Meriam Yehya Ibrahim and The First World Problem of “Religious Persecution”

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim and The First World Problem of “Religious Persecution” June 25, 2014

Recently, a Sudanese court imposed the death penalty on 27 year old Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, who at the time was pregnant. Ibrahim, a Christian, was legally considered a Muslim though she had been raised a Christian. Ibrahim was given the opportunity to officially reject her Christian faith prior to sentencing, but refused. As a result, she was sentence to 100 lashes plus death by hanging.

Thanks to an international outcry on the part of governments, world leaders, and human rights organizations, Ibrahim had her sentence overturned and was subsequently set free– for a time.

Yesterday news reports broke that she was re-arrested while she and her family were attempting to leave the country. One could almost hear a collective gulp of shock reverberate across the entire internet, as all those who had hoped, prayed and advocated for her release began to let the news sink in. With her own brother denouncing her release and calling for vengeance to restore the family’s honor, there was simply no telling what would happen. Thankfully, within a few hours of her arrest, news broke that she had been freed from custody and would be allowed to depart Sudan for the United States, where she will have complete freedom to practice her religion without fear of death or detainment.

Meanwhile in the United States, we’re going about our daily lives panicking with cries of religious persecution as well… although, they’re not the cries one would think. Instead of a collective focus on wide-spread human rights abuses and religious persecution in places like Sudan, North Korea where an estimated 33,000 Christians have been incarcerated in prison camps, or the estimated thousands who actually die for their religious faith each year, we’re focused on a first world version of persecution that’s not really persecution at all.

When A&E temporarily made the decision to disassociate with Phil from Duck Dynasty over anti-gay comments he made in the media, it was labeled as “persecution”.

When public business owners in the baking industry have insisted on the right to discriminate and faced just accountability, it becomes another example of “persecution”.

We even have potential presidential candidates perpetuating such a persecution complex, with figures like Rick Santorum falsely stating that people who oppose same sex marriage are being sent to re-education camps.

With all of the legitimate and horrifying human rights violations occurring in the world, some in America have sadly adopted a very first world, privileged, and self-centered version of persecution. Instead of doubling efforts to shed light on international abuses, we’ve seen a flood of first world persecution claims– from internet trolls right up to the right wing members of government.

In the words of Senator Santorum:

“They are fighting, they are fighting, they are not backing away, they are coming at us.”

In one breath, we’re celebrating that Ibrahim is now receiving safe passage to the United States where she will have unfettered religious freedom. In the next breath, we’re up in arms over the persecution of religious conservatives in the US– warning that “they” (whoever that is) “are coming at us”.

It seems that what has happened here is that persecution in America has become just another example of the way we view “problems” in a first world setting. Regardless of what actually is occurring elsewhere, we’re consumed with what we perceive is happening here, and behave on a practical level as if our “problem” is way worse. The way we’ve come to view persecution is no different than how we’ve come to view so many other issues. Just weeks ago, I sat in orphanages in the Congo where kids were lucky to eat on a daily basis and drank contaminated water that could kill them. Yet, the moment I step off the plane in the US, it was right back to listening to complaints about cellphone coverage.

Those of us in first world settings would do well to stop for a minute and consider what is actually occurring at this moment around the world. Spending our day upset because of a dropped phone call is offensive in light of kids dying from lack of access to clean drinking water. Crying persecution simply because one is no longer able to deny another human being their own individual rights, is offensive in light of real, true, actual religious persecution in the world.

This first world approach to viewing persecution needs to end, because Western Christians are far from persecuted. However, there are thousands who are– many, like Ibrahim, are even sentenced to death for their faith.

Just as I hope we’ll reject the way we allow trite issues like dropped phone calls to outshine poverty, I hope we’ll also reject a hyped up and self-centered way of viewing religious persecution. Let’s reserve the “persecution” word for the real thing– such as what we saw in the case of Meriam Ibrahim.


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Sirjoyful

    Well Said, as always. Being told we cannot discriminate is not discrimination

  • Jeff Preuss

    Wait, wait, wait. There are internet trolls claiming we Western Christians are persecuted? I am shocked

    Seriously, though, I hadn’t heard Meriam was freed to come to this country. I hope that includes the rest of her family that was also detained.

