"The situation in Darfur is the worst humanitarian disaster the world faces today." Gordon Brown in his speech to the UN, July 31, 2007
Really? Well, you could have fooled me. I guess the ones we initiate don't count. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for doing something to stop the horror in Darfur. I'm not saying the situation there doesn't need to be addressed just because there's a massive humanitarian catastrophe happening in Iraq. But the Bush administration has been hauling out the Darfur crisis for years now, exploiting a fictional concern for Africa as political camouflage.**
It's disheartening to hear Brown, for all his declared intent to be the Unpoodle, mouthing blather so agreeable to Washington, but this rant isn't really about Brown or Bush. It's about churches. Specifically, it's about the heavy involvement of affluent churches here in the Bible Belt in the Not On Our Watch campaign for Darfur. West Nashville--largely rich and white--is sprouting the green and white Save Darfur signs like crazy. They pockmark the pricey landscaping all over the 'hood, and a number of the churches have big banners on their front lawns. It has obviously become quite the fashionable cause among the well-heeled Christians in town, especially those of a mainstream liberal bent.
Good works are good works, I suppose, and I ought to be glad to see that crowd putting their attention on something so obviously worthy--but the whole business just makes me want to scream. Go cruising around that site in the last link and you'll read lots of righteous snippets about everything from capital punishment to fair trade coffee--but if there's anything there about the ongoing atrocity we're overseeing in Iraq, I couldn't find it.
Isn't it astonishing that institutions which profess such devotion to principles of peace and justice, and which don't hesitate to lobby on behalf of Darfur, could turn away from a much larger crime in which every citizen of the United States is implicated? I'm sure that many, probably most, of the people in the "Save Darfur" churches are vigorously opposed to the war in Iraq. So why aren't there any banners exhorting us to end the war and help Iraqi refugees?
Husband Dave is an elder in a liberal Presbyterian denomination (not a "Save Darfur" church, but the same cohort), and the two of us periodically tie it up over what I call the cowardice and hypocrisy of such churches. The debate never gets very far because: a) Dave is too civilized to fight about it--I am the brawler in this house; and b) I think he has yet to come up with a decent rebuttal. Maybe because there isn't one.
It wouldn't matter if the Jesus contingent wasn't so powerful in this part of the country--but they are tremendously powerful in mobilizing people on issues across the political spectrum. People in the red states like to have the divine stamp of approval on their opinions. (I'm not saying I like that fact, but it isn't going to change any time soon.) It's true that the right-wing Christians push their agenda through more often, but that's largely because they're willing to scream louder. The liberal churches could put their God cred to use in the same way, but for some reason they won't. If they had had the guts to come out in full voice against the war years ago, it would have made a difference. It would make a difference now.
**It has used its anti-AIDS program in just the same cynical way. For a quick overview of what's wrong with the US AIDS intitiative in Africa, see this report from Africa Action. If you feel like wading through some more, check out PEPFARwatch.org. See this article by Alex de Waal in The Nation for a very good rundown on Darfur.