The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (the OIC) bills itself as “the collective voice of the Muslim world.” Founded in 1972 as the “Organisation of the Islamic Conference” and adopting its current name in 2011, the OIC joins 57 Member States in what is billed as the second-biggest intergovernmental organization after the United Nations. The OIC’s declared mission is —
‘… to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony among various people of the world…. The Organization has the singular honor to galvanize the Ummah [i.e., all Muslims as a community] into a unified body and have actively represented the Muslims by espousing all causes close to the hearts of over 1.5 billion Muslims of the world. The Organization has consultative and cooperative relations with the UN and other inter-governmental organizations to protect the vital interests of the Muslims and to work for the settlement of conflicts and disputes involving Member States. In safeguarding the true values of Islam and the Muslims, the organization has taken various steps to remove misperceptions and has strongly advocated elimination of discrimination against Muslims in all forms and manifestations.’
Despite intra-Islamic conflicts – notably the Sunni-Shiite divide led by Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively – the OIC is vocal in promoting a unified Muslim perspective on issues where there is a broad consensus. For example, the OIC recently issued a strong statement denouncing U.S. President Donald Trump’s declaration that the United States considers Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital. The OIC’s information chief also took a position on the internal affairs of traditionally Christian European countries, to the effect that mass Muslim migration – what Srdja Trifkovic has called the Third Muslim Invasion – is really doing Europe a big favor. No, it’s no bother at all – we’ll just help ourselves!
Whatever one thinks of the OIC’s activities and perspectives on various issues, one should nonetheless commend Muslim countries for their activism. Keep in mind, the OIC is an official organization of governments in the Islamic world, not of religious, academic, or NGO activists, though the latter contribute to the OIC’s mission. Again, give credit where credit is due.
But where is the comparable activism by the governments of Christian countries? There is certainly an ample empirical basis for a Christian version of the OIC. Consider:
- There are almost two and half billion Christians in the world. The number of Muslims is about 1.8 billion. Granted, the reality behind such numbers largely reflects formal identification rather than active belief and worship, but the social importance of even pro forma self-description or communal tradition should not be dismissed.
- Approximately 120 sovereign states have a Christian majority. This compares to about 50 countries with a Muslim majority.
- There are four countries formally called Islamic republics (Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, and Pakistan), plus approximately 20 others where Islam’s leading status is defined in law. For example, Article 2 of the Constitution of Oman states that “The religion of the State is Islam and Islamic Sharia is the basis for legislation”; Article 1 of the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia states that the kingdom “is a sovereign Arab Islamic state with Islam as its religion,” with the Sunni Wahhabist sect in practice given preeminence over the minority Shia. By contrast, because of Christianity’s inherent distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar, it would be hard to envision comparable “Christian states,” though the Holy See (the Vatican) is a Christian theocracy. Nor is there a Christian counterpart to Sharia as a religious basis for civil law. Nonetheless there are approximately 30 states where Christianity, or a particular Christian church, is singled out for a unique legal status or described as the traditional or leading faith. These include the Church of England, the Lutheran churches in Scandinavia, the Orthodox churches of Greece and Georgia, and the Roman Catholic Church in Argentina (Constitution, Article 2: “The Federal Government supports the Roman Catholic Apostolic religion.”), Costa Rica, Panama, Malta, Monaco, Liechtenstein, and others. For example, the Lateran Treaties regulating relations with the Vatican are affirmed in the Italian Constitution (Article 7). The Constitution of Georgia states (Article 9(1)) that “State shall recognise the outstanding role of the Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Georgia in the history of Georgia and its independence from the State.” Several other states grant de facto primacy to a church without formal legal sanction, with the primacy accorded the Russian Orthodox Church a notable example. Finally there are many secular countries where Christian morality and heritage are central to national identity and state policy. Even the United States once prided itself on calling itself a Christian nation, in substance if not in law, in the words of many prominent statesmen well into the 20th century.
- The flags of about 20 countries include specifically Islamic symbols, either the crescent moon or the shahada statement of faith (notably on the flag of Saudi Arabia). About 30 national flags carry a depiction of the Christian cross, with an additional dozen or so if naval ensigns are counted (for example the Saint Andrew’s cross on the flags of the Russian and Belgian fleets, and the Saint George’s cross on the ensigns of India, South Africa, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Trinidad and Tobago, and others whose civil flags do not display a cross).
What would be the purpose of a Christian version of the OIC? (For purposes of discussion, let’s call it the “Organisation of Christian Cooperation,” or the OCC.) Let’s take a leaf from the OIC and paraphrase: the mission of the OCC would be to –
“… protect the vital interests of Christians and to work for the settlement of conflicts and disputes involving Member States. In safeguarding the true values of Christianity and Christians, the OCC will take various steps to remove misperceptions and strongly advocate elimination of discrimination against Christians in all forms and manifestations.”
That would be a pretty good start, wouldn’t it? We could perhaps begin inside some of the nominally Christian countries, like the United Kingdom, where a spokesman for the government of Prime Minister Theresa May recently refused to confirm that publicly affirming the divinity of Jesus Christ could not land a person in jail for “hate speech.” The notion that simple expression of Christian belief and adherence to Christian moral principles, notably in the area of sexuality, constitutes hate has become a global phenomenon. No other religion’s believers are routinely defamed in this way.
