Where Complaints About Christian Persecution Fall Flat

Today is International Blasphemy Rights Day. Eight years ago today, a Danish newspaper published a dozen cartoons mocking Mohammed. 200 people died in the resulting protests in the Muslim world.

Fellow Patheos blogger Rebecca Hamilton writes often about international Christian persecution (her latest: “Christian Persecution: What Can We Do?”). Her outrage perplexes me, but let me return to that in a moment.

Persecution in the West

In the West, Hamilton admits, Christians aren’t being killed. Still, she says that they are being censored, mocked, reviled, harassed, silenced, marginalized, and forced to violate their faith.

She doesn’t make clear the insults that she’s talking about, so I can only guess. But let me be clear: I’m a strong supporter of free speech. Where a Christian can’t speak freely, neither can I. Where she shows me Christians denied the right to free speech, we’re on the same side. (But where Christians are being denied the “right” to impose their beliefs on others, I have no sympathy.)

Lord Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, put claims of Christian persecution in the West in perspective:

I am always very uneasy when people sometimes in [Britain] or the United States talk about persecution of Christians. … I think we are made to feel uncomfortable at times. … But that kind of level of not being taken very seriously or being made fun of; I mean for goodness sake, grow up. …

Don’t confuse it with the systematic brutality and often murderous hostility which means that every morning you get up wondering if you and your children are going to make it through the day. That is different, it’s real. It’s not quite what we’re facing in Western society.

Third World persecution

Let’s return to Hamilton and her post about Christian persecution. She says:

According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, one hundred thousand Christians have died for their faith each year in the last decade.

No, that’s not quite what it says.

“Dying for your faith” brings to mind for me a pastor, calmly speaking his Christian truth, being attacked and beaten to death. Yes, this would fit, but it’s much broader than that. In fact, by their definition of martyrdom, anyone simply living as a Christian—whether or not they ever evangelized or even made public their Christianity—who was killed by “human hostility” counts as a martyr. This can be Christians dying in a Soviet prison camp or Nazi death camp, or killed during a war. They don’t have to be killed because they were Christians, they just have to be Christians and killed.

Hamilton goes on to marvel at this number, and, yes, it is huge. So huge, in fact, that I wonder where it comes from. Have I not been paying attention?

The number turns out to be almost exclusively from a ten-year period of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A decent fraction of the 5.4 million people killed were Christians. Do a little math, and you get 100,000 per year.

The problem

Hamilton looks at this tragedy and is shocked and outraged at the deaths of one million Christians. But why is this the takeaway? Why not be shocked and outraged at the deaths of 5.4 million people?

I can only interpret her message to be, “A million of my people were killed! We must take action! (Yes, millions of non-Christians were killed as well, but I’m not much concerned about them right now.)”

Following her lead, I should be uninterested in this million Christians. They’re not my people, after all. I guess she’s pushing me to care only about atheists killed?

I’m confident that Hamilton would reject this interpretation. I don’t for a moment think that she cares nothing of the non-Christians killed. But then why does she write only about tragedies befalling Christians when the tragedies befalling people are much greater? I’m not a Christian, but I do fit in the category of “people.” Broadened in this way, her message would target everyone, not just Christians.

Take action!

And what action does she recommend? Prayer. No, I’m not kidding. Pope Francis recently encouraged Christians to pray for persecuted Christians, and that’s where she’s putting her money.

While prayer may help lift your burden of worry about tragedy around the world, I’ve seen no evidence that it will actually improve things on the ground. Isn’t that what you’re concerned about? In this instance, bearing that worry (instead of relieving it through prayer) might keep the pressure on us to find solutions in the here and now.

Christians think the entire world was created solely for them
in the same way that the Eiffel Tower was built solely to hold up a flag.
— Avicenna

Photo credit: Maksim

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