Coptic Bishop on Western Media and ISIS: Beheading 21 Christians ‘A Turning Point’

By Lauretta Brown | March 19, 2015 | 3:25pm EDT

( – Bishop Anba Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Egypt for the UK, called last month’s beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) a “turning point for the news” and “a turning point for the world.”

Bishop Anba Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Egypt for the UK. (AP)

“Recently,  21 Christians who had gone to Libya to support their families as you all know were captured and beheaded brutally,” said Bishop Angaelos at a panel, “Sensitivity Rather Than Sensationalism: Western Media Coverage of Human Rights and Religious Issues in the Middle East,” on Wednesday at the National Press Club.

“This was a turning point for the news,” he said.  “This was a turning point for the world. This showed that even evil had a red line that people didn’t want it to cross and then there was a reaction.”

“These 21 unknown men from a small village had suddenly impacted tens of millions of people around the world because of the way they lost their lives and the witness they had presented because of the clarity of this reporting, the sincerity of it, the credibility of it -- the Coptic community felt empowered. It felt that it was supported,” he said.

Bishop Angaelos cited this coverage as a positive example of the Western media’s reporting of  Christian persecution but also cited examples where coverage had been lacking.

“When you had the attacks on churches in August 2013, unprecedented, 50 churches, 50 places of Christian ministry attacked within a very small space of 48 hours – again, it took the world two weeks to report on that,” he said.

21 Egyptian Christians, in orange suits, moments before they were beheaded with knives by members of the Islamic State. (Photo: IS video)

“The media must always reflect humanity in the situation which it finds itself,” he said.  “It must remember that human beings are not just numbers and statistics. Unfortunately, we’ve all been numbed.”

“We turn on our televisions and we hear that only 10 people died today in Iraq -- it must have been a good day and it’s tragic, that’s horrible,” said the bishop.  “But each one of those 10 lives is a life that has touched 10 families and communities and countries.”

“We need to stay away from labeling communities and groups, generalizing,” he said.  “We must report atrocities as atrocities and not be selective because of who they may fall upon or which interests they may serve. We must not merely seek the lowest common denominator or the simplest model to present because sometimes often what happens is far from simple and it needs a more critical and informed eye.”

Bishop Angaelos specializes in advocacy and human rights initiatives. Following the beheading of the 21 Coptic Christians he told CNN that he forgave ISIS, which has changed its name and now calls itself simply the Islamic State.

“We don't forgive the act because the act is heinous,” he said. “But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.”

The Coptic Orthodox Church is the largest Christian church in Egypt and the Middle East, and belongs to the Oriental Orthodox churches, which grew out of a 5th century schism over the theological definition of Christ’s nature – Christology. 

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