaboration is most needed.