McGregor, an ancestor of John Kerry is labelled the Irish Moses, as US monitors persecution of Christians

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It’s amazing what the Economist picks up… the half forgotten and much missed tradition of Presbyterian liberalism, forced to emigrate to the States and often confused there with the Irish Catholic variety. Could they have possibly read Turgon?

DOES the Obama administration care about religious liberty round the world? In some ways, it has no choice but to care. American administrations are mandated by law to study the performance of all governments in this sensitive area, and to denounce and possibly penalise violators. But it is a matter of degrees and priorities. In almost all parts of the world where faiths are being persecuted (Egypt, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar) other bad things are happening too and there are other threats to American interests. So governments have to decide how much weight, if any, to give to matters of religion and its free exercise.

Until very recently, sceptics (not all them conservatives) were very scathing about the current administration’s level of interest. The fate of Christian communities in northern Iraq (pictured above), recently uprooted from places they have lived since the dawn of their faith, did not seem to be of great concern; and in the State Department’s analysis of Nigeria, for example, Christian-Muslim tensions appeared to be underplayed

This week the Department did two things to allay those criticisms. First it issued an annual report on religious freedom round the world, which stated plainly, that the Christian presence in much of the Middle East was being “reduced to a shadow of its former self”. It also added Turkmenistan to a list of nations that America sees as egregious violators of religious liberty, or “countries of particular concern”. Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan were already on the list.

The report lamented that “In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in living memory. In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs.”

Launching the report, John Kerry said that three-quarters of the world’s population lived in places where religious freedom was not respected. The secretary of state singled out North Korea for its “absolute and brutal repression of religious activity” and deplored the fact that this month, a pastor in China had been sentenced to 12 years in jail. Mr Kerry acknowledged that “We have a long way to go when governments kill, detain or torture people on the basis of religious belief.”

It so happens that as Mr Kerry was speaking, one of his direct forebears was being honoured at a plaque-unveiling ceremony in the small Ulster town of Aghadowey, for his fight for religious freedom. James MacGregor, sometimes known as the “Moses of the Scots-Irish”, was a Presbyterian minister who in 1718 brought his entire parish to the New World and established the town of Londonderry, New Hampshire. He hoped that his parishioners would fare better in the New World than they had under Anglican domination in Ireland. Perhaps the blood of his ancestor is beginning to stir in Mr Kerry’s veins.

But what are those roots? The Boston Globe has traced  Kerry not to Ulster but to Jewish ancestry in what is now the Czech republic.

According to legend, an ancestor called  Fritz  Kohn  dropped a pencil on a European map, where it landed on County Kerry in Ireland, and so he changed his name to Kerry and changed his religion to Catholic. Fritz wrote on an application that he wanted to change his name because “it is so typically Jewish” and he believed “that the name will hinder his career in the military. So fat the connection with Aghadowey remains obscure.

Kerry has been accused of faking Irish ancestry for political purposes. But wait! A genealogical trace down to  GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GREAT-GRANDPARENTS finds his 246th closest relative was  Rev. David McGregor, minister of the West Parish, Londonderry, N. H., b. Londonderry, Ireland, 6 Nov. 1710, d. Londonderry, N. H., … 1777 

Well done, Economist researcher!  Just think if that ancestor with the pencil had known about  the real Irish link the secretary of state might have been  called  John Derry  – or maybe Londonderry?

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  • SeaanUiNeill

    Brian, about “the half forgotten and much missed tradition of Presbyterian liberalism, forced to emigrate to the States”, have you come across Dr Benjamin Bathurst’s work on these “liberals”? I’ve posted a citation and a description of his research over on Turgon’s post. Not quite the ancestors I’d want to claim……..

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Brian

    “…much missed tradition of Presbyterian liberalism”

    On a related note, did you know that Gore Vidal’s maternal ancestors were of Donegal Protestant extraction?

    (I feel like that old fella in ‘Goodness Gracious Me'; “Gore Vidal; Indian!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfpqfwt_cLg
    )