Defenders of the Church. BreakPoint This Week with Charles Colson, A Conversation with A. M. Rosenthal and Kristin Wright
|Following is a transcript of "BreakPoint This Week with Chuck Colson." You can also purchase a CD of this broadcast.
Charles Colson: "Am I my brother's keeper?" asked the world's first murderer. He asked that question as a way to avoid responsibility, pretending that he knew nothing about his brother whom, in fact, he had just killed.
As it turned out, he was his brother's keeper, and we are our brothers' and our sisters' keepers as well. And in a complex world where Christians are regularly persecuted, God has used a Jewish journalist to remind us of that truth. Find out more in this "BreakPoint This Week" special broadcast. Journalistic Champion Charles Colson: Last July, I was one of a number of Christian and Jewish leaders who sent a letter to President Bush nominating A. M. "Abe" Rosenthal for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the president can bestow on an American civilian. Abe Rosenthal grew up in the immigrant neighborhoods of the Bronx in New York City. After college, Rosenthal landed a job as a reporter for the New York Times and distinguished himself as a foreign correspondent. He later became the Time's managing editor during the sixties and seventies when Vietnam, civil rights, and Watergate dominated the news.
In 1997, Rosenthal discovered the surprising fact that, throughout most of the world, Christians are not persecutors, but the persecuted. As World magazine reported, "In the year Mr. Rosenthal calls 'one of the most awakening years in my lifetime of newspapering,' persecuted Christians found unexpected, regular exposure in one of the country's highest-circulation newspapers by a Jew from the Bronx willing to go to the mat for them." In recognition of his great work and the honor received from the president, Wilberforce Forum, along with Freedom House and the American Jewish Committee, hosted a reception for Abe Rosenthal. There, he was able to talk with "BreakPoint" managing editor Jim Tonkowich.
Jim Tonkowich: Mr. Rosenthal, you've been a journalistic champion of human rights since, by one account, 1964 in the case of Catherine Genovese. Could you tell us about that news story and what impact it had on you?
A. M. Rosenthal: I've just come to realize that that was probably the beginning. I had come back from ten years abroad for the New York Times in various countries. I was city editor of the New York Times at that time. And the commissioner of the police of New York told me a story and asked me whether I was interested in it or not. And I said something to the effect of, "If that checks out, the world will remember this story." It was about a woman called Catherine Genovese who lived in Queens in New York City. I had never met her. She was walking home one night, and a man came up behind her and stabbed her in the back-just like that. He liked to stab people, women particularly. And she screamed, and she screamed, and she screamed. She did not die. He stabbed her again. He walked away. She screamed-he came back and killed her. What was startling about the story was, not only the death of a young woman walking the street, but something that did grasp the world was that thirty-eight people who lived in the building . . . heard her scream. Some of them even saw her, opened their windows and saw her on the ground, and they did nothing about it. "Nothing" was the story. Thirty-eight people in the city of New York did nothing to help a woman who was being stabbed to death in their sight and within their hearing. They did nothing. That "nothing" when it was written about in the New York Times-we assigned a reporter to it-stunned the world. Because why?-you have to answer that yourself. To this day, books, plays, etc., have been written about it. I've kept writing about it. Courses in divinity school and in colleges [addressed the question]: Why didn't they do anything? There was no risk left to them. What was this apathy that grasped them? Was it just fear? Fear of what? There was nobody there who was going to [harm them]. Maybe they thought the guy was going to come back. Maybe they didn't. But they never gave that answer in their interview. What they said was: "We didn't want to get involved." And as a foreign correspondent, I have seen a lot of dead people in Calcutta and elsewhere lying in the street with nobody to help them. I didn't help them. I walked by and didn't know whether they were living or dying or whatever. I walked by-sometimes, not always. Then I came back, and I devoted a great deal of my time and thinking to wondering: When is it a sin to walk past a dying person? What number does God have? Is it one, is it two? Suppose you know a million people are dying or being tortured in countries far away. You know it-you know that they are-some in China and throughout Africa and other places. They're being tortured, and we know it. There's more evidence than we could ever use. And we don't do anything-because why? Because these people are not within our eyesight. Is that what God is saying: If you can't see them, it's okay to walk away from them? Or is He saying, if you can't hear them? Suppose you can hear them, but not see them. Or they're around the corner. When is apathy a sin?