Of course, as with the OIC a prospective OCC could and should be vocal on international issues. Starting in the 1990s, it began to be apparent even in polite, secular company that persecution of Christians was rampant in some countries, and that indeed more Christians died for their faith in the 20th century alone than in all the 19 centuries preceding it. To come to grips with anti-Christian persecution, the U.S. Congress enacted the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, which in implementation unfortunately soon veered towards promoting generic “religious liberty” and away from countering actual persecution – chiefly of Christians at the hands of communist regimes (mainly in the past) and Muslim militants (now). Perhaps Christian persecution would be a good topic for an Organisation of Christian Cooperation to raise with the OIC, asking it as an intergovernmental organization to take forceful action to “remove misperceptions” that Islam is intolerant by insisting that all persecution of and discrimination against Christians by Muslims cease! After all, even the Administration of President Barack Obama, who proudly declared that the U.S. was no longer “just” a Christian nation, was eventually shamed into declaring that the Islamic State was committing genocide against Christians in Iraq and Syria (though Secretary of State John Kerry took care to put Yezidis first, and then added Shia Muslims and others to avoid any appearance of caring about Christians in particular). In “safeguarding the true values of Islam and the Muslims” the OIC rarely has taken note of maltreatment of Christians. If an OCC comes into being, it must vigorously champion persecuted Christians.
Another example where Member States of a future OCC could make a positive contribution is help with postwar reconstruction in Syria, including the rebuilding of churches. The Russian government has pledged its assistance with the participation of the Orthodox Church and religious organizations. Why shouldn’t other Christian countries pitch in – not just in generic reconstruction aid but specifically to help maintain Christians in the region where Christianity was born? This kind of effort would be relevant not only in Syria but across the Middle East.
Which countries might be candidates to join a hypothetical Organisation of Christian Cooperation? Again, let’s look at the OIC, the membership of which mainly consists of countries with a Muslim majority but also includes eight countries where Muslims are a minority: Ivory Coast, Gabon, Guyana, Mozambique, Nigeria, Suriname, Togo, and Uganda. Russia and Thailand, which are majority Christian and Buddhist respectively but have significant Muslim minorities, are OIC Observers. Thus a future OCC should not only welcome all majority Christian countries – including some that may also belong to the OIC – but others where Christians are numerically or socially significant. For example, while South Korea is only about one-third Christian, Christians form a solid majority of that country’s citizens participating in organized religious activities. About thirty countries in sub-Saharan Africa would be obvious OCC Member State candidates, as would virtually all of Latin America. China and India, where Christian minorities outnumber the total populations of many majority-Christian countries, should certainly be welcomed as Members or Observers. Paradoxically, the main reluctance is likely to be found among such historically Christian countries as Britain, France, Germany, the Low Countries, Scandinavia, and – alas! – the U.S. and Canada, where the forces of militant secularism have become increasingly intolerant of any indication of Christian public identity among officialdom.
That leaves the question of which states might take the initiative in forming an Organisation of Christian Cooperation. The Vatican would be an obvious key player but might not want to take the lead to avoid perceptions that the OCC might become a mechanism for Roman Catholic influence. The same could be said for Russia, whose leadership could be taken to be a front for Russia’s narrow state interests. But it should be noted that both the Holy See and the Kremlin have indicated their willingness to partner in defense of Europe’s historic Christian identity and social mores. What is notable is that this is state-to-state discourse, not just religious dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches.
Perhaps the most promising current trend is the revival of national traditions that incorporate Christian consciousness in Central Europe. For example, Poland’s new Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has declared: “My dream is to make [Europe] Christian again, since unfortunately, in many places, people no longer sing Christmas carols, the churches are empty and are turning into museums, and this is very sad.” Likewise, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (a Protestant in a majority Roman Catholic country) has spoken out boldly and eloquently in defense of the Christian character of his own country but of Europe as a whole, as well as of Christians persecuted in the Middle East:
‘A great many times over the course of our history we Hungarians have had to fight to remain Christian and Hungarian. For centuries we fought on our homeland’s southern borders, defending the whole of Christian Europe, while in the twentieth century we were the victims of the communist dictatorship’s persecution of Christians. … For us, therefore, it is today a cruel, absurd joke of fate for us to be once again living our lives as members of a community under siege. For wherever we may live around the world – whether we’re Roman Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians or Copts – we are members of a common body, and of a single, diverse and large community. Our mission is to preserve and protect this community. … Today it is a fact that Christianity is the world’s most persecuted religion. It is a fact that 215 million Christians in 108 countries around the world are suffering some form of persecution. It is a fact that four out of every five people oppressed due to their religion are Christians. It is a fact that in Iraq in 2015 a Christian was killed every five minutes because of their religious belief. It is a fact that we see little coverage of these events in the international press, and it is also a fact that one needs a magnifying glass to find political statements condemning the persecution of Christians. But the world’s attention needs to be drawn to the crimes that have been committed against Christians in recent years. The world should understand that in fact today’s persecutions of Christians foreshadow global processes. The world should understand that the forced expulsion of Christian communities and the tragedies of families and children living in some parts of the Middle East and Africa have a wider significance: in fact they threaten our European values. The world should understand that what is at stake today is nothing less than the future of the European way of life, and of our identity.’
As the neo-liberal international order (symbolized by twin EU and NATO bureaucratic centers in Brussels) continue their decline, a revival of the national – and dare we hope, Christian? – spirit may be possible even in Europe. Such a revival could be an important impetus to creating an Organisation of Christian Cooperation, and in turn an OCC could help encourage that revival. This is not to minimize historic animosities even among Christians. The Polish-Russian and Croatian-Serbian enmities come readily to mind. But if Iranians and Saudis can come together when the practical needs of Muslims per se require it, can Christians do any less? Does Christianity’s Founder, Who commanded His followers to love one another, expect any less from us? Perhaps an OCC could itself become a catalyst for reconciliation among Christians as much as a voice within the global community.
We can maybe even dare to hope that the United States is not quite lost. After all, Barack Hussein Obama is out, Donald John Trump is in. He’s even told Americans it’s alright to say “Merry Christmas!” again. If an Organisation of Christian Cooperation were to be formed, Melania Trump would make a great honorary patroness!