    The thing that many seem to forget is were the titles in this story reversed, and it had been a primarily Christian nation detaining a Muslim woman and sentencing her to die for her beliefs being different, it would have been similarly unjust. We simply cannot continue to complain about losing…whatever the heck it is, white privilege, majority influence, king of the playground status…as the world changes around us and call it “persecution.” It’s this weird attempt at drawing a line in the sand, and continuing to make things an “us vs. them” struggle when it’s just not supposed to be that way.

  • Anthony

    What I really appreciate about this post (and what separates you from many other progressive Christian writers) is that you placed a real problem in Christian culture in the context of a broader societal problem. False outrage and crying poor over problems that much of the rest of the world would love to have are prevalent everywhere, not just among Christians and not just among conservatives.

    That does not excuse the behavior, however. Christians should strive to see through the cultural currents and not get swept up in them. We should be serving as an example of a better way of living for the rest of the culture. The same can be said for how Christians have been swept up in the culture wars and the increasing polarization and divisiveness of the culture in general.

  • A good blog post smack down! Well said!

  • gimpi1

    A fine example of putting things in perspective.

    While we still have problems with racism and discrimination in the first world, we forget how lucky we are. We have a justice system, that, flawed though it is, is at least based on justice. We don’t expect the police to be corrupt, the courts to be fixed. We have an infrastructure that gives us clean water, good transportation, easy communication and reliable power. And, as SirJoyFul said, if the biggest problem someone faces is no longer being able to discriminate against those they disapprove of, they are fortunate indeed.

    Just imagine what we could accomplish for those kids in the Congo if we took the energy we use in bitching about each other and used it to make their lives better.

  • roninbear

    You are so right about this, and it is something I see all the time, sadly. My husband is a regular rabble rouser on the Christian Post, and sometimes the crap those entitled, self absorbed fools post on there makes me so angry that I co-opt his account briefly. So far, they’ve never figured it out, which is pretty sad, as he’s been an atheist his entire life and I was raised a Southern Baptist preacher’s daughter that retains the ability to filet idiots with the sword of the Lord as it were. The cognitive dissonance in this country is just astounding to me.

  • AJ

    I always shake my head whenever I hear politicians and other media whores cry foul. They never quite seem to grasp that Protestant Christianity is *THE* dominant religion in America, to the point that when people say “religion” and “religious freedom” what we hear is “Christianity” and “Christian freedom”. Nothing else is even considered.

  • Guest2

    Thank you Ben. Once again you lead the pack of progressives in expressing the truth. A brilliant and most needed post this for all westerners. We know nothing about real persecution or poverty.

  • Protonius

    According to the latest news from REUTERS, datelined 3:10pm EDT, Meriam Ibrahim is AGAIN being detained by the Sudanese authorities, this time for allegedly using “forged” travel papers — papers which actually, according to her lawyer and others, were legitimate and NOT forged but were issued not by the Sudan government but by the SOUTH Sudan government.

    Reportedly the US authorities are pressing hard for her safe and quick release. But according to the Reuters piece, the Sudan authorities view this issue over her papers a very serious matter, for which, by Sudan law, according to the report, she may be sentenced to five years in prison. What a mess. (See: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/25/us-sudan-christian-woman-idUSKBN0F005320140625 ).

  • Church Software

    Somewhere along the line “discrimination” has been redefined to mean: holding an opinion that is not in line with main stream progressivism.

    The u.s. political system has poetically used a platform of “rights” to remove rights of the people. This benefits only those with political power.

    Incidentally, Christians have deserted the idea of a Biblical authority. If the Bible is my authority, I actually don’t possess a right to be served by any business. The Bible doesn’t grant me rights. The whole idea of “rights-grabbing” is entirely un-Biblical. (Phil. 2:3-4) The Bible does offer me salvation, and it does call me to love God and others, and yes it even calls me to submit to earthly authorities.

    So you are right. It is not persecution. If you’re intellectually honest with yourself, the “baker case” is neither persecution or discrimination. It is simply politics (as in the government removing rights and gaining power).

    If you promote rights, then any privately owned business should have the right to choose their jobs and their customers. Business owners across the country are having that right taken away, which may be pleasing to some.

