It is only just beginning to come to light that one of the most powerful forces for global good can be the formal and informal networks of faith-based and religious organizations. These are the people that are, in the words of CBC correspondent Brian Stewart, on the front lines. But what about the danger of increasingly partisan co-religious advocacy, the kind of perception bias and reality that make religious freedom detractors nervous, that such advocacy can become "primarily dedicated to protecting and promoting Christianity overseas." There is a peril to faith-based humanitarianism, argues Ziya Meral, precisely for these partisan reasons, which endangers the important, and often dangerous work, these groups do. It is a perception bias, and a reality check, that these faith-based activists need to take very seriously.
In many ways, it is neither wrong nor entirely mystifying why one religious group would draw attention to the abuses or suffering of their co-religionists. Christian groups draw attention to the suffering of other Christians in part because they are often more naturally familiar with these groups, as a result of global networks, but also because there is an implicit self-identification with the victimized. These too are Christians, or Muslims, or Jews, just like us, just like me. Academics cry foul at the persecution of scholars, feminists at the degradation of women, and so forth. Few things seem more natural.
However, in international advocacy this myopic partisan lobbying can, at times, prove a major liability. Meral argues that Christian advocacy in particular has grown a great deal in the past decade for persecuted Christians, and while this is important and laudable, it weighs the risk of unintentionally ignoring the suffering of other religious groups. Christian persecution in Iran, for example, can eclipse that of the Baha’is who suffer terrible persecutions. Maybe most importantly, it eclipses the persecution of reform minded minorities within the majority religion.
The priority of the protection of minority religious perspectives within a majority religious community is made plain by the blight of blasphemy and apostasy laws that continue to plague so much of the Islamic world. Rival interpretations of Islam can, and have, serve as a force multiplier for humanitarian sentiments, which can not only forestall persecutions in political communities sustained by Islamic traditions, but begin to produce the fruit of protections and tolerances. The long term security of Christian minorities in Islamic countries may, in fact, begin with the protection of Muslims, with renewed interpretations of political Islam, and combating the blasphemy and apostasy laws that make this impossible. To protect religious minorities of all kinds, certain democratic virtues and sentiments must be funded out of—not in spite of – Islam. But for that creative work of political theology to happen, Muslims must be free to interpret, reinterpret, and debate.
Meral writes elsewhere, "only Muslims can reform their own religious traditions", or as Chris Seiple says, "only good theology beats bad theology." Political theologies cannot be handed down, but the conditions for renewed humanitarian hermeneutics can be sustained, not only by political actors, but also religious ones. That, in the long run, is probably a more sustainable, certainly a more generous, strategy for the range of faith-based humanitarianism.