JT: At some point you began reporting and commenting on religious freedom, particularly the persecution of Christians. Could you tell us about that?
AMR: Yes, I can. I picked up the telephone one day. The telephone was ringing in my office, and against all common sense, I picked it up. The man at the other end said, "You're Rosenthal?" in a gruff voice. And I said to myself, "Oh my gosh, why did I pick up the phone?"
I said, "Yes, I'm Rosenthal." He said, "My name is Michael Horowitz." I'd never heard of him. And he said, "You write a lot about human rights, don't you?" I had been for those years. I said, "Yes." He said, "Except you always boycott one human right." I said, "What do you mean? I don't boycott anything." He said, "Yes, you do. You write about freedom of the press. And you write about human rights, of [freedom of] assembly, and the human rights of every other kind," of everything, certainly most of all, of the press. "But there's one thing you never write about at all." And I said, "What's that?" I was getting pretty irritated at this accusation of boycott. He said, "You never write about religious human rights." Well, he had me there, I must say, because I realized that for several years I wrote about human rights, but not religious human rights. And I didn't know why. But I did know that this man, Horowitz, was right. And he said, "The biggest story in the world right now, Mr. Rosenthal, is the persecution of Christians around the world." I said, "Really?" And he said, "Yes. Look it up." And I did, and I found to my astonishment that it was true: The one religion that was suffering most at that time-and, I think, now-is the Christian religion. It is suffering in China, suffering in every communist country. It is suffering in many of the Muslim countries and just suffering in other countries.
And there are other people suffering, I've discovered: the Tibetans, who are Buddhists, some of the people of Iran, some of the Copts of Egypt. All over, there are people suffering for their religion. And I had thought-I guess I didn't think about it much after the war [World War II]-that religious suffering is over. And then I realized that both as a journalist, I had to cover this thing, or I wasn't doing my job, and as a Jew, I wasn't doing my human duty. As a matter of fact, I think that none of the religions have done enough to go to the rescue of the Christians persecuted. I think the Jews haven't done enough; other religions haven't done enough. And, I must tell you, I don't think Christianity has done enough. I don't think that American Christians [have done enough]-not all of them. One of the great things is that many of them are getting involved. And it makes me very happy.
But it's also true that when I go up to people every time I'm in a place where there's a minister or a priest, or somebody's house, I'd turn to them and say, "Well, tell me, what are you doing to end or alleviate the suffering of Christians?" Very often they say, "What do you mean?" I say, "What do you mean, 'What do I mean?' You must know. If you don't know by now, it's only because you don't want to know. And as a minister, you must know." So I make myself very unpopular. People don't like to talk about it.
Because I keep writing about it, I find myself in touch with people who read me. And I get lots and lots and lots of e-mail-hundreds of them-and letters. And I found out that the thing that really moves me is that all over this country, there are groups of Christians-Christians and others, but I'm emphasizing the Christians-that, because they are doing their duty, they are organizing, they are getting together in not only their churches, but in unions, and so on. And getting their mail and answering it, being prodded to write a little bit more than I am about various countries-it lifts my soul.
JT: You have said to an audience, "Once awake, don't fall asleep again." And my own observation is that it is easy to fall asleep again, and we would just as soon fall asleep. We don't want to talk about this.
AMR: That is correct.
JT: How do we stay awake?
AMR: We stay awake by waking up other people and screaming in their ear the way Michael Horowitz did for me. He shook me, all right. And I try to shake people-I don't yell at them, but I certainly write in a direct way about not just the Christians, but all religions that are not helping other religions in trouble. I do a lot of [writing] . . . about the Tibetans, who are being slaughtered, who were conquered simply because they are different. They believe in Buddha . . . and the Chinese did not. That was not the only reason they were after them. [The Chinese] wanted their territory. So I try to keep awake by shouting myself awake.