    Would you argue that a mechanic should also not have the right to refuse to work on a Honda, if they prefer Toyota. They currently do have this right, and most exercise their right. A Ford dealer will usually refuse to work on your Chevy truck.

    If you still insist on this not being a political maneuver, then consider some alternates. What if they baker’s wife died of cancer, and he didn’t want to make a cake in the shape of a cigar? Or what if the customer wanted a cake showing a hunting camp, with little dead deer depicted, and the baker, as an animal rights activist had refused to bake it? Would progressives and the government be stepping in to send him to hunter sensitivity training?

  • gimpi1

    “If you promote rights, then any privately owned business should have the right to choose their jobs and their customers. Business owners across the country are having that right taken away, which may be pleasing to some.”

    It’s pleasing to me. We’ve had that discussion, during the civil rights movement in the mid 20th century. The rights of the general public to do business, buy commodities and services trumps the right of a business-owner who would prefer to only serve white people, straight people, whatever. When you choose to go into business, you are choosing to do business with the general public, in both your customers and your employees. I don’t see that as political, I see it as just.

  • Unah you actually prove the case FOR the baker. He never said he wouldn’t serve them cupcakes because they were gay, or that they couldn’t be customers of the bakeshop. He never said “we don’t serve gays”. He said they don’t make homosexually themed cakes.
    If the baker had said “we don’t serve gay people”. This would be a completely different discussion.
    The irony of this entire article is that it’s homosexual people who constantly claim they are persecuted. But the author would have the slobbering praise of progressives if he was telling homosexuals to stop whining about being persecuted/discriminated against.
    Homosexuals are routinely murdered in Muslim countries for being homosexual. They are truly being persecuted for being homosexual, not so in West. That fact is also oddly left out of most “progressive” discussions.

  • I had the same question. Never heard of a “homosexuality themed” cake.

  • I’m surprised you don’t want to debate point for point, and would rather argue if a gay wedding is a theme or not. Apologetic debate has not been introduced to most youth, I suppose.

    A big part of the problem is that people would like the government to legislate hearts, minds and opinions. If this baker truly said “I don’t do business with gays” (which is ignorant and rude if that is the case, IMHO) I’m not sure what gay people will have gained if the government forces him to do business with them.

    The government ended racial slavery, but it can’t end racism. The Govt can’t abolish hate. I know people that hate Christians. It would be utterly stupid of me to expect the government to pass laws to stop people from hating Christians, or to make them partake in business transactions with me.

    In the end, do you want to give your business to someone who is so diametrically opposed to you? If you are black do you really want to give your business to a racist business owner?

    There are lots of people that will do lots of offensive things to and around you your entire life. You will be a lot happier if you choose not to get offended.

    For example, as a Christian, I’m not offended when someone takes God’s name in vain. That’s between them and God. I am sad for them and I fear for them, but I’m not offended. Unfortunately many Christians waste a lot of time being upset at everyone else for not behaving like Christians. Why should they act like Christians when they don’t follow Jesus?

    People would be less miserable (I’ve seldom met a happy progressive) if they would stop giving over the power to be happy to other people.

    We are better off when we pursue the responsibilities we are called to than fighting for rights we never had.

    i.e. I have a responsibility to provide for my family but I don’t have a right to a job. And if no job exists, I am still responsible. Unfortunately a spoiled Western culture has long passed the point of no return in its departure from the idea of personal responsibility.

    you may commence debating the use of “theme”

  • Psycho Gecko

    I’ve been trying to think of what a homosexual theme might be. Rainbows? No, lots of people have rainbows. They’ve even been used in regards to racial equality. Sprinkles and lots of pink? Lots of little girl princesses must want homosexual cakes then. A cake with a male stripper popping out of it? That works for women too. A cake with a picture of two women kissing? Plenty of straight guys love that. Richard Simmons on a cake? Maybe they’re fitness fanatics. I mean, the guy did say to “Party off the pounds.” A cake about it raining men? I love that song. Happiest song I know. Not gay though.

    It reminds me of another blog around here talking about the “homosexual lifestyle” and some people in the comments asked what that even was. Good question, because it seems everything that someone thinks is homosexual has been done by heterosexual people too.