A Balanced View of Morocco

Jun 17, 2010, 14:31 ET from National Clergy Council

WASHINGTON, June 17 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following are redacted remarks made by Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council (NCC), at a news conference held today, June 17, 2010, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Rev. Schenck was joined by fellow NCC executive committee members, the Reverend Dr. Kenneth Barney and the Reverend Dr. Harry Thomas.

I am Reverend Rob Schenck president of the National Clergy Council here in Washington, DC, an ordained minister of 28 years affiliated with the Evangelical Church Alliance. The Council represents church leaders from all denominations, Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox and Protestant.  We are here to present views of Morocco from the vantage point of religious engagement. Over the last six years dozens of Christian leaders have participated in a meaningful, ongoing dialogue with representatives of Morocco's religious and civic communities, as well as its government. These discussions took place in Morocco and in the United States. They have always been frank and unrestricted.

In a world where religious, ethnic and political tensions are building to explosive levels, Morocco remains an island of peace. Why? Partly because of the natural disposition of its people; a magnificent blend of Berber, European and Arab blood. The Moroccan practice of hospitality is legendary. And there is Morocco's unique practice of Islam.

Like Christianity, Islam has many expressions. Islam in Morocco is a blend of several streams. It is not the severe, distorted, political Islam of extremists and jihadists. It is the diametric opposite.

The Malakite, Suni , in some ways, Sufi-informed Islam of Morocco is peace-centered and non-political. It is extraordinarily accommodating of other religions, particularly Christianity and Judaism.

Since the time I became a Christian, 37 years ago, it has been a generally known fact that Christians are safe in Morocco.

To be sure, there have always been sensitivities and tensions—and episodic breakdowns of trust.  As is true in countries such as Israel and Greece, there are laws against coerced proselytism in Morocco.  Still, (in Morocco) mature individuals are free to embrace whatever religion they desire.

We can argue over whether there ought to be laws that prohibit proselytism, but that's not why we're here. We're here to deal with the realities of present day Morocco. Notwithstanding laws that may or may not be correctly applied, there remain hundreds—if not thousands of foreign Christians in Morocco without interruption. They have built trusting relationships with Moroccans; relationships that should not be placed in doubt by actions taken in this country.

Now, here is a very delicate matter. Even when laws have been incorrectly applied, or false accusations made, the consequences do not begin to rise to what they are in other parts of the world. Foreigners accused of violating the laws against proselytism are required to return to their countries of origin. That's a far cry from nations where individuals are held in prisons, beaten, tortured and killed.

In talking with indigenous Christians in Morocco, I was told harassment most often goes no further than a compulsory interview with police over a cup of tea.

Part of successful Christian endeavor is to identify with, understand and work within the customs, traditions and values of others. The Commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself," requires we understand and affirm the feelings, sensibilities and social customs of other people.

Christians, especially my fellow Evangelicals, are not always good at that. In many instances the Moroccans have been more understanding and indulgent of us, than we have been of them.

I believe Morocco deserves commendation for their historic generosity toward foreign Christian(s). Recent events threaten to obscure that strong record.

Based on our many meetings, hours of conversation, meals shared together, exchange of families between our two countries, and formal and informal investigations, the National Clergy Council has determined there is no evidence in Morocco of animus toward foreign Christians; nor is there generalized religious persecution. In fact, to call recent events persecution is to diminish the anguished suffering of Christian foreigners in many other countries.

There are political realities in Morocco—and certain, high-profile foreign Christians have, regrettably, found themselves in the middle with considerable consequences.

My prayer is that in good times and bad, American Christians and Moroccan Muslims come to appreciate more about each other. This has served our two civilizations well for 233 years.

Contact: Greg Cox of National Clergy Council at 618-407-8908, greg@cnpcweb.com

SOURCE National Clergy Council