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Evangelical Leader: We Must Apologize as a Nation for Prisoner Abuse

“And this would mean humbling ourselves, but that is the biblical message. God rewards those who are humble, as opposed to those who are arrogant, and the language is a simple matter of humility"
( [email protected] ) May 04, 2004 09:23 AM EDT

Two days ago, the world was shocked to see pictures of Arab detainees being humiliated and harassed by American and British soldiers in Iraq. According to reports, Iraqi detainees and prisoners were beaten, stripped of their clothes and “immorally insulted in ways that cannot be spoken of” by military personnel.

These actions have undoubtedly angered not only Muslims but also Christians around the world, and have shaken the already sensitive relationship between the Western and Arab world.

While the Americana and British government and military reprimanded the individual soldiers involved in the crimes, Christian leaders have called for a different course of action: one that calls for the humility of heart, and the acknowledgment of the deep communal fault of the Western world.

“This event was not just an insult to a small number of detainees, but was an insult to every single Arab, and every single Arab man felt the dehumanizing experience collectively. So it will do no good for us to say that a few American soldiers did wrong to a few Arab men,” said the Rev. Dr. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council. “Instead, we as Americans must say that we did wrong to all Arabs, we beg your pardon, this was a very serious indignity that was visited upon you, and we seek your forgiveness.”

The National Clergy Council, which represents many leaders of Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox and Protestant Christian traditions, has been supportive America’s war against terrorism, and has taken part in many reconciliatory visits to the Arab nation.

“We began by endorsing the military action in Iraq,” said Schenck in an interview conducted on March 3. “The reason was because of the egregious violation of human rights on the part of Hussein, and there was no remedy for that other than military intervention.”

Last March, Dr. Schenk lead a delegation of evangelical Christians to Morocco to help reconcile the hostile relationship between the two cultures.

“The visit was in the common interest of both Evangelical Christians and Muslims, and it was to begin a language of mutual respect and trust, rather than suspicion and hostility,” said Schenck.

A similar delegation is scheduled to return to Morocco, upon the request of the Moroccan government, to continue the efforts.

“What came out of it was for the very first time, Christians were asked to bring a Christian event to Morocco, first through humanitarian relief then through the first Christian music event,” said Schenck. “They even invited me to return and teach on what evangelical Christians believe.”

However, according to Schenck, the alleged torture of the Iraqi detainees may in fact harm the developments made in the past.

“This form of abuse is shameful and supremely immoral; it injures victims in particularly harmful ways and it irreparably damages the integrity of American and British culture,” said Schenck.

Also, in the eyes of the Arab world, Americans and Westerners are seen collectively as Christians.

“We may try to convince them otherwise and explain to them that we are not a Christian nation… but in the Arab world we are viewed as a Christian nation and what we do affects their views on Christians more so than on Westerners,” said Schenck.

Therefore, Schenck said, “For the Christian-Muslim relation, it is crucial that we use the language they understand.”

“And this would mean humbling ourselves, but that is the biblical message. God rewards those who are humble, as opposed to those who are arrogant, and the language is a simple matter of humility,” continued Schenck. “We simply need to say to them as a country, that our country committed a serious mistake to all Arabs.”

According to Schenck, once Americans and Christians can become humble before the Arab world with the humility of Christ, the current situation can be overturned for the better.

“I believe that there is a way for us to do this properly, and that we may even come out of this stronger than before.”