His Brother’s Keeper

    Thirty-eight years ago, on a sunny New York day, a woman screamed and screamed as a man raped her and stabbed her thirty times. Her name was Catherine Genovese, and her murder stunned the world -- not only because it was so brutal, but also because thirty-eight people witnessed the attack -- and did nothing. The event made a deep impression on a young New York Times editor named Abe Rosenthal -- and led, forty years later, to his passionate defense of the rights of persecuted Christians around the world. The brutal Genovese murder got Rosenthal wondering: How responsible is each of us for the suffering around us? How far away must hurting people be before they are no longer our responsibility? One street away? A continent away? Out of our hearing range? His reaction to the murder led to a lifetime of writing about those who suffer -- especially those who are persecuted under oppressive regimes. It was his passion for human rights that made him listen when he got a call one day from a stranger, Michael Horowitz, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington. Horowitz bluntly told Rosenthal he was missing the biggest story on the planet: the worldwide persecution of Christian believers. Rosenthal was thunderstruck, but was willing to look into it. It was the beginning of five years of columns about religious persecution -- about Sudanese believers who are sold into slavery by Muslims; of Pakistani Christians whose churches are burned down by angry mobs; of Chinese pastors whose fingernails are pulled out because they preach the Gospel. Rosenthal also went after those who collaborate with people who torture, enslave, and kill Christians: American businessmen, whose cash register ethics lead them to care more about making an overseas buck than protecting the rights of religious minorities. A year ago, twenty-four political and religious leaders -- myself included -- wrote to President Bush, asking him to honor Rosenthal's efforts. "Rosenthal's work," we wrote, "legitimated much of today's increasing coverage of anti-religious persecution against . . . Christians throughout the world. Until he spoke, the notion of Christians as victims rather than victimizers didn't seem plausible to many editors and reporters." If not for Rosenthal, we said, "the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 would not have become law." Last week, President Bush gave Rosenthal America's highest civilian honor -- the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- for his work on behalf of the persecuted Church worldwide. As the president put it, "Rosenthal's calling is journalism; his passion is human rights. His outspoken defense of the persecuted Christians in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East have truly made him his brother's keeper." The passionate defense of the persecuted Church by this Jewish journalist has also struck shame in the hearts of many Christians -- Christians who, like those New York apartment dwellers forty years ago, prefer to look the other way when people are being persecuted -- even when those who suffer are fellow Christians. One cannot read the Bible without being struck by God's passionate concern for "the least among us." And Rosenthal is a reminder that we are all responsible for those who suffer -- one block, one city, one continent away. Like Rosenthal, we all need to be listening for the screams of those who suffer and be moved to respond. For further information: John Fischer, Fearless Faith: Living Beyond the Walls of "Safe" Christianity (Harvest House, 2001). Paul Marshall and Lela Gilbert, Their Blood Cries Out: The Untold Story of Persecution against Christians in the Modern World (Word Books, 1997). "President Honors Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom," remarks by President George W. Bush, 9 July 2002. See BreakPoint's list of organizations that combat religious persecution and links to their websites


Chuck Colson


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