A Young Activist
Charles Colson: Thank you, Abe and Jim. And by the way, Abe, congratulations on a richly deserved honor. Our first "BreakPoint This Week" interview was with Dr. Norbert Vollertsen, a German physician who was an eyewitness to evil as he observed the brutality of the regime of Kim Jong Il in North Korea. Much of that brutality is directed against Christians. Kristin Wright, a recent high school graduate, listened to our broadcast and decided she had to act on behalf of persecuted Christians.
Kristin was homeschooled and through her parents was exposed at an early age to the problems of Christian persecution. When she was just eleven she began writing letters to government officials in various countries pleading for better treatment of Christians. When she heard our interview with Dr. Vollertsen, she was working as a Web designer and decided to use her computer skills on behalf of her suffering brothers and sisters around the world. So she began Stand Today with the goal of raising a million volunteers to stand with persecuted believers everywhere.
BreakPoint Radio managing editor Jim Tonkowich spoke with Kristin on the phone.
Jim Tonkowich: Kristin, what was it about Norbert Vollertsen's account of the conditions in North Korea that most struck you?
Kristin Wright: I was very moved by the fact that here's this man that has seen so much suffering and horror-people living in horrible conditions. And here he's trying to get the word out, and he goes to all these governments, organizations, the press, and many, many people. He discovers that the real key to getting the word out is the American Church. That was definitely the part that most profoundly affected me, because I realized this is the key. If the American Church gets involved, if we endeavor to spread the word about persecution of Christians, then no one can stop us. No one can come against this power of Christians standing together.So I was very profoundly affected, and I knew that I wanted to get involved in helping persecuted Christians in this way: in raising awareness in the American Church and getting them involved.
JT: Now how did you get involved in issues of Christian persecution, and why is that so important to you?
KW: I was homeschooled growing up, actually. And I found out early in my life that Christians around the world are not treated so well as Christians are in the United States. We are so very fortunate. I read lots of books and newsletters that dealt with the subject of Christians being tortured, Christians being separated from their families, being killed for their faith. So I was deeply concerned from the start, from a very early age, about these Christians, about girls my age, kids, parents. And so, being homeschooled, I had this opportunity to pursue this interest that I had in helping the persecuted Church. I started writing letters to government officials on behalf of persecuted Christians when I was, perhaps, eleven or twelve. I wrote a letter to President Clinton on behalf of the persecuted Christians in China and just tried to raise awareness in whatever small ways I could at that age.
More recently, however-years later, actually-I had started to feel God moving me toward advocacy work. It really came to a climax when I read the transcript for the first time of the BreakPoint interview with Dr. Norbert Vollertsen. It made such an impact on me, and I realized this is my part. This is the role that I can play: I can speak out to American Christians on behalf of persecuted Christians, and say, "Please get involved. Please help these people. Let's all stand together."
JT: And what did you do then?
KW: I started my own organization. It's called Stand Today. It was based on the idea that Christians in America should be aware of the persecution that their Christian brothers and sisters are facing. They should not just know what's happening, but they should also know what to do. They should have a course of action to take against persecution. Our website is really our greatest tool in bringing about action on behalf of the persecuted Church. We created a very excellent website.
When someone volunteers on our website, http://www.standtoday.org/, then they are automatically signed up to receive e-mail updates on how they can help persecuted Christians . . . what they can do to stand up against oppression in these other countries. In some cases, we would suggest sending e-mails of protest to a particular oppressive government directly from the Stand Today website. We offer pre-written, frequently updated e-mails on the site so you can send them in virtually a matter of seconds. And we can send a great many of them, depending on the number of volunteers that we ask to do this.
Or perhaps we suggest making phone calls to a particular country's embassy to bring up persecuted Christians in that country and say, "Please, treat Christians better here." We tell you what issues to bring up on these phone conversations, what to say. So we provide a lot of information on the site, and we tell people how they can help.
So we have these grassroots advocacy efforts that we launched-very exciting things. But on the other side of this is making your church aware. This is one of our strongest goals at Stand Today: to get the American Church to join with the persecuted Church, to stand together. Right now we're looking for one million volunteers to sign up on the Stand Today website to join with this effort, to take a stand for persecuted Christians.
JT: Do you have resources for the Church, or is that something coming up?
