Friday afternoon, Senator John McCain applauded Ted Cruz for supporting Israel Wednesday night at a summit on Christianity being driven out in Iraq and Syria.
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) September 12, 2014
He joins a lot of the immediate reaction to an incident at the In Defense of Christians summit this past week in Washington. Having been there that night and for a good part of the next day, I have to agree with Coptic Bishop Angaelos, who’s said the gathering has been misrepresented.
First things first: Ted Cruz should not have been heckled in a room full of Christians. And, as someone rattled by that, I was grateful that clergy and laity addressed that matter the next day, in addition to their repeated clear denunciations of hatred and bigotry.
Second, Ted Cruz is absolutely right to say that if you hate Jews, that’s not of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Nazarene.
Third, I can attest with certainty that no one at the conference is perfect.
That said: It wasn’t clear to many in the ballroom why Ted Cruz chose to bring up Israel so quickly in a speech about the end of Christianity in the cradle of civilization (the theme of the conference as some had put it). You can, in fact, defend the human rights of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East (Jews among them) and have prudential disagreements about foreign policy. And when the room included Arab Christians, who live or have lived in the midst of a conflict most of us have the luxury of arguing about in freedom, it seemed like it should have been a speech for another convention.
I didn’t hear people grumbling about Israel – and certainly not Jews or anyone else — during the event, even after Cruz’s appearance. Some of the booing was a reaction to what was perceived by many as a politician using a good cause to drive his political agenda.
“Were we talking about Jews? Were we talking about Israel?” That’s how one speaker Thursday afternoon expressed some of the confusion in the ballroom the night before, which had led to a kind of whiplash on Thursday, as media buzzed about a supposed gathering of bigots full of hate.
Many inside the ballroom felt they had been condemned even before they knew what was going on.
Cruz had been invited as keynote speaker at the gathering’s sold-out dinner in the main ballroom at the Omni Shoreham in D.C. The gathering was an effort to rally Americans to the plight of Christians in Iraq and Syria.
They expected him to do as they had been doing: Talk about urgent need to keep the Islamic State and others from wiping out Christianity in the land where it has been for two millennia.
This an existential threat, not just something else to buzz about on Twitter.
The In Defense of Christians summit was aiming to do hard work, getting people focused on this genocide. It brought five patriarchs from Eastern churches together (they even managed to get a meeting with President Obama), who were welcomed by the Archdiocese of Washington. Cardinal Donald Wuerl was there for the opening prayer service and closing Mass at a Maronite church in the District.
This wasn’t a foreign-policy conference, it has a very specific and critically urgent goal. From inside the ballroom Wednesday night, Cruz’s remarks were widely agreed to be unnecessarily off-topic and divisive, sabotaging the good work that was in progress. Christians are dying and we’re throwing political slogans at one another and making judgments.
In both the literature put out by the conference and throughout talks Thursday, it was clear that in defending Christians, leaders of this movement were seeking to defend the rights of all – explicitly naming Jews and Muslims and people of no faith, among others, in addition to the Christians in the group’s name.
Speakers Wednesday evening and Thursday morning were humble yet firm in response: It is not Christian to hate people. We must defend Christians because they are our brothers and sisters and because they have human rights, the rights of every one of us, made in the image and likeness of God.
A key goal of the summit was to bolster resolve here in the U.S., focusing people on the looming elimination of Christianity over in the Middle East. As best I could tell from that ballroom Wednesday night, they booed Ted Cruz because, instead of using his platform to help nameless, foreign, forgotten Christians targeted by Islamic extremists, he added yet another distraction to the mix.
Having spent a bit of time there in the end, I have more thoughts on this all and I address some of them in my syndicated column appearing on NRO Monday. But since Senator McCain tweeted and the controversy isn’t dying down, I wanted to share a little from the room that night and the day after.