KW: We have a great deal of resources already on the site, and it's continually growing. The website is constantly updated. We try to offer more and more as we get an idea for, perhaps, a flyer that you can pass around to your friends encouraging them to get on the site, or other ideas. We just put more and more on the website.
JT: Do you have any success stories that you can share with us?
KW: I do. A very good friend of mine, actually, was very inspired after looking at the website and so excited about the work with persecuted Christians that she said, "You know, what I'm going to do is tell my whole college group." She thought about sending out her own flyers to talk about the website. And she shared the whole thing with her college group to get other Christian kids involved, which I thought was very exciting. And that is really the sort of effort that we're looking for with everyone: to use their own creativity.
Of course, we offer many suggestions. But we want to get people started. We want to get them thinking about ways in which they can share about the persecuted Church in their own communities.
JT: Are there any areas of the world that are especially of concern at this point?
KW: The two main concerns are North Korea and Sudan. These are two very different places of the world where genocide is happening, where people are being tortured and killed simply for the crime of being a Christian. In North Korea today, there are modern-day concentration camps. And so many people are shocked when they hear this. I think the knowledge needs to get out. More people need to understand that this is happening before we can do anything about it. So certainly a key part of what we want to do here at Stand Today is to raise the awareness.
In Sudan there are mothers being separated from their children, children being sold into slavery-horrific, horrific things. And so we all need to work together. We need to inform the churches here in America. We need to speak out on behalf of these countries.
JT: What do you do to sustain yourself in the effort, to keep going? This is not cheery material that you are dealing with.
KW: It's a tough job in some cases. I have been very blessed to have some very good friends who have encouraged me. My parents have been very encouraging to me in this effort, as well as some other very good friends who have helped keep me strong in this, because it is discouraging in a lot of cases. But we're not going to give up at this point-not ever. We can't end our efforts until the persecution ends.
JT: Part of that is understanding there really is only one Church.
KW: Yes. I think that sometimes we come up with this rather common misconception that there are two separate Churches-that there is the persecuted Church in other countries like Sudan, and then there's the free Church here in the United States. But nothing could be further from the truth. No, there's only one Church: the very Body of Christ in the world.
I think it goes even deeper than that. It goes to one family. And so we are His witnesses, whether we live in Saudi Arabia or China or the United States. Just think of the powerful faith that binds us together. And so, are these suffering believers in North Korea any less our family than anyone else? Because they live in a concentration camp instead of a comfortable home in the United States? Of course not.
And so consider, as Christians: Should we not be the first to take a stand against injustice? I think we should be the first to say, "Count me in. I stand against this evil. I stand against this evil empire. I will tell everyone I know until these injustices cease, until Christians are released from prison and concentration camps." As the Church here in America, I think we need to wake up, and we need to see the power that we possess-this power to affect change and transform lives, not just transform people's hearts, but really alter their very existence. We can be the difference between a concentration camp and people being able to worship freely in their own country.
This is real Christianity. This is where the rubber meets the road, I think. Will we stand with our own people? Will we find the courage not just to face evil, but also to stand against it? And so if we do take the steps, if we all stand together on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters, I think there will be an outcry such as the world has never heard before-an outcry against injustice. And I think we are definitely capable of making this noise. So that is the chief opportunity we want to see with Stand Today.
Charles Colson: Thank you, Jim. Thank you, Kristin.
How quickly we forget that there is only one Church. When Christians in Saudi Arabia or North Korea or Sudan or China suffer at the hands of the government, you and I are under attack. The Bible tells us that "when one suffers, all suffer," for we are one body. Abe Rosenthal, a Jew, is right to call American Christians to account. We have neglected our family by ignoring the plight of suffering believers throughout the world. We've been asleep. We need to wake up and make enough noise to stay awake. Communications technology and globalization has allowed us to see the problem, and communications technology and globalization gives us the power to demand and monitor change. Kristin Wright is a wonderful example of how you don't have to wait to become managing editor of the New York Times to make a difference. Kristin has taken her programming skills and has place them at God's disposal. Now her website, http://www.standtoday.org/, is a place you and I can go to take action. There's news about persecuted Christians and everything you need to contact the leaders of the offending countries urging better treatment for Christians and expanded religious